Practicing the Better: Mary

When I think of Mary, I see light, life, and love combined in her.  Gabriel’s description of her as “favored one” (Luke 1:28) uses the Greek word for grace.  She is a “graced one”–from which the Church declares, “Hail Mary, full of grace…”. The Orthodox Church captures it in the notion of her shining with grace.

Her instruction about life, light, and love is contained in what we call her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).  It is a many-splendored passage.  With respect to life, light, and love it has many insights, but the word “magnify” (1:46) will suffice for this post.  Practicing the better, being a God-bearer (of light, life, and love) includes going into those places and to those people whose vision of God is too small, and “enlarging” their views and experiences.

In words close to those penned today by Walter Brueggemann, Mary’s magnification/enlargement meant the end of fallen-world empires.  The proud are scattered, the high-and-mighty are dethroned, the lowly are exalted, the hungry are filled with good things while the rich are sent away empty.  Mary’s song provides the bridge from the first Covenant to the second.  The transformative dynamics of light, life, and love which we have seen in the Old Testament flow into the New.  The practice of the better is in relation to the coming of the new creation.

And we must not fail to see that Mary’s practice of the better began and continued in risk–the risk of her pending marriage to Joseph, the risk of being shamed and shunned by her family and friends, and the risk of her loss of reputation–being nowhere close to “full of grace.” in the eyes of others.  Similarly, we must often practice the better with a willingness to take risks.

Mary’s practice of the better, her willingness to risk everything, is summarized in her response to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me as you have said” (1:38).  We too are called to practice the better in the knowledge that we are God’s servants, at God’s disposal to be instruments of peace in whatever ways we can, wherever we are, and to all.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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