Sam Allberry

Christians have always been fascinated and intrigued by the person of Mary. This is entirely understandable. Mary’s role in the purposes of God is unlike that of any other woman, as she herself recognized. It was her privilege to carry the Son of God in her womb, to give him birth, to nurse and (with Joseph) to nurture him through his childhood.

Mary is certainly worthy of great admiration. In that time, to be unwed and pregnant was a matter of enormous shame and sometimes even of heavy punishment. Yet she was not reluctant in fulfilling her special vocation. Her response to the angel’s announcement was to rejoice in song – “My soul…” She got to be the mother of God! Hers was a unique privilege.

On one occasion during Jesus’ ministry a woman in a crowd called out to him,

“Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you!” (Luke 11:27).

This sentiment is understandable. What a blessing, surely, to have been the mother of this man.

Yet for all this, it is clear in the gospel accounts that Mary’s unique position did not in any way give her special access to God. On one occasion, at a wedding which had just run out of wine, Jesus seemed to put something of a distance between them both.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” (John 2:3-4)

It may be that by her comment Mary was presuming upon her relationship with Jesus in some way, perhaps implying something of an inside track with his purposes, or nudging him to use his unique abilities to “do his thing.”

Jesus’ response is striking. He refers to her in a somewhat formal and distant manner. It is clear that though she is his mother, she has no privileged position when it comes to his mission. For all the uniqueness of her role she has no special access or inside track with God.

This is reinforced by Jesus’ response to the woman who called out to him from the crowd:

“Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you!”

Jesus replied: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:27-28).

Again, Jesus effectively relativizes the significance of Mary. The blessing she experienced by virtue of being the mother of God is not the greatest blessing God has to offer or that someone can receive. There is a blessing greater than that of being Mary: to live in obedience to the word of God. This, in fact, marks out those whom Jesus regards as belonging to his true spiritual family (Mark 3:34-35).

Jesus says that better even than being his mother is being his follower. Better than having him as a son is having him as a master.