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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Why Mary on Mother's Day?


Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and I sit here thinking of my own wonderful mother. I owe her so very much for all she has done for me and my sister in her nearly 89 years. And then I think of my wife who is mother of our three children. Nancy, too, has done so very much for our daughter and two sons.
My thoughts then turn to another mother, one whom I had neglected for my first 33 years as a Christian. I’m speaking of the mother of Jesus. I avoided thought and spiritual reflection about her because she was too Catholic for my theological comfort. I chose to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
In his February 2007 First Things article titled Evangelicals and the Mother of God, Southern Baptist minister and dean of the evangelical Beeson Divinity School, Timothy George, wrote: “It is time for evangelicals to recover a fully biblical appreciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her role in the history of salvation- and to do so precisely as evangelicals.”
“The question, of course, is how to do that. Can the evangelical reengagement with the wider Christian tradition include a place for Mary? Can we, without forsaking any of the evangelical essentials . . . echo Elizabeth’s acclamation, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42), or resonate with the Spirit-filled maid of the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on, all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:46-48)? 
I think Timothy George’s questions are fair ones to revisit on this Mother’s Day in 2016.
For 2000 years many God-fearing Christians have looked to Mary as a role model of holiness, obedience, and humility. Even Martin Luther – certainly no friend of Roman Catholicism – readily recognized Mary’s importance to Christian faith. During his Christmas sermon in 1529, he said: “Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us, even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees . . . If He is ours, we ought to be in His situation; there where He is, we ought also to be, and all that He has ought to be ours; and His mother is also our mother.
Because we can learn from God’s choices, I think Mother’s Day is a good day to ask ourselves what God saw in Mary that He chose her to nurture, comfort, and educate His Son.
Truth is we don’t really know why He chose her. Scripture is silent on that question. But from what Scripture does tell us we can infer at least three reasons why God chose the Virgin Mary to mother His Son.
First, Mary demonstrated humility before God. Would the Father have chosen her to bear His Son if she were not? And so it was in humility Mary said to Gabriel: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” The Greek word used here for ‘handmaid’ carries the idea of being a slave to God.

How different salvation history would have been if Eve, the Mother of humankind, had considered herself a slave to God regarding the forbidden tree!

Next, Mary demonstrated obedience to God despite what that obedience could cost her. In Israel’s first century culture, unwed pregnancy was a capital offense punishable by stoning. That’s why the adulterous woman in St. John’s gospel would have died had Jesus not intervened (John 8). Mary, knowing her pregnancy would cost her betrothal to Joseph, her reputation, and perhaps even her life, nevertheless laid herself at God’s feet and told the angel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

Mary would do God’s will, not her own. She’d bow to His plans, not hers. I like to think as she spoke she remembered Solomon’s conclusion in Ecclesiastes, “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Perhaps also she remembered the Proverb, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30).

Finally (if there is a final thing we can say about Jesus’ mother), Mary loved the Scriptures. They were for her a lamp to her feet and a light to her path. In an era when Israelite culture didn’t consider it a priority to teach girls the Scripture, it is clear Mary read and memorized God’s word. Her adoration of God (Luke 1:46-55) is an example. In those short ten verses of her Magnificat, Mary quoted or alluded to at least six Old Testament texts (1 Samuel 2:1-10, Psalm 34:2, Psalm 35:9, Psalm 98:1, Psalm 103:17, Psalm 107:9).

When Christians recite one of the earliest statements of Christian faith – the Nicene Creed – we affirm, “By the Holy Spirit [Jesus] was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. And in our recitation we ought to remember Mary as an example worthy of emulation and imitation of her obedience, humility, purity, and knowledge of God’s word. 

God chose the Virgin Mary to bring the Savior into the world. By imitating Mary we bring the Savior to our world. Mother’s Day would be a good time to remember what Martin Luther said: “Mary is the Mother of Jesus . . . . His mother is also our mother” – and for us to say, perhaps for the first time: “Happy Mother’s Day, Mary.”

I think Jesus would be pleased.

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