My guess is for most evangelicals the above title might feel a little uncomfortable. We tend to be uncomfortable with Mary the mother of Jesus. This is mostly a reactionary response. This is because the Roman Catholic Church has created an atmosphere of veneration for Mary and by evangelical standards has gone too far in this endeavor. They have given her the name Theotokos which literally means “God bearer”, which, although is in some sense accurate, also makes us uncomfortable. We tend to ignore the narrative of Mary or to paint her as nothing more than a side note in history. The truth is that she is anything but. If we look at the narrative surrounding Mary we will find that she is truly a unique woman of faith and character.
If we rewind in the story of Mary to the narrative that happens just before Mary is given news of her role in the coming of the messiah, we find a man named Zachariah. Zachariah was a one of the senior priests of Israel. During his duties in the temple he finds himself face to face with the angel Gabriel. At this point he is given the message of the birth of his son despite the fact that he and his wife are barren. Zachariah asks a question in which he clearly displays doubt in God. Zachariah, you know, the priest… I know what you’re thinking, “if anybody would have faith and trust in God, it would be one of the high priests of Israel…Right?” If we fast forward to Mary, she has almost the identical experience except for one thing. The angel says to Mary, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28). Mary seems to also have her doubts, but they are dramatically different than Zachariah’s doubts. Mary doesn’t doubt God, rather, she doubts or questions in her mind why she could possibly be favored by God. The passage describes Mary’s response saying…”But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.” -Luke 1:29 The word that is translated here as “troubled” has the connotation of confusion or quizzicality. Mary wondered why God would favor her and what He could possibly use her for. Her doubt was not in God, but in herself. She had the right perspective. After she hears that God will use her to bring the messiah to change the world despite the fact that she is a virgin, she doesn’t respond with doubt, rather, she simply responds by telling Gabriel that she is God’s servant.
The difference between these responses outlines very different hearts. It also outlines a contrast which runs throughout the Scriptures coming to a head in the narrative of Christ. This is the contrast between those people who should have great faith, and the unlikely people who are giants of faith. Another example is of Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a high priest of Israel and a member of the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus to death, and yet when he goes to Jesus in secret and asks him about the miracle of the gospel he has no idea what is going on even when the poor, sick, and outcasts seem to know exactly what Jesus is there to do (see John 3). The people that God uses are people of profound faith even in the midst of the impossible. The people who are “highly favored” by God are not the ones of great position or authority, but of great faith. They are the people that hear God speak and respond not with doubt in God, but in contrite humility.
If our true desire is for God to use us in His work, we should have this same faith. We are called to trust in God and believe Him for the things that He tells us in humble submission to His will. When God chooses to use us our response should not be “that’s not even possible”, rather, it should be “God if you want to use me to do this I trust you and am committed to serve you”. Mary is a woman who is a “favored one” of God. Not because she is of immaculate origins, or lived a perfect life, or was particularly special in any way. She is favored by God because she was a woman of faith and trust in God who was willing to be used by God to accomplish something that was impossible. She was a woman who was in every sense ordinary, but of extraordinary faith and appropriate humility. She was a woman whom we should certainly emulate as we seek to live in faith and trust in God. May we follow her example and live in faith and humility as highly favored servants of God.