This article will begin to answer a Q&A question I’ve had sitting in my queue for a couple of months now: “What are we to think of Mary, the mother of Jesus?” We will let the Scriptures guide us in our conclusions.
But first, let me share what I tend to hear about Mary in my own brotherhood (in other words, our Mariology). Perhaps your experience differs from mine, but my brotherhood has often given me the sense that we are suspicious of Mary and therefore reluctant to talk about her for fear of falling into some kind of Roman error. At the very least, some of us are leery of Mary because of Roman Catholicism. In my neck of the woods, we simply didn’t speak or even think about Mary, unless it was to point out that she was absolutely unremarkable and that the Roman Catholics worship her.
The Scriptures disprove that first assertion. Mary has an active role in several chapters of the New Testament, and most of the material shows her to be quite remarkable. Luke gives Mary the greatest attention in the first two chapters of his gospel. Mary also features in the Wedding Feast at Cana (John 2), the Crucifixion (John 19), and the meetings of the disciples between the Ascension and Pentecost (Acts 1). She is also represented in the Vision of the Woman and the Child in Revelation 12.
On top of that, the Scriptures represent Mary in terms of types, or comparisons made between multiple events and people in Scripture. For example, the Scriptures support a comparison between Mary and Eve, just as they support a comparison between Jesus and Adam. There are also specific comparisons to be made between Mary and the ark of the covenant, between Mary and the other great matriarchs of God’s people (e.g., Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Ruth, Hannah, and others).
The NT texts and the OT types deserve their own considerations; there is simply no way that one can do them all justice in the space of a single article. The point for this week is that Mary possesses a very special place in God’s plan. In other words, Mary was not just some cog in God’s divine machine, and no other woman could be swapped in for her.
Let us begin with some of what Luke has to say about Mary in Luke 1-2. We can break our study down into several episodes which pertain to Mary: the Annunciation (1.26-38), the Visitation (1.39-56), the Nativity (2.1-21), the Presentation in the Temple (2.22-38), and the Finding in the Temple (2.31-51). The first two, the Annunciation and the Visitation, focus most heavily on Mary.
The Annunciation alone should persuade us that Mary is a very special woman. Gabriel’s first words to her are, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you,” identifying Mary as the recipient of God’s favor. He does this again when he reassures Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” This should draw our minds back to Noah, who is one of only two people in the Torah of whom Moses explicitly says, “He found favor in the eyes of God” (Gen 6.8). The other person is Moses himself (Ex 33.17).
This puts Mary in rarified air. Consider the great callings of Noah and of Moses. God preserved the whole human race through Noah, saving him from His wrath so that all men should have Noah as their father. What’s more, God delivered all Israel through Moses, saving them from Egyptian bondage so that they could worship the God of Israel. But greater than both of these is the work which God accomplished through Mary, for through her He brought His Son into the world, to save all mankind through Him, to free them from bondage to sin so that all men can worship the Father through Jesus. Thus, Gabriel calls Mary “favored one.”
And that’s just the greeting.
Consider the uniqueness of Mary’s calling. Who else has conceived by the Holy Spirit? Who else has borne the Son of God in her womb (Luke 1.35)? No one can aspire to so great a calling.
Let us finish this week by considering the faith of Mary, which we see in her faithful responses. When Gabriel first tells her that she shall conceive and shall bear a son, she responds, “How will this be, since I do not know a man?” (Luke 1.34). This may seem an odd question since we know that she is betrothed; it seems to be inevitable that she shall know a man. It is less odd if we consider that this question stems from her own purity (indeed, it is meant to draw our attention to her purity). She asks, in essence, “How is it that I, being pure and chaste, shall conceive a son?” Mary is not challenging Gabriel’s word; she is merely asking how this is to happen while she is being obedient to the commandments of the Law! Oh that we were so faithful!
As you go forth, meditate on Mary’s final response to Gabriel: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” This, brothers and sisters, is faith.
Image: The Annunciation, John William Waterhouse (1914)