The Way of Obedience (Luke 1:26-38)
Reflections on Luke 1:26-38
Under Rome’s gray December sky, my classmates and I huddled in a throng of devout pilgrims. These observant believers had flocked to the Spanish Steps for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holiday dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Though my friends and I had come to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Pope, we were awed by the sight of hundreds chanting Ave Maria in unison. For hours, this repetition continued. Hail Mary, full of grace, they intoned continually. With hearts turned to heaven, these Catholic Christians pleaded for mercy from the mother of God.
In that moment at the Spanish Steps, I was bemused by the praying Catholics. Hebrews 4 began to march through my mind. As the author wrote, “We have a great high priest (Jesus) who has ascended into heaven…let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence” (Hebrews 4:14,16). The Church is adding an extra mediator when Christ is enough, I thought.
In contrast, we Protestants have a time-honored tradition of ignoring Jesus’ mother. Though we offer her a begrudging nod at Christmas, the virtue of her life is little considered by those of us who have left Rome’s fold. If the Catholic tradition has run too far with Mary while Protestants wince at the mention of her name, how should we view the virgin matriarch when we come back to the biblical center?
While the Bible creates no space for Mary as an intercessor, it speaks highly of the virtue she exhibited in her life. When Jesus’ mother was young, probably around 14 or 15, the angel Gabriel announced the miraculous birth of Christ. Mary, the one chosen to bear God’s Son, was still an unmarried virgin. An extramarital pregnancy would guarantee death for her and ostracism for her family. Still, Mary said yes to God.
In addition to her costly obedience, Christ’s mother knew that her son’s life would end in ignominious shame and pain. When Mary presented the baby Jesus at the Temple, holy and devout Simeon spoke a beautiful prophecy over the infant. However, he also offered this tragic aside to the child’s mother: “A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 3:35). Aware that her son was the Messiah and versed in Hebrew scripture, the words of Isaiah 53:5 may have gripped her heart in that moment. “He (Christ) was pierced for our transgression,” the prophet Isaiah presciently predicted, “he was crushed for our iniquities.” Mary may not have foreseen the cross awaiting Jesus, but she knew that his life would be struck down in the prime of youth. She would suffer the loss of her eldest (and in some Christian traditions, only) son. Still she said yes to God.
When we look at Mary’s life, we witness a brave woman setting her face on God through rejection, pain, and profound loss. Despite all those trials, she still committed her life to the way of obedience. “I am the Lord’s servant,” she serenely responded to Gabriel during the Annunciation, “May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Let us look to God with the same selfless devotion. Come curse, cross, or sword, he is worth it all.
Footsteps—putting feet on our faith
1. Why was obedience so costly for Mary?
2. What lessons can we learn from her life?
Dear God, following you is not always easy. You never promised a painless life. In fact, trekking the path of obedience can cost us all we hold dear. You, however, are worth every payment. Let me, like Mary, be willing to give it all for you. By Christ I pray, amen.