Talking about Mary

Mary is such a wonderful example of faith. Yet so many add stories and legends not found in the Bible.

Michael Hartman

Karla regularly attends a Lutheran church in León, Mexico, but like many Latinos, her past holds strong ties to Mary.

“I remember how much I enjoyed dancing in the parades,” she says, recalling a December festival to the virgin Mary she used to participate in.

“Every February, my father walks 80 miles to ask for the virgin’s blessing,” she continues. “In my hometown, each day in May a different professional group parades to the virgin statue located in the church on the central plaza. May 3 was the day I was required to participate. Many carry heavy statues of saints on their backs as they join the parade to the church. When I was in college, we actually received course credit for participation in the ritual. We believed the virgin has the power to protect us.”

Karla’s experiences are shared by many Latinos who come to the Lutheran church as adults. On a recent Sunday at Resurrected Christ Lutheran Church in León, Mexico, Bible study was especially crowded. The subject of the conversation for the day was talking to others about Mary. During the study, the question was asked, “How did you come to believe what you now know about Mary?”

“I read the Bible,” those in attendance answered.

We are not surprised to hear someone learned the truth about Mary by reading the Bible. But it demonstrates a point. People who have misperceptions of Mary are rarely familiar with what the Bible does—and does not—tell us about her. Countless myths exist about Mary: that she was able to walk at six months; that she was fed by an angel; that she became engaged to Joseph after his staff blossomed and a dove landed on his head; that she appeared to an Aztec peasant named Juan Diego.

In my experience, talking about Mary is often an opportunity to get people to open their Bibles. Many are surprised that Mary only speaks four times in the Bible. When someone brings up the subject of Mary, consider this response: “There are so many different ideas about Mary, why don’t we let Mary talk for herself?”

You can read everything Mary ever said in the Bible in less than 15 minutes. After reading each part of the Bible, ask these questions: What surprised you? What do we learn from Mary’s words? What was important to Mary?

Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:26-38)

As you read what Mary said when an angel appeared to her, you cannot help but admire the words of a faithful believer. Like Abraham and other heroes of faith, Mary simply trusts God’s message even though she does not fully comprehend it. Her prayer of willing service and submission to God’s will is a model for all believers.

In addition to her example of faith, we see her humanity. Many who read this section note how Mary did not have an inside track on what was going on. She, like all of us, needed God to reveal it to her when the time had fully come.

Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55)

One of Mary’s most important statements jumps out at us at the beginning of her song. After hearing Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary glorifies the Lord saying, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Mary needed a Savior. Like all of us, she had committed innumerable sins since her birth. Christ, her son, is her Savior too. The remainder of her song is really her carrying out her statement of rejoicing.

Mary’s statement is prophetic when she says, “From now on all generations will call me blessed,” but listen to what she says and we see why she is blessed. Mary is not called blessed because of her personal qualities, but because of the wonderful things God has done to her. We see a believer celebrating God’s greatness and mercy. Her focus is on God her Savior.

Mary and preteen Jesus (Luke 2:41-52)

Abraham treated his wife poorly. David murdered a faithful follower. Peter betrayed. Paul persecuted. The Bible is full of examples of heroes of faith failing. I am certain Mary would not claim that the time they lost Jesus for three days was an example of great parenting.

You can hear the relief of a mother in Mary’s words when she finally finds her son. You also see a person who seems to have forgotten her son’s special mission. Jesus respectfully reminds her, “Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” In Mary, we see a loving but human mother.

Mary at a wedding (John 2:1-11)

Like the encounter in the temple, Jesus’ response to Mary’s words lend insight into what she’s thinking. When the wine runs out, Mary finds Jesus and tells him. Jesus’ respectful reply demonstrates that Mary was trying to do what she thought was best. Who of us has not at one time or another thought if only God would do this my way?

Mary pays attention to Jesus’ every word. Jesus’ response, “My hour has not yet come,” did not close the door completely. With the final words of Mary recorded in Scripture, she encourages the servants to do what Jesus tells them.

In this final section, we again see a human Mary. However, we also see a Mary who follows her Savior, paying close attention to his words.

These are the only times Mary talks in the Bible. She does appear in plenty of other stories. In addition to Christmas and Epiphany, she was present for Jesus’ death and listed among the believers after his ascension. But no other words of hers are recorded for us. After reading through Mary’s words together, I encourage the person to look up the other places in the Bible where she appears.

When the subject of Mary comes up, remember, it is not a matter of winning a debate. The goal is to open the Bible. Let the power of the Holy Spirit work as Scripture is read and studied.

When Karla spoke of her experience of coming to know the biblical Mary, she stressed the importance of patience. Latinos, especially, have a strong cultural connection to Mary. She’s the ideal mother figure. Family festivals and bonds play a stronger role than they do in most Anglo families. As an outsider, one of the most attractive parts of the Latino culture is the priority it places on relationships.

Coming to a biblical understanding of Mary’s role often has a significant impact on personal ties.

“Family events were especially hard when I stopped following Mary,” Karla recalls. “Parties and family gatherings are intertwined closely with holidays that incorrectly celebrate Mary. But I am so glad I came to believe what the Bible teaches about Mary. When I used to follow Mary, I didn’t understand what Jesus did for me. What he did for the world.”

Karla now carefully teaches her children about the Mary in the Bible. Like Mary, Karla wants to point people to her Savior Jesus.

Missionary Michael Hartman, field coordinator for Latin America, lives in León, Mexico.

 

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Author: Michael Hartman
Volume 102, Number 12
Issue: December 2015

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