Today’s reading is Luke 1:39-56:
39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
Mary’s Song of Praise: The Magnificat
46 And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
55 as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
56 And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home.
Who is worthy to bear the Son of God?
The question should not be taken lightly; God does not make His choices on a whim. He lives apart from time; He could have chosen any woman who ever was born or ever will be born. He had options: strong women, intelligent women, powerful women. He could have chosen a fiery leader like Deborah the judge, or Joan of Arc. A strong-hearted nurturer like Mother Theresa. Someone with the faith of Esther, or even a wise theologian like Julian of Norwich. And yet, He chose Mary. It’s not that she wasn’t wise or strong or loving; absent any evidence to the contrary, it’s possible that she was all of these things. But surely there was someone better to choose than this quiet young Jewish woman from Nazareth? Why does she deserve the honor of bearing in her womb the God-man, the Savior of the world?
Mary acutely answers this nagging question for us in her song of praise, and the answer is simple: she doesn’t. In reading her song, we can quickly parse out two main character sketches. The first is of the Lord, whom she sees as strong, merciful, faithful, and generous. The second is of herself, and this description is notably brief. She is a “servant” of “humble estate.” In other words, she is a nobody. Mary has no delusions of grandeur; she knows exactly who she is. In fact, she spends so much time praising the Lord and so little time speaking of herself because she knows that she, Mother of God though she is, is not the one who deserves a song. Her single greatest virtue is her humility, which is just another way of saying that she knows exactly how undeserving she is.
But isn’t that unfair to all of the Mother Theresas and Esthers and Joan of Arcs of the world? If God was going to pick someone, shouldn’t He have picked someone who actually deserved it? Unfortunately, this question misses the point; we have to remember that they don’t deserve the honor either—nobody does. God didn’t choose Mary because she deserved to be chosen; He chose her because she was honest enough to admit that she didn’t. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). In Luke 18, we will meet the tax collector who is justified when he cries out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). God is not looking for our good works, but for our honesty, our humble faith. Because the story of Christianity, from page one of Genesis to the “Amen” of Revelation, is not the story of a people who earn their God’s praises; it is the story of a God who goes to every length to graciously give to His people what they do not deserve.
Many people around the world (myself included) are sacrificing something for the duration of the Lenten season. Some refrain from eating a type of food. Others fast from something more immaterial, like television or Facebook. Sacrifice is a beautiful and necessary way to make ourselves dependent on the Lord, and to remind ourselves of what is truly important in this short life. But let us remember that the Lord does not want our sacrifices; he wants our humility. He wants our hearts.
When we think of Mary this Lenten season, let us admire her, let us thank the Lord for her, but perhaps most importantly, let us remember her song of praise. For reflection, I leave you with 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written,
“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Obasi Shaw ’17 is an English concentrator in Pfohorzheimer House, and Managing Editor of the Ichthus.