“Hail, highly favored! The Lord is with you; blessed are you among women”, were the words pronounced by the angel Gabriel in his encounter with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Both the Gospel of Matthew and Luke tell us that upon hearing these words, Mary was confused and disturbed… and she was no wonder!
Maria was just a teenager. She was engaged to be married to a young man named Joseph, when one night an angel came to give her the great news that she was to be the mother of her promised Messiah.
It is hard to think that there is anyone in the Christian world who does not know the story of this woman. Some have chosen to venerate her and mistakenly idolize her, but these serious errors should not prevent us from seeing her life and her acts as worthy of imitation, in a similar way to how the apostle Paul twice commands us to imitate Him (1 Cor. 11: 1, Phil. 3:17), and like Hebrews 11 shows us a list of God’s servants from the past to encourage us in our career. Here are some things we can learn from Maria.
1. His faith
Many might think that her question about what it would be like to give birth to the announced child was lacking in faith. However, unlike Zacharias who had questioned the angel’s words (Lk. 1:18), Mary did not hint at the impossibility of this happening. Her question seems to be the product of genuine curiosity to know the details of how God would perform this miracle. Mary trusted in Almighty God, and her faith in God’s promises enabled her to obey.
2. His obedience
To the angel’s news, Mary replies: “Here is the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Her attitude of service and her obedience to the Lord far outweighed her concerns about the future. Her obedience to the task that God had delegated to her would have implied the abandonment of her betrothed and her dishonor as a woman. But Mary did not stop to think about the consequences that obeying God would bring, but upon hearing her command, her heart of obedience responded positively. Mary put into practice —even before it was written— what Romans 12:1 says: she gave her body as a living and holy sacrifice.
3. His knowledge of the Scriptures
The faith that enabled Mary to obey came from her immersion in the Word of God (Rom. 10:17). The well-known “Magnificat”, or the “Song of Mary” betrays the deep knowledge she had both of her spiritual condition and of the Scriptures. The first thing she says is that her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior (Lk. 1:47), letting us see how clear her need for salvation was. After her we see her vast knowledge of the Old Testament, as the following verses feature fragments very similar to Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. In addition to this, we could conclude that it was her extensive knowledge of the Scriptures that helped her understand the angel’s prophecy in Luke 1:32-33, and conclude that the angel spoke of the Messiah.
4. His humility
Humility distinguishes Mary from among the other godly women in the Bible. Let’s think a little about what she had in her hands: being chosen by God among all women to carry the savior in her womb, who by her divine nature never sinned. From a human perspective, this mother had the perfect Son! From a divine perspective, this woman had been granted the greatest of privileges.
These two concessions would have—if only for a minute—filled any woman with arrogance and pride. But quite the opposite, her reaction was a display of adoration and glory to the Lord (Mt. 2:11; Lc. 2:13). Nowhere do we read that Mary has gone throughout the town announcing the visit of the shepherds or that of the magicians, nor do we see her flaunting or promoting her son. The Bible only says that after witnessing these events Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.” Humility was one of her greatest virtues, worthy of imitation (Lk. 2:19; 51).
Humility is a fair evaluation of who I am and an understanding that what I have is the product of God’s grace. This understanding placates arrogance and pride and focuses me on the true protagonist of my life: God.
Maria embodied this definition by Andrew Murray, saying that “Humility is the perfect stillness of the heart. It is not expecting anything, not being surprised by what is done to me, not resenting what is done to me. It is being at rest when no one praises me, or when I am blamed or despised. Faith, knowledge of God, and above all humility, allowed Mary to stand upright to the end and with her eyes fixed on the Lord, both in times of amazement before angels and wise men, as well as in the cruel reality of seeing her innocent Son die on a cross.
A life that does not aim at itself
None of Mary’s qualities, completely worth imitating, points to herself. Everything we have seen points to that Son who by grace was in her womb; that Son who would be the savior of his own life and of humanity; that Son who lived in total obedience to the Father and who is the very personification of humility.
Mary’s life and the example of her character lead us to exalt the only one worthy of all glory. Just like Mary we can proclaim “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk. 1: 46-47).
Image: : Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia Of 7700 Illustrations: Signs Of The Times (Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc., 1996). 570.