If you want to know Jesus, you need to know Mary. If you want to know the Son, you need to know His mother.
Luke (like all of the evangelists) gives us only the essential information we need about Jesus and the people in his earthly life. Luke doesn’t tell us what Mary looked like or who her parents were. We can infer that Mary was young, as Jewish girls at that time typically married between the ages of 12 to 16. We also know that she lived in a small town, as only 200 to 500 people lived in Nazareth in those days. She was a woman in a time when women had no rights and were deemed inferior. Her people were often persecuted; their beliefs were considered strange; and they were subjects of a foreign power. By the standards of that place and time, she would have been considered a person of no importance.
What Luke tells us about her is much more profound. The angel Gabriel greets Mary by saying, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you” and adds that Mary “has found favor with God.” There are numerous examples of angels greeting men and women in the Bible, but none where the angel praises the person in this fashion. Grace is a sharing in the love of God. To say that Mary is full of grace is to say that she shares in the love of God in a very deep way, a way unique to her among human creatures. The Bible describes no other human creature this way.
A fruit of the fullness of grace is a complete trust in God’s loving care. When Gabriel informs Mary that she will bear a son, she asks him, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” Note that Mary is not questioning Gabriel here. She is asking for guidance. Mary is betrothed to a man named Joseph. She shouldn’t be surprised that she will become pregnant soon. Her question indicates that she isn’t having relations with Joseph and had not intended to in the future. She is asking Gabriel what God intends her to do in light of this news.
Gabriel informs her that the conception of Jesus will be brought about by supernatural means. “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
Think of what this means for Mary. Joseph will know the baby is not his. He will conclude that Mary has betrayed him. An unfaithful woman could be stoned to death according to the law of Moses. Mary is risking her life if she assents to God’s plan for her.
Yet Mary trusts God completely. She tells Gabriel, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” God gives Mary the choice, and Mary freely chooses to be become the mother of Jesus. She puts her life in God’s hands. She doesn’t know all of the adventures she is about to embark upon, but she trusts that God in his infinite love will always take care of her.
Consider too God’s trust in Mary. God has a plan for each and every one of His children. He needed an extraordinary woman to whom to entrust His beloved Son. He gives Mary (and Joseph) the incredible responsibility of raising His Son. Making sure He is fed. Keeping Him safe. Sharing in their love. God trusts in Mary. He can do this because He knows what kind of woman she is. He knows her even better than she knows herself, just as He knows each one of us better than we know ourselves. And He loves us more than we could possibly love ourselves.
The day of the Annunciation must have started for Mary like a very ordinary day. By the time she went to bed that night, so much had changed. She had been living a quiet life of humble holiness. Now she had been visited by an angel, and had accepted her mission to be the mother of God’s only son. What was she thinking as she lay in bed that night? Her adventure was only beginning. To say yes to God, to accept His plan for your life, is to embark on a great adventure.
“[Mary] calls herself His handmaid, who is chosen to be His mother, so far was she from being exalted by the sudden promise. At the same time also be calling herself handmaid, she claimed to herself in no other way the prerogative of such great grace that she might do what was commanded her. For about to bring forth One meek and lowly, she was bound herself to show forth lowliness.” -St. Ambrose
Image: The Annunciation By Bartolomé Esteban Murillo – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=155990