The Real Mary: Harbinger

Does Mary’s clarion call strike us in the same way that it rumbled through Herod’s oligarchy so many centuries ago? Mary the willing becomes Mary the dangerous as she announces the coming of the One who be the incarnation of all justice that God has exercised throughout the history of her people. Her praise extols what God has done in the past…

The Magnificat: Mary’s Song of Praise

Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.

How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,

and from now on all generations will call me blessed.

For the Mighty One is holy,

and he has done great things for me.

He shows mercy from generation to generation

to all who fear him.

His mighty arm has done tremendous things!

He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.

He has brought down princes from their thrones

and exalted the humble.

He has filled the hungry with good things

and sent the rich away with empty hands.

He has helped his servant Israel

and remembered to be merciful.

For he made this promise to our ancestors,

to Abraham and his children forever.”

Luke 1:46-55 – New Living Translation

Mary’s warning makes her a threat to the way things were, are, and will be. She reminds those who hear her words that God is a god of justice and just like he has throughout history, he will deliver justice to the oppressed. Do these words make us rejoice or cower?


The Real Mary: Blessed Assurance

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.”

With these words the young woman Mary accepted her calling to participate in the great redemptive work of God. Like the names recorded in the great litany of the faithful of Hebrews 11, she was an ordinary person given an extraordinary vocation. The passage in which these words of faith appear is straightforward but we must not miss the thread of danger that winds through it. When the angel Gabriel makes his appearance, it is said that Mary was greatly troubled. Gabriel soothes her nerves by simply whispering the words “do not be afraid”, the words that are repeated over and over throughout the redemption story when men and women are pointed back to the strength of their faith. This is exactly what we see Mary do.

Mary’s faith is extraordinary, the kind of faith that we all hope to have at the moment of truth. Facing ridicule and castigation for her out of wedlock pregnancy, her words of faith are ‘ may it be.’ When Gabriel announces that she will be carrying the Messiah, the one who her people have been watching and waiting for, Mary must process what it will mean to her betrothal, her own family, and her future. Her engagement could be broken and the security of her own family taken away. The future then would take a much darker turn as her life would be lived out in the streets with nothing to hang on to … except her faith. Though all of these things were possible, Mary does not hesitate to answer yes when God calls her. She is being blessed by the God who has cared for women of faith before her: Rahab, Ruth, Tamar and Bathsheba. She has everything to fear and she has nothing to fear. All generations will call her blessed.

When you and I are called to a task by God, whether it be simple or extraordinary, what will our answer be? Will we hesitate at that moment, fearing what is to come, or will be answer ‘ May it be’ trusting in God as Mary did so many years ago?

The Real Mary and You & Me

Virgin Mary

Daniel Carroll, a seminary professor who was one of the greatest influencers of the trajectory of my ministry in the area of justice and mercy, once asked me if I had developed a Maryology (Mariology). I said no and then quickly side stepped the issue. To a Protestant, Mary was a fixture of Catholic lore surrounded by tradition and theology that had elevated her from the mother of Jesus to holy sainthood. Her vocation was expanded beyond the gospel story to give her stature as mediatrix and her virginity maintained through divine biology. I had given no thought or study the reality or basis of these beliefs and had dismissed the development of a Mariology as unnecessary to the pastoral care of my congregation. Now, several years later, I must once again credit Dr. Carroll as being prescient about the things that can shape one’s ministry.

As I reread McKnight’s The Real Mary, I am spending much more time meditating on the ministry of Mary. In his introductory chapter he gives a satisfying reason for all of us to consider Mary in a new light.

” Because while Mary’s story is that of an ordinary woman, it (is) also the story of a woman with an extraordinary vocation (being mother to the Messiah) who learned to follow this Messiah Jesus through the ordinary struggles that humans face. In this sense, Mary represents each of us– both you and me– in our call to follow Jesus.”

A new look at Mary is in order. Let’s put aside the divisive issues for now and give her renewed meditation. I’m going to track along with Scot’s book as an organizing tool; if you’ve read the book I’d love to hear from you as we give the mother of the Lord a second look.

The Real Mary

Stop. Close your eyes. No wait! Open your eyes and read the next sentence. When I say the words Virgin Mary what image pops into your head? Close your eyes now so that you can the picture can take form in your mind’s eye. For many, the picture will be of a young woman, swathed in blue and white holding the baby she named Jesus close to her breast and gazing placidly upon his visage. She may be an anthropomorphism; a stained-glass window come to life. She is, for many Protestants, an important component of the gospel story but a role player at best. The two-dimensional figure that we come to know around Advent each year fades into the background soon after Christmas. Scot McKnight, in The Real Mary, seeks to bring her out of the background of the nativity scene and bring to the reader’s attention numerous dimensions that are often dismissed in the Evangelical community.

The mention of Mary beyond the role of Jesus’ mother in many Evangelical circles can cause shoulders to rise and eyes to narrow as people steel themselves for the expected challenge to the deep chasm they have scratched out between themselves and the Catholic (capital C) church. McKnight brings us a different perspective to ponder, that of an unknown young woman from a backwater town called to an extraordinary task in giving birth to the Lord. But the story does not end there as the blue thread of Mary’s life weaves its way through the entire ministry of Jesus. She learns what it means to follow him, how difficult and challenging it is, and McKnight helps us to discover how much we are like Mary in that respect.

A many faceted Mary emerges from the pages of this book. We are invited to narrow our Bible study to those passages in which Mary is featured and each adds a brush stroke to the character that evolves. She is not the passive young woman we often picture but in total, a bit of a radical, following Jesus from His birth until he gives up His spirit on the cross. During their years together Mary as mother is often able to perceive the uniqueness and likely the divinity of her child, perhaps more intimately and sooner than the others who surrounded him. She comes to know that the Messiah expected and the Messiah realized are much different.

The immense value of this small book is its combination of popular presentation of scholarly material combined with devotional possibilities spread throughout the book. Mary should not be feared by Evangelicals. McKnight touches on the divisive lore that surrounds Mary in the Catholic teaching and helps to clarify many that have been misunderstood by the Evangelical church. Perhaps Mary can be added to the many scriptural events and people that we utilize to teach an uncompromising and immediate affirmative is necessary to any call of God. To quote Scot, “As Kathleen Norris has said so well in her own reflections about Mary, “When I am called to answer ‘Yes’ to God, not knowing where this commitment will lead me, Mary give me hope that it is enough to trust in God’s grace and promise of salvation.””


The Forgotten Ways

Scot McKnight over at Jesus Creed is prompting his readers to read along and discuss Alan Hirsch’s book The Forgotten Ways and I was moved to join the discussion. Hirsch tells the story of moving a moribund body backwards in time and tradition to a Church in which all participated, all were held to account, and all were so significantly countercultural that their lives became attractional, living invitations to other to follow Christ with them. Our church set out to do this and it has been quite an adventure. As we set forth, some found themselves too attached to the 10/90 model and dropped off. Others challenged the map we were following, slowing the mission but not stopping it. Meeting people where they are rather than demanding that they join us where we want to be is the most spiritually satisfying thing our group has ever done.

Jesus Loves Osama

Church sign

The red words of the Sermon on the Mount pose an incredible challenge, don’t they? Platitudes or a way of life for followers of Jesus? Read the article here.  With the high regard for scripture that exists in the missional church, the Sermon on the Mount demands that we be counter cultural since nearly every verse runs in opposition to the modern world into which we’ve been sent. Though we use many cultural accoutrements to reach our community, eventually we are confronted by the One that we follow with demands that cannot be softened by candles, video, or louder praise music.