In the first seminary course I had, we read Luke 1:38, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.” I had always read this passage as though Mary demurely and unquestioningly acceded to the angel Gabriel’s news.
The professor had us read the scripture giving different tonal emphases. What if Mary was filled with anger or resentment, resignation or fear, reluctance instead of eagerness?
The news that Mary received cannot have been altogether welcome. It carried considerable risk to her. In the world in which Mary lived, an unwed pregnancy that screamed “infidelity” to her betrothed Joseph could have gotten her killed. What if Mary was thoughtfully aware of the difficulties ahead of her — and still said yes to God?
It is neither a simple nor simplistic response: “Here I am, a servant of the Lord…”
Mary’s yes was not coerced. She had a choice. Her yes was said in face of the reality that she was called not to greatness but to service.
Mary’s response is centered in servitude. Mary has just been told she’s to be the mother of God incarnate. If I were in her place, I might have been a bit full of myself.
But for all of her specialness, Mary understood that in God’s economy, the more important we are, the more subservient we must become. She knew that she was a servant because she was chosen.
Many years later Jesus told James and John, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
Again and again scripture tells us that those who follow Jesus are not led into the halls of power to lord it over others. They are, instead, called to take up the cross and follow Jesus.
The last act of Jesus before death was to take on the task of the lowliest servant and wash the feet of his disciples. Then he said, “For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).
If what you seek is elevation to power, to be with the powerful, don’t dare to follow Jesus. He’s the one who shed his glory to enter the world through the waters of a young peasant girl’s womb, to bed down with animals, to serve food to the hungry, to spend time with the powerless and to challenge the powerful, to go confidently to his death — to love those who hated him.
“Mary did you know?” I believe she did — and still she said, “yes … let it be to me according to your word.”