Mary chooses to say “Yes”
We recently began a Sunday teaching series through the Gospel of Luke in New Covenant Fellowship. And, although I still haven’t seen the comments on this blog that I am hoping to see in the future, even with the small Labor Day weekend crowd several attendees told me how thought provoking and prayer provoking it was to think a bit more deeply about Jesus’ mother Mary.
Church history is often strange. Our Catholic background has tended to turn Mary into a demi-god who is genderless and walked around with halos. Protestants have tended to respond by diminishing her role to almost nothing. Over the past few years, one Catholic author (Raymond Brown) and two Protestant authors (Kenneth Bailey and Scot McKnight) have, among other authors, renewed my interest in taking Mary more seriously.
Here is our initial text involving Mary in the Gospel of Luke (1:26-40):
26In the sixth month (of Elizabeth’s pregnancy) the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
29But she was very confused by his words and reasoned intensely about what sort of greeting this might be.
30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I haven’t slept with a man?”
35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the holy one to which you give birth will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.”
38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it happen to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
In a future blog post, I want to look at this narrative in its cultural settting with its implied costliness, but today it seems important to emphasize that we are being presented here with a young woman who is offered an incredible opportunity/challenge/choice by God. A young woman who chooses to take a risk that ranks right up there with Abraham and Sarah, Moses, Joshua, Nehemiah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. This is not a narrative about a genderless mystical person, nor is it a narrative about a naïve girl who cannot help but trust and comply. This is a narrative about a tough minded young girl who responds to God with words and actions similar to Isaiah’s and Samuel’s – “Here I am….”
Verse 29 states that Mary’s first response to God’s heavenly agent is one of confusion and doubt. (The Greek dialogizomai “reasoned intensely” is almost always used of debating and doubting in the New Testament literature.) Obviously, we are not being presented with a naïve “yes girl.”
The angelic messenger of God’s presence responds in v. 30 with an indication that Mary is also afraid. Who wouldn’t be?
In addition to responses of confusion, reasoned doubting, and fear, v. 34 indicates that this practically minded and thinking young woman does not move to some naïve mystical realm, but rather again responds very rationally: “I know about the birds and the bees, and this is not possible; I am not sleeping with anybody.”
VV 30-33 tell us that God now clearly presents her with an opportunity to be a part of one of the greatest promises in Jewish history – God’s covenant promise that David’s son would be God’s son and David’s Jewish descendants would reign in human history forever. VV. 35-37 offers the assurance that what is impossible for us humans is possible for God. Mary now has a choice to make.
V. 38 indicates that this is a choice – costly and faithful yes, but clearly a choice. God rarely ever includes an agent in his big steps in history without giving the person in question the choice of saying “yes” or “no” to the challenge/opportunity. Certainly here God is not “assaulting this young woman’s body” nor is the a “heavenly rape” of some sort as occurs in some of the mythologies of the ancient world – and some pretty unbalanced UFO/ET reports today. This is the kind of invitation that the great prophets of Jewish history were issued by God – Abraham and Moses (far more doubts than Mary) and Isaiah for example. And, Mary says “Yes” to God’s great and costly challenge/opportunity/choice.
Still, Mary’s faithfulness has a tough-minded practical and rational side to it. VV. 39-40 tell us she quickly heads south to find out if Elizabeth is truly “showing.” If so, then Mary will have evidence that she isn’t crazy, but rather following God’s cloud into God’s wild future. What a model for Jesus as he grows up! Already we hear overtones of how one moves through the Garden toward cross and resurrection – moves through the impossible to God’s possible!
If you are looking for a role model for how honest doubting is paired with honest trusting, for living with integrity in the dynamic between faith and reason, perhaps you do not want to by-pass one of the greatest role models the Biblical literature offers for us – the teenage girl, Mary of Nazareth.
As always, if you have any questions or thoughts about this post, or if there is another topic you’d like me to explore in a future post, please leave a comment. I always enjoy your questions and thoughts.