Friday, November 22, 2013

Mary - Jesus' Most Faithful (and Celebrated) Disciple

Our consideration of Mary’s discipleship begins with her reaction to Gabriel’s message: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This is what people refer to as Mary’s fiat (Latin for “let it be”). She who received all she was from God put herself completely in His hands; she was living the life of the Spirit, the Life of her Son.

This was what the Holy Spirit moved Elizabeth to recognize during Mary’s visit to her: “when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!…blessed is she who believed that there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:41-42,45). Mary’s faith, her wholehearted and unequaled cooperation with the promptings of the Spirit, is the reason for her place of honor among the People of God. This is brought out later in Luke’s Gospel when a woman cried, “Blessed is the womb that bore you!” 

“Rather, “ Jesus corrected, “blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it ” (Luke 11:27-28). He was not denying Mary’s blessedness (the Spirit had already testified to it through Elizabeth); but pointing out that Mary’s motherhood was more than a matter of flesh and blood – it was the result of her whole-hearted “yes” when God called. 

This brings us to a brief, but important, aside. Why do Catholic and Orthodox Christians refer to Mary as Theotokos, Mother of God? It has nothing to do with a belief that Mary preceded God in time– that is abso-lute nonsense! Look at Elizabeth’s words again, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43). The six other occurrences of “Lord” in Luke’s first chapter refer to God, so for a Christian reader, “mother of my Lord” and “mother of my God” could easily be viewed as synonymous. “Mother of God” became the favored version in the course of history, not because of what it said about Mary, but about Jesus. 

When heresies arose in the third and fourth centuries questioning Jesus’ divine status, confessing Mary as Mother of God was the way orthodox Christianity reaffirmed its belief in His full humanity and divinity. God the Son truly became a man in Mary’s womb. It was God the Son, who as a human being, nursed at her breasts, grew up in her home, and loved and obeyed her as mother. It was God the Son, as a little boy, who was helped by her to take His first steps and say His first words. To deny Mary the title Mother of God would be to deny the shocking reality of the incarnation, that the Word became flesh – it is to deny that God the Son died to save us from sin. If Mary was not the Mother of God the Son, then the Christian hope of salvation is null and void!

Getting back to our discussion of Mary’s discipleship though, we recognize her as a person of profound prayer. Scripture records a beautiful, prophetic hymn of praise that the Spirit put in her mouth:
My soul magnifies the Lord,and my spirit rejoices in God mySavior,for he has regarded the low estate ofhis handmaiden.For behold, henceforth all genera-tions will call me blessed (Luke 1:46-49).
Mary was a student of God’s actions, a student of her Son. We are told that she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19, 51).

There were surprises along the way, things she did not understand. Imagine her feelings when the prophet Simeon told her, “[Your] child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). What will hap-pen to my Son? How? When? Where? What awaits me? Mary knew what it meant to walk in the darkness of faith. When Jesus stayed behind in the Temple at the age of twelve, she and Joseph spent three days searching for him. When she found him and said, “I’ve been searching for you in sor-row,” His only response was, “Why did you search for me? Did you not know I had to be in my Father’s house?” The pain that had to cause! Scripture is blunt, “[She] did not understand” (Luke 2:48-50).

We see her again in the gospels some eighteen years later, when she, Jesus, and His other disciples attended a wedding in Cana. It is here that we see Mary acting as an intercessor on behalf of others. The feast must have went on for some time when the wine ran out. What would the bride and groom serve their guests? (Hospitality was at the top of the virtue list in the ancient world.) John tells us that Jesus’ Mother became aware of the bride and groom’s predicament. Observe what she did:
…the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her,“O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5).
I am sure you remember the rest of the story. Jesus told the servants to fill six huge jars with water and take a sample to the master of the banquet. When the head waiter tasted it, it was the finest wine. John concludes the story by writing, “This, the first of His miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11, NIV).

Mary did not take “no” for an answer; and Jesus, in His love for her and in response to her faith, did not turn her down. He performed His first miracle because of her intercession! I can’t help but think that He had her in mind when he told the parable of the persistent widow, telling us that we should be unceasing in our intercession (Luke 18:1-5). The gospels may be limited in the number of verses devoted to Mary, but what they tell us is astounding. Her words to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), compresses the whole of Christian morality and disciple-ship into one sentence!

The next time we encounter Mary is at the foot of the cross. Simeon’s prophecy has been fulfilled; watching her tortured Son hang there, her soul was pierced by a sword, “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35). She did not rail at the Father, did not lash out at the soldiers overseeing the execution or the mockers passing by. She silently entrusted herself, once again, to the Father, in the Spirit. And then her Son asked something more of her:  
When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, “Woman, there behold your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home (John 19:26-27).
When we look at the accounts of Jesus’ death we see that everything He did at the cross was tied up with the new life He was purchasing for us – everything, including this.

We see Mary exercising this maternal care as she prayed with the disciples for the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost (Acts 1:14). Scripture is silent on how she continued to live it out; but we can be sure she did, especially in her relationship with John the Apostle, the beloved disciple.

Upon her entrance into glory, the full sharing of Jesus’ resurrection she experienced at her assumption, her maternal care could extend directly to every beloved disciple. She could care, with a mother’s heart, for every soul that had been fused to her Son’s. Look again at what John told us in the Book of Revelation:
And a great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars …the dragon was angry with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus (Revelation 12:1,17).
Mary has been empowered by the Spirit to act as mother, not just to Jesus, but to every person united to Him.  The chief way she shows her love is to intercede for us, just as she did for the couple at Cana. And here’s the thing - as each Christian reaches the full life of the Trinity in heaven, they too enter into intercession for their brothers and sisters still on earth.

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