Why is the mother of Christ his first and best disciple? Why should all generations call her blessed (cf. Luke 1:48)?
Mary was the only disciple who was with Christ at every major milestone of his life. She was there at his conception (Luke 1:26-38), birth (Luke 2:1-20), presentation at the temple (Luke 2:22-40), first miracle (John 2:1-12), crucifixion, and death (John 19:25-27). Was her presence at these major events mere coincidence? Was it all predestined? Was Mary allowed to exercise her free will?
I think Christ made it very clear in Luke 11:27-28: “As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.””
This woman seems to have expressed the popular feeling. The crowds who had seen Jesus drive out a demon that was mute, had listened to the cavilling suspicions, and then heard the Master’s wise and skillful reply, were evidently impressed with the wisdom as with the power of the famous but hated Teacher, for they no doubt echoed the lofty and sublime blessing of the woman here. She, perhaps, had in her own person experience of the two kinds of healing just contrasted by the Master; at all events, she had rightly comprehended his words. “How many women have blessed the holy Virgin, and desired to be such a mother as she was! What hinders them? Christ has made for us a wide way to this happiness, and not only women, but men may tread it – the way of obedience; this it is which makes such a mother, and not the throes of childbirth” (St. John Chrysostom AD 349 – 407). It has been ingeniously noticed that this is the first direct fulfillment of the “Magnificat” – “all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).
Though the mother of Christ was happy in bearing and suckling such a son, yet it was a far greater happiness to hear the word of God; meaning either Christ himself, the eternal “Logos”, so as to embrace him, believe on him, and have him formed in the heart; or the Gospel preached by him, so as to understand it, receive it as the in-grafted word, and bring forth fruit, and act in obedience to it, observe it, and abide by it, and never relinquish it. This is a greater happiness than to be related to Christ in the flesh, though ever so nearly.
Let us learn from Mary the trust and obedience needed of a true disciple of Christ. During the Annunciation of the Lord, Mary told the angel Gabriel: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:28).
God’s message by the mouth of the angel was not a command. The part Mary had to fulfill made no demands on her. It only remained, therefore, for Mary to consent to the consequences of the Divine offer. She gives this consent in a word at once simple and sublime, which involved the most extraordinary act of faith that a woman ever consented to accomplish. Mary accepts the sacrifice of that which is dearer to a young maiden than her very life, and thereby becomes preeminently the heroine of Israel, the ideal daughter of Zion. Nor was the immediate trouble and sorrow which she foresaw would soon encompass her by any means the whole burden which submission to the angel’s message would bring upon the shrinking Nazareth maiden. The lot proposed to her would bring probably in its wake unknown sufferings as well as untold blessedness. We may with all reverence think Mary already feeling the first piercings in her heart of that sharp sword which was one day to wound so deeply the mother of sorrows; yet in spite of all this, in full view of the present woe, which submission to the Divine will would forthwith bring upon her, with an unknown future of sorrow in the background, Mary submitted herself of her own free will to what she felt was the will and wish of her God.
Mary told the servants at the Wedding at Cana: “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). The mother of Jesus clearly understood by the gentle rebuke she received, that Christ, her Son, had read her heart, and was going in some way, not to gratify her darling wish, but at least to take her hint for the consolation of her young friends, and to attend to her suggestion. Though in some sense slighted or reproved, she exhibits the most entire confidence in her Son and Lord. She encourages the servants to do whatever he might command. The faith of Mary was not depressed by the discovery that there were depths of character in her Son which she could not fathom. Obedience to Christ will always be our duty, even though we cannot penetrate the reasons of his command.
Mary took on a great deal of risk and suffering for the greater good of mankind. She did it out of obedience to God who became incarnated as her son our Lord Jesus Christ. Mary is the model disciple of Christ because she “hears the word of God and obeys it” (Luke 11:28). She is indeed an important role model for Christians in a world which favours personal gains more than the common good, and where humility is considered more of a handicap than a virtue.
Let the song “Trust and Obey” remind us that there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey: