A teenage girl pregnant before her marriage. Hardly an unusual situation today. A little more unusual in her day, but not unheard of.
Eyebrows were raised. Gossip whispered. The old women shook their heads, walking back from the well with their water jars. “Such a quiet girl … Such a good family … Who’d have thought it?”
Mary walked alone, a little apart from the others. Indeed, who would have thought it? And who will believe me? she wondered. Would her parents? Her friends? Would Joseph, her fiance? If anyone should trust her, it should be Joseph. But he was the least likely to trust her now. How could anyone believe such an incredible story? Probably no woman in the Bible is better known or more talked about than Mary of mazareth – the young girl called to be the mother of Jesus. Yet despite all the stories, the songs, the paintings and sculptures, she remains a mystery to us.
The words of the angel’s annoucement are familiar to us now: “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you” (Luke1:28). But when Mary first heard them, they did not have the familiar ring of an old song. Those words were a shocking jolt, jarring her out of a familiar and predictable life into a life of radical obedience and totaly commitment.
The highlights of her story are well known. Pregnant out of wedlock and with no good story to explain the situation, she risked rejection by her fiance until another angel intervened. Uprooted from her home, she gave birth in a bard and laid her newborn in a feed trough. Hunter by soldiers, her family became refugees and fled the coutry to live among strangers.
She loves the Son whose birth had caused so much difficulty, yet He never stopped giving her trouble. No doubt He was obedient and dutiful: the Bible tells us Jesus “went down to Nazareth [with Mary and Joseph] and was obedient to them” (Luke 2:51). But His obedience was that of a strong-willed child who knew He had a calling and a mission that would eventually upset His family.
A later glimpse of Mary shows her with her other sons, trying to convice Jesus that He should give up this Messiah business and com home (see Mark 3:20, 21, 31, 34). There- as on other occasions- Jesus makes His priorities clear: for Him, His ministry comes ahead of His commitment to family, even to His own mother.
Yet she must have known what kind of Son He’d be. She must have known when He was 12 years old and He became so engagd in discussing the law with the rabbis at the Temple that He completly missed the call to pack up and go home and cooly told His parents that He was doing His heavently Father’s business (seek Luke 2:49). Even earlier, at His dedication ceremony, a prophet in the Temple foretold Jesus’ future greatness with the cryptic warning to Mary: “A sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35)
The sword never stopped piecing Mary’s soul. It made the first cut the day she had to tell her parents and her fiance that she was inexplicably pregnant. As Jesus grew and discovered His mission and moved steadily fruther away from the circle of home and safety, the sword continued to slice Mary’s heart. Finally it plunged in to the holt as she stood at the foot of His cross. Her troublesome boy, her strong-willed child, got Himself into trouble for the last time. His reckless words had finally stirred the anger of the authorities and He hung above her head, dying a slow, public death from suffocation.
For this Son, she had given up the normal life she might have had. She had become an object of gossip and suspicion. She had given up piece of mind and security, living on the edge of fear as public opinion turned against Jesus. Did she guess when the angel said, “Blessed are you among women!” that the sword’s cut would be so deep and so final?
Do any of us guess? For most of us, God’s call to obedience doesn’t come in the form of an angelic message. Rather, His call is simpler, couched in the form of a choice we make. We marry, we have a child, we form a friendship. We know, in a vague sense, that God demads we do our very best in these relationships, that we will be called to give sacrificially but we hadly imagine the level of commitment He will ask of us.
Jesus gave His life for the world; Mary, in some senses, gave up her life for Jesus. But, everygood mother sacrifices her life for her child. She sacrifices the pleasures of sleeping late in the morning and going out with her friends for an evening, sacrifices a portion of her own goals and dreams to invest time and energy in helping her child grow into adulthood. Every parent knows a little of Mary’s pain.
But the sword’s touch is not limited to the hearts of mothers. Everyone who has truly loved another person – a parent, a friend, a spouse, a student, a patient – knows the commitment that call requires, and the pain that love can bring. The call to love is a dangerous call; one to which we respond at our peril.
But it’s a call God extends to each one of us. We are invited to take the risk of loving, knowing that it will mean pain and sacrifice. If we can respond, as did Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38), then we will head, as she did God’s blessing: “Do not be afraid…you have found favour with God” (verse 30).
The weeping mother at the foot of the cross is not our final glimpse of Mary. We see her again Sunday morning, hurrying before dawn to her Son’s tomb to pay a final tribute. Like the other women, she finds an empty tomb and hears the message of a risen Jesus.
We lean how Jesus’ good friend and follower, Mary Magdalene, responded to that news. We hear how His disciples, Peter and John, reacted. We even learn of the responses of doubting Thomas and a couple of nameless extras on the road to Emmaus. But non of the Gospel writers shows us a meeting between the rises Jesus and His mother. No-one bothers to record how Mary felt when she found that her unpredictable, head-strong Son had done the most unpredictable thing of all and burst out of His tomb, thereby defeating death for all eternity.
Maybe we don’t need to know. Any mother can imagine. Anyone who has loved knows what Mary knew: the sacrifice is real; the pain is real. But they are nothing compared to the reward.