Mary, Jesus’ Mother

The story of Jesus’ mother Mary is both over-told and under-told. Or perhaps it is just not told in the correct way. On one hand, we have an entire religion that has raised her up to the level of God-like worship; prayers are sent up to her in heaven, and she is treated as worthy of our devotion and praise for her role in the coming savior of the world. On the other hand, other religions, while wanting to dispel the notion that Mary should be worshipped as God, have gone through the trouble of dismissing her and her example of faith.

Both tracks are wrong, and both lose sight of the larger story that Jesus tells with the details of his life and the people who surround it. When we elevate Mary to the level of God, we lose sight of her example of great faith and the courageous spirit that we are all given through the power of the Holy Spirit. If she was, in fact, God-like it is easy then to lower the standards of faith and obedience for ourselves. But when, in hopes of dispelling the idea of her divinity, we gloss over her story, we miss an important and relevant part of what God is telling us about the honor and glory he bestows on women, the importance of women in the spreading of the Gospel story and the picture of the Kingdom of God he gives us in the story of this seemingly insignificant woman.

Mary was a young, virgin girl, who lived in a small and insignificant town. Because of the culture at the time, it is easy to assume that, like most young women in her town, she was looked upon as an afterthought. Marrying, bearing children and keeping house was her lot in life, the highest honor given to any common woman. According to society, there wasn’t anything particularly special about Mary. Nothing that made her stand out. Nothing praiseworthy about her. A quiet and dutiful girl, she seemed ready to accept her role in society, as it was laid out before her.

Mary’s parents are not spoken of. Some have speculated that she may have been an orphan, but no one knows for sure. It is possible, and even likely that she was descended from King David, but since her parents are not mentioned, we can’t know for sure. The only thing we know about her is that she was a virgin, living in Bethlehem and betrothed to Joseph.

The story in Luke about Mary is interesting in the fact that her story follows immediately after the story of Zechariah the priest, a faithful man of God, who was told his wife would become pregnant with a prophet who would proclaim the coming of the Lord. Zechariah didn’t believe it could happen in their old age, and because of their inability to have children, and the angel rebuked him and rendered him speechless because of his unbelief. The story of Mary follows the story of Zechariah, and Mary’s faith is intended to show a stark contrast to Zechariah’s faithlessness.

When the angel comes to Mary to tell her that she will become pregnant as a virgin and give birth to the savior, she is utterly amazed, but fully submits herself to the will of the Lord. This was a bold and brave move for Mary. A young girl’s virginity was a value held higher than a young girl’s life. It would have been an easier thing for her to give up her life for her savior, but she is asked to give up her virginity- or at least her reputation.

Giving up her reputation in this way, could have lost Mary literally everything. She could have lost her fiance, any hope for a marriage in the future and thus her entire value in society. Not only that, but she could have literally lost her life- it was common to stone women to death who had engaged in unlawful sexual behavior. Mary indisputably puts everything on the line when she submits to the will of God. What a beautiful example and display of courage and faith.

One of the things we need to see in this story of Mary is the way in which Jesus’ life is heaven invading earth and bringing to us, the Kingdom of God. Not just on a large scale, where the savior comes for all of us, but in the details of the individual life of Mary. On earth, in her society, Mary was of little value, worth, and was marginally acceptable as a young woman. But when Jesus came, it was clear that this was not how God saw Mary. God sees Mary as precious, honored, worthy, brave, and He knew that she contained a vibrant faith and a warrior-like heart. No one else esteemed Mary like God did. And what a beautiful picture of how God feels about all of his daughters.

When you spend your whole life, as Mary did, hearing that you are lesser-than, that your value and worth is small, that you will never measure up, that you, because of who you are, will never amount to anything important, even if you begin to believe it because that is the message you have always heard, there is still something deep down inside of you that yearns to believe the truth. The truth that you are valuable and worthy and loved.

Perhaps this is why Mary reacted to the news the angel brought her in the way that she did. Maybe there was a longing in her heart to be valuable and to do big things for God. Maybe she was desperate to believe that she was worthy and loved. Maybe she clung to this news with all her might because it was the first time she had ever been told these things and she did not want to let it go. Maybe this is part of what she pondered to herself in her heart.

I think this is why Mary was so brave. She had heard the truth, maybe for the first time, that she was valuable to the Kingdom of God, and she was told, maybe for the first time that she was loved unconditionally and she responds with passion, gratefulness and bravery. Can’t you just feel it? Have you ever felt that way? 2 Timothy tells us that the Spirit of God does not make us fearful, but gives us power, love and self control. Mary understood that and was filled with a love and a power that made her brave.

Even after the birth of Jesus, Mary’s story is not over. She is not simply chosen as a holy birth canal, but she is also chosen to be the mother of the savior of the world, and with that role comes authority to which Jesus willingly submitted himself to during his growing up years. Jesus even performed his first public miracle because his mother told him to!

Mary’s life WAS significant. Not because she was ever a leader within her society, but because God raised her up and allowed her to teach and influence Jesus and the rest of the world as a result. Not only that, but Mary also contributed to the writing of the book of Luke!  The Gospel of Luke is the only gospel not written by a personal eyewitness to Jesus’ life and ministry- Luke spent years of travel and writing and research, interviewing eyewitnesses of Jesus in order to put together his gospel, in order to get a more complete picture of Jesus’ life, who he was and what he was about. One of those eyewitnesses was Mary, which is why Luke is the book where we see the most detail of Jesus’ birth and childhood.

Interestingly, Luke is the Gospel that speaks the most about the poor, the needy and the marginalized of society, and how Jesus comes, not just to care for them, but to save them, rescue them and give them value and worth in the Kingdom of God. It shows Jesus in the most compassionate light. It tells the highest number of stories about Jesus and women in general. This must be because Luke (and Paul as well, as they did a lot of ministry together) understood the importance of women to the story of Jesus and allowed them a place to tell their stories. He knew they were important and that they would tell us something about Jesus that we didn’t already know. I pray that, like Luke and Paul, we can all be moved towards that same understanding.

With his dying breath on the cross, some of Jesus’ last words are making sure that his mother is cared for after his death. He esteems her with his last breath. In the end, we see that Mary’s story is a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God coming to earth, not just in a general way, but in a way that is deep and personal for each one of us, particularly the daughters of God who long to be treated with value and worth, and often aren’t. It is a story about how, regardless of society, God raises women up and puts them on the front lines of the spiritual battle, because that is where he always intended them to be.

Advertisements

Deborah; Redeemer and Prophet Part 3

Click here for Part 1 of Deborah’s story and here for Part 2.

The story of Deborah continues with recounting the battle between Israel and Sisera. Israel wins the battle by God sending a rainstorm down- in the middle of the dry season- which throws off Sisera’s army and throws them into chaos and confusion. Israel annihilated the enemy and killed them all. All but one. Sisera- who left the battle on foot (presumably because his chariot of iron got stuck in the mud and was useless) and ended up slain by Jael in her tent. I believe that Jael deserves her own story, so I won’t give a lot of the details of that part here- but through the actions of both these women and Barak, victory is won to Israel and peace is restored in the land for 20 years.

In Deborah’s song in chapter 5, she describes herself as “a mother in Israel”. I just want to take a look at that for a moment because I believe that there is much there in the word ‘mother’.

We don’t know if Deborah was a mother or not. The bible does not talk about any children of hers. It’s easy to assume though that she was, but when the word mother is used here, it is not speaking of her being a mother of children. It is talking about her being a mother of Israel. The commentaries say that the title was given to her as one of honor, respect and prominence.

If I just ended with that, I think that gives some insight to the honor, respect and prominence that God has for the role of motherhood. I think that is a beautiful reminder that the work that we do as mothers is seen by the God of the universe and is valuable to Him. In the midst of the busy-ness of our unglamorous lives between diapers and cheerios and battles about bedtime and bathtime and mealtime, etc, etc it is so easy to forget that what we do, MATTERS. It matters to the Most High God.

I think there’s also something to think about though in this story in regards to the idea of a woman who was leading Israel and her calling herself a mother. What can we learn from this story about how women lead and how God feels about women in leadership?

Well, first- we find this story in the Bible with nothing in or around it written that suggests that God has a problem with a woman leading. In fact, she was the judge who was written about in the most positive light. This says to me (along with other examples elsewhere in the Bible) that God does not have a problem with women leaders. Some of you may be reading this and thinking that that is a super obvious conclusion. But others of you may be surprised by that. I am not personally surprised by it, but I feel as though this is an important thing for me to learn and understand at the season of life that I am currently in.

Second- there are a lot of words that come to mind when we hear the word ‘mother’. What do you think of? Well, to name a few; protector, hospitable, tender, kind, caring for needs, caring for the weak and oppressed, putting the needs of others before our own,  seeking the good of others before our own, sacrificial, servant…

This is how Deborah describes her leadership of Israel. Men and women are both called to be leaders, but I believe that our leadership looks different. I believe the differences are good and the differences were created intentionally by God.  So many of the stories in the Bible that highlight influential women, seem to begin with that woman simply serving those around her. Maybe through food or hospitality or wisdom. And as she rises to leadership, she does so because she has gained the trust and love of the people around her and she continues to be loved and trustworthy because she doesn’t forget the people she is serving. She speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves. She protects those who are defenseless. Just like a mother.

What would happen I wonder, if us women caught the heart of God for the weak, the poor, the defenseless and became mothers for our world? That is, I believe, what we were created to do. We are world changers.

Deborah was a great leader. We would all do great to learn from her and follow her lead and immulate her faith. No doubt in my mind about that. The way that she sacrificially loved and served her people on behalf of her God points towards the way that thousands of years later, the Ultimate Judge would come. He came because He loved. He came to serve and sacrifice himself in order to save the people who would continue to sin and make poor life choices because without Him, it’s impossible for us to make good ones.  And that is ultimately what the story of Deborah is about. It’s about the true Hero who has come to save us all, and how when He comes, our lives change. And when our lives change He can work through even the smallest people to make the biggest changes.

Deborah; Redeemer and Prophet Part 2

If you have not yet caught Part 1 of Deborah’s story, go HERE to read that first. This is a continuation of her story.

The name Deborah means, “bee”. Which could mean that she has sweetness of character to her friends and a sharp sting to her enemies. It’s sort of makes me think of that scene from, “You’ve Got Mail” where Meg Ryan’s character is trying to psych herself up for her news interview and boxing in the corner saying, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” It’s a funny scene in the movie because Meg Ryan’s character is anything but a stinging bee.. but that description rings true for Deborah.

The text describes Deborah as a prophetess. This is significant because she is one of few women named in the Bible as a prophet and the ONLY judge to be named both judge and prophet. To be a prophet meant that God’s spirit had come upon her and that God spoke through her to his people. This indicates to me that Deborah may have carried a different weight/type of authority than some of the other judges and/or that people around her may have viewed or responded to her differently than some of the other judges.

It is interesting to note as well that Deborah was the only judge of Israel to be in power BEFORE a militant victory. Winning a war was the beginning of the rule for all the other judges. But not so with Deborah. She was already established as a judge and leader over Israel before conflict arose. People around her already valued her wisdom and intelligence and came to her to have their disputes settled before any military action took place. She was influencing Israel long before she fighting wars.

And then God speaks, and we really get into the story. Deborah calls to Barak, the military leader and tells him that God is going to deliver them and it is time to fight their enemies (Judges 4:6-7).

This makes me ask a few questions; At this point, Israel had been being oppressed for 20 years what changed? Was God waiting on Israel to finally cry out to Him? If Deborah was leading Israel at the time, why did it take so long to do something about their enemy? What was Barak’s part in this? What was he doing for that 20 years?

My best guess is that they were just waiting for God to come and deliver them. If Deborah was a prophet, that indicates to me that she was faithful and obedient. I know that I have had situations where I have seen or felt an injustice and cried out to God only to have Him say wait. So I wait, painfully, as I watch the injustices continue to happen and nothing changes. Until one day, God says move, and then things change suddenly. Maybe it was like that.

At any rate, Deborah calls to Barak. He comes, which signifies her power and influence at the time. She tells him that God has said that it is time to go to war and it’s time to rally the troops. He responds by saying, “If you go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”

These words are curious. Especially in the cultural context. The fact that a man is seemingly dependant on a woman is very unusual and it’s a very debated subject. Some people say that it was the response of a weak or passive man who was unable to summon the courage to fight the battle on his own. Some say that it was the response of a faithful man who wanted the assuring presence of the nations prophet to be with him.  We will never know for certain, but I think that it was a combination of both.

Barak knew of course that Deborah held the power. He also would have known of her great wisdom and influence throughout the tribes of Israel. He knew how people responded to her. But most of all, he knew that she spoke for God. I believe that there is an element of faith and wisdom in him asking her to come along. Maybe he knew that with her power and influence she would have a better chance of rallying the troops than himself. He could have also been asking for the continued hand of God to be with them in his response for her to come. Both options seem to me like wisdom and faith.

On the other hand, it’s possible that he could have been scared senseless and needed her confidence to go with them in the fight- that may have also been true.

Deborah agrees swiftly and confidently to go along with Barak to the battlefield. This is a beautiful picture of leadership to me. Not only was she willing to go into battle, but she was willing to go first. It’s also such a beautiful picture of a woman who was so filled with faith in the God whom she loved that she was willing to go to the hard places, do hard things with full assurance that God would be by her side, doing what He said he would do. She didn’t know the plan. She had no idea how they were going to fight and win this battle against this mighty enemy. God didn’t tell her that. But she knew God. She knew his voice. She knew His promises. And she knew His love for His people. So she went.

After she agrees to go along with him, Deborah says to Barak, “… nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.”

We assume from her statement, since she is the leader of Israel at the time, that she means that she herself will get the glory for the victory. Maybe she did. We find out at the end of the chapter though that it was another woman named Jael who actually is the one to kill Sisera.

I wonder if she knew that Jael would be the one to kill Sisera. Or if she thought that she would be the one to get the glory since she was the one commanding the army. Did God reveal to her what was going to happen specifically, or just that it was time for them to go to war and that they would win?

There’s really no way to know. But if you read in Chapter 5 of Judges where Deborah and Barak write a song of praise to God and a replay of the story, they give a whole section in there of praise to Jael for her actions. Jael was heralded as a hero. Despite what Deborah knew or didn’t know in the beginning, she responds to Jael’s part in the story with praise and celebration. I see no evidence of anger or bitterness in her towards Jael for stealing part of her glory.

Again, what a testament to her faith and relationship with God. She was comfortable resting in the fact that ultimately GOD got the best glory. There were people who rose to the occasion in faith and followed God and they were praised for their faith. But she ultimately knew that it was God’s story and God’s victory and He was the one to which the praise should go. I find that so beautiful, and such a great reminder of the way that it is supposed to be among women. In our society today we have such fierce competition between women and it is exhausting. How much better would it be if we all could just rest in the fact that no matter what I do that is good or bad and no matter what you do that is good or bad, ultimately it’s all God’s story anyway…

Stay tuned for Part 3 of Deborah’s story coming soon!

Deborah; Redeemer and Prophet Part 1

Deborah. Have you heard of her? When I first started reading and studying about the different women of the Bible, I had actually never heard of Deborah. But immediately upon hearing about her, I was intrigued and needed to know more. The more I study and the more I read about her and her situation, the more I become fascinated by her. Both as a person and in general about why her story was included in the Bible and what we are to learn from her. There’s so much we don’t know. And so many opinions and conjectures about her and how and why she came to be in power. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning and set the stage, shall we? Continue reading