Thursday, April 17, 2014

Like Mother, Like Son (Mary and Jesus)

Late last year I was at an ordination. The text for the sermon was Luke 1:38 in which Mary responds to the angel Gabriel, “Behold, the slave of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (my translation).

As I listened and pondered the text and Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 I realized something fresh. The language used to describe Mary’s response and song includes specific language used of her son Jesus in the great Christ-hymn of Phil 2:6-11. I connected Mary with Jesus in a new way realizing that when God chose Mary, the one who would bear his Son to save the world, he chose someone who embodied the heart of God seen in the self-emptying Christ.

The word translated “servant” is doulē, the feminine of doulos, “slave.” Mary declares herself “slave of the Lord.” In Phil 2:7 it is Jesus who, being in the form of God, took the form of a slave (doulos). Mary in her obedience, served the Great Servant who will save the world.

In Mary’s hymn in Luke 1:48, she then sings, “because he has looked down upon the humility (tapeinōsis) of his slave (doulē)” (my translation). In Phil 2:8 it is said of Jesus that “he humbled (tapeinoō) himself.” I realized that Mary embodied the attitude of Christ in 2:6-8. She humbled herself before God and indeed people, carrying the shame of pregnancy, and she responds to God as his doulē, slave.

Now while Phil 2:6-8 is wonderfully kerygmatic and theological, it is ethical in intent. Paul is urging the Philippians to take on the mindset that Christ took up in his incarnation and death (2:5). Paul gives Christ as the primary example to the divided Philippians concerned for status to reinforce the appeal of 2:1–4; namely, that they come together in the mutual encouragement, comfort, love, unity, compassion, affection, one-mindedness, humility, selflessness, and others-centeredness. If they take on the mindset of Christ, they will become like him and their disunity healed.

It is then no surprise that when God was looking for a human woman to bear his Son, he chose someone who embodied the very pattern of life that Christ would demonstrate to the world, and which the world is to take on. It made me realize that Jesus was greatly helped in developing into the sinless one by having a mother who really embodied God’s ideals for humanity. This is reinforced by the example of Joseph explicated in Matthew 1, where we read that he too was a man of humility, servanthood and grace. So Jesus was raised in a home where the parents embodied humility and service as the basis of their ethic. That is a lesson to us all as parents.

So much can be drawn from this. Here are a few things.

First, we, men included, are to be like Mary and respond to God as she did, “behold, I am a slave of God, may it be to me according to your word.” She presents the ideal of living the Christ-pattern. This is the only way to live.

Secondly, God is in control, shaping history through people called to his purposes. He especially looks for the humble and servant-hearted.

Thirdly, Christmas reminds us of what an astonishing story we are swept up in when we come to Christ. We are swept up into a real life drama, in which what matters is not power, charisma, or status, but humility and service.

Finally, it is easy to see why Mary is so venerated. She truly is in a sense, the greatest example of human life there is. God was very careful in choosing the one who would bear his Son. While we should not worship her, we should honor her greatly.

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