In Luke chapter 1, the angel Gabriel greets Mary: “O favored one, the Lord is with you!” He then continues with: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
It is rare for us Protestants to linger long over Mary, the mother of Jesus. Whether in reading or meditating over Scripture, we quickly pass over her.
For those of us working to keep the gospel at center, taking a longer look at Mary's place in our theology and practical living could yield much fruit. After all, part of internalizing the gospel is understanding how God brought it forth through real flesh and blood people. The incarnation happened because God favored a woman and chose her to be a real live mother to his Son!
Mary Was Favored by the Lord
We may not fully comprehend how it is that God “favors” someone, but we cannot deny that the words came out of the angel Gabriel: “O favored one,” and “for you have found favor with God.” God the Father loved Mary, the young lady, living in Nazareth. Out of all the women in the history of the world, he chose her to be the mother of his Son.
This particular word, favored, used here in Luke 1:28 (KJV says “highly favoured”), is used in only one other place in the Bible, and that is in Ephesians 1:6. It means to bestow favor upon, to freely give, or to show kindness to, endued with grace. The Latin Vulgate translates it into “full of grace” which has given some the impression that Mary inherently had this special grace. But that is not the case. Mary was given a special grace from God. In the wise and secret council of God he determined that out of all the women in the history of mankind, that he would give a special endowment of favor to Mary—a poor, young, virgin girl from the lineage of David.
Matthew Henry says of Mary: “We have here an account given of the mother of our Lord, of whom he was to be born, whom, though we are not to pray to, yet we ought to praise God for.”
My question is: If Mary found favor with God, why does she not find favor with us? Why not give honor where honor is due, as Scripture teaches (Rom. 13:7)?
Giving Appropriate Honor to Mary
I believe we can honor Mary because of what God did through her. Just as we look highly upon the Apostle Paul and learn from him, we can look at the life of Mary and learn from her.
Later in the first chapter of Luke, after her encounter with her cousin Elizabeth, Mary sings a song of praise to God, which we refer to as the Magnificat. Although the song extols the character and virtue of God, it tells us some things about Mary herself:
And Mary said, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, In remembrance of his mercy. As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.
Her humble acquiescence alone puts me to shame. How many of us if we were told by an angel that God would do something in our life that will bring raised eyebrows, possibly lose a spouse, ruin our reputation, and cause us grief, would submit with such grace and humility?
Learning from Mary
We Christians will, without hesitation, give honor to church fathers and theologians, authors and pastors whom we find to be “full of grace” in their own ways. We “magnify” them by reading them, learning from them, telling others about them, quoting them, appreciating them.... They have “found favor” with us. So again, I ask, if Mary found favor with God, why not with us?
Mary didn't huddle down in sinful fear at was going to happen to her; her soul magnified God and her spirit rejoiced in God her Savior. She is not puffed up because she has been so especially blessed. Her soul lifts up God and her spirit finds joy in the one and only person who can give lasting and true joy—God her Savior. Furthermore, we see that she understood her salvation was from God.
She confesses she is of a lowly estate, she's not being proud of her poverty, nor puffed up in the redemption offered to her. She gives honor to God because he is the one that has done a mighty thing for her. Although she is not afraid to speak of her blessed position and the grace that was given to her, there is no arrogance or false humility in her words.
Mary knows her theology; she is versed in the words of the Old Testament Scriptures. Her words testify that she was a young woman who had invested time in learning. She may have been young and poor, but she wasn't uneducated.
Studying the words of Mary we also see that she was a woman of faith. Her understanding of the Scriptures was not just academic, Mary had internalized her knowledge of God. Her knowledge came out in a devoted and fervent faith. And we see the fruit (outward manifestation) by the way she questioned the angel—without doubt and faithlessness; We see it by her submission to God in verse 38 of Luke chapter one. And we see it in faith filled words in her song.
This small article is but a stone skimming. There is a lot of depth to Mary and her life if we but put in the effort to study. God gave a special grace to Mary—I think we would be wise to learn from her.
Luma Simms (@lumasimms) is a wife and mother of five delightful children. She studied physics and law before Christ led her to become a writer, blogger, and Bible study teacher. She is the author of Gospel Amnesia: Forgetting the Goodness of the News. She blogs regularly at Gospel Grace.