Reflections on Mary

In the first chapter of the Gospel which bears his name, Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth very succinctly, in only eight verses (18-25).  But in those eight verses, he tells us volumes about three people: Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

I would like to reflect just a bit on what Matthew tells us about these people.  I’ll begin with Mary.  Matthew writes only a little about her, because his account is written from the perspective of Joseph (the lineage recorded by Matthew is Joseph’s, the one recorded by Luke is Mary’s). 

blue-doorway-mccurry-92579-gaMatthew’s principle point concerning Mary is that she was virtuous and chaste.  At every point, he emphasizes that she was a virgin.  The conception occurred “before they came together” (v. 18).  The angel assures Joseph “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (v. 20).  Matthew notes that this fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy concerning “the virgin” (vv. 22-23).  In closing, Matthew insists that Mary had no physical relations with Joseph, even after marriage, until Jesus had been born (v. 25).  What painstaking care Matthew takes to establish Mary’s chastity.

I know this is a message that is passed off as prudish or judgmental in our culture, but may I say it anyway?  I know that our young people are bombarded with messages from every direction telling them that virginity until marriage is passé, and that it really is no big deal anymore.  But it seems to be a big deal to God.  Is there forgiveness for those of us who’ve yielded to temptation?  Of course there is, and it’s forgiveness full and free.  But as wonderful as forgiveness is, isn’t it more wonderful still to resist temptation?  Let me bring this into focus with a single question: Do you believe for one second that God would have bestowed such an honor upon Mary if she had not been a virgin? 

Matthew notes another aspect of Mary’s character almost in passing.  He writes that she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  But even this briefest of allusions tells us something about Mary, especially when we consider Luke’s account of what preceded her pregnancy:

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:34-38

Here we learn that Mary had a submissive spirit.  Consider for a moment how difficult it was for Mary to say “yes” to God’s will, as honoring to her as it may have been.  She had lived a chaste and pure life, above reproach.  Now, an angel of the Lord has told her that she is pregnant.  Her response: “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”  That seems so easy to us, but just think of what Mary said “yes” to.  She said yes to the reality that there would be people throughout her life who would never believe her story.  She said yes to the possibility that Joseph would divorce and disgrace her.  She said yes to possible legal punishment.  She said yes to cultural scorn, family alienation, lifelong hardship.  She said yes, all for the honor of knowing in the integrity of her own heart that she was the Lord’s servant.

Now if you think that was easy for Mary, it’s time for an honesty check.  How easy do you find it to say “yes” when God says, through the unfolding of His providence in your life, “I want you to go through something that ultimately will be for my glory and for your good, but in the short term it will mean hardship, misunderstanding, scorn, and suffering.”   How easy is it to say “yes” when God’s word compels us to do something that will make us stand out, or subject us to ridicule, cause us inconvenience, or just simply runs contrary to the plans we made for ourselves?

The more I think of it, the more I am inspired by Mary’s sweet surrender to God’s will.

One final consideration of Mary’s character – she was a thoughtful person.  We might not deduce this from this passage in Matthew, but this is a point of emphasis for Luke.  Twice in one chapter, Luke tells us of events that were puzzling, or overwhelming, or which cause elevated emotions.  One such event was the commotion caused by the shepherds upon discovering the baby Jesus in his manger.  While everyone else was astir, jubilant or even exultant, “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  Then, when Jesus was lost for three days and was finally found in the temple, his undoubtedly exasperated and frightened parents scolded him.  Jesus scolded right back, saying they should have known He would be in His Father’s house, about His Father’s business.  How would you respond if your twelve-year-old gave you such an answer?  I shudder to think of the fool I would make of myself.  But Mary?  She “treasured all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).

When we think of all these things, it is small wonder that the angel who announced Jesus’ incarnation to Mary came to her with these words: “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Father, I’m so unlike Mary, and I need to be so like her.  Give me grace, too, and the courage to say “I am Your servant.  Be it unto me as You have said.”

gkr1996 posted at 2009-12-7 Category: Theological