“Behold the maidservant of the Lord!”
I find these words characteristic of St. Mary, and in them I see the reason to emulate her. These words, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord!” are characteristic of the Lord’s faithful servants all throughout the Scriptures. When God called Moses, revealing Himself to be the great I AM, Moses responded by saying “Here I am” (Exodus 3). God reveals Himself to us by saying “I AM,” and then He calls us. The way in which we respond to His presence and call makes all the difference in the world.
God says “I AM.”
Satan and God-deniers say, “Are you?”
The servants of the Lord respond to God saying “I AM” by saying, “Here I am.” But God-deniers say, “I am not (His servant),” as Peter did when He denied the Lord thrice.
When Samuel was called by the Lord in a vision, while in the tabernacle of the Lord, he went to Eli, before whom he ministered unto the Lord, and presented himself as the servant of the Lord, saying, “Here I am” (1 Samuel 3).
When God, the Holy Trinity, said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Isaiah responded with faith by saying, “Here am I! Send me!” God responds to this kind of faithful attitude of His servant by saying, “Go, and tell this people” (Isaiah 6:8-9.)
The faithful response to God’s presence – I AM – and His call “Go!” is to humbly and faithfully say, “Here I am – send me!” or “Behold, the maidservant of the Lord.”
These words of St. Mary’s stand between God’s revelation and promise (I AM will save and bless you) and her own faithful, loving service. What is the missing link between God’s offer of the grace of His presence and His blessing (which are the same thing)? It is our faithful response. But it’s not enough that Mary merely said, “Behold, your maidservant.” She had to make her faith actual by demonstrating her faith by her faithfulness.
“You say you’re my servant?” the Lord asks. “Then Go! and serve!”
I remember that when I was ordained as a deacon (after a grueling 3 ½ hour oral exam), that Bp. Grote immediately asked me to pick up his bags and carry them. I think a congratulation or something like that came pretty soon after, but my first duty as a deacon was to serve. The funny thing is that once you’re ordained to be a deacon, you’re always a deacon, and so I guess the last laugh’s on Bp. Grote because he’s fully aware that even bishops (especially bishops!) are still deacons. I wish all bishops realized this as my bishops do.
So what does this blessed, highly favored Mary do after hearing the Great News? She mounts her throne and begins to receive visitors, dispensing her effortless blessing on them.
No! She hustles and makes the journey to the hill country of Judea and visits Elizabeth, her aging but pregnant aunt, probably to help serve her. Because she stays with Elizabeth for 3 months, until John is born, and since Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant, Mary must have chosen to go immediately. The angel doesn’t even command her to go: Mary, seeing herself as the servant of the Lord, just goes. I believe she went not only to see Elizabeth’s Good News firsthand and to share hers with Elizabeth but also to minister to Elizabeth. The mother of the Lord, the maidservant of the Lord served, as her son, the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.
The power of God and His initiating love and grace are demonstrated not just by Mary but also by John the Baptist. Not yet born, John begins his prophetic ministry with a real kick! He was living proof that “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you came forth from the womb I sanctified you” (Jeremiah 1:5.) I can’t help but think that if John, a 6-month old fetus responded to Mary, the mother of the Lord, how much more should we who are adults respond to the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives? Before John was born, the I AM said to him, “You are!” and John was conceived.
How great was the faith of Mary, and how great a model she is for us to imitate! Her faith – her belief of the Word of God and her obedience to it (by the grace of her Son) – and the faith of all who are united to Christ, has become the undoing of the curse of Eve. As Eve heard the Word of God, listened to the voice of the fallen angel, disobeyed the Word, and then fell herself, Mary has shown us a better way. With Mary, we are to hear the Word of God, listen to the voice of the messengers of the Gospel in our lives, obey the Word, and then rise with Christ.
As St. Ambrose says, “For a soul that has believed has both conceived and bears the Word of God and declares his works. Let the soul of Mary be in each of you, so that it magnifies the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each of you, so that it rejoices in God. She is the one mother of Christ according to the flesh, yet Christ is the Fruit of all according to faith.”
I’ve learned to respond whenever God whispers I AM and “Go!” to me. (He seems to always whisper to me for some reason, I guess to improve my hearing!) A few years ago, shortly after Easter, I sensed the Holy Spirit telling me to call a certain woman from church and encourage her. It was late on a Saturday night when the Spirit came to me, and I’d just finished the sermon and thought I’d relax for a little while.
But sometimes the Holy Spirit is a holy nag! So I called, and this person was encouraged and started coming to church again. Almost immediately after the Sunday she had returned to church, a son was born to her son and daughter-in-law. The boy had some critical medical conditions. I then had the opportunity to come and visit this young family in the hospital (actually, 2 hospitals), and to bless the child. As a result, that entire extended family was blessed by God, and so was my local parish and I.
I often wonder how many times John the Baptist doesn’t kick for us and how many times Elizabeth is not visited when we don’t listen to the Holy Spirit.
God says to you, I AM!
What will your response be today? What will it be tomorrow? Will you be a Mary? Will you be a John the Baptist?
(Zut! I didn’t even have time to meditate on the Magnificat! I guess I’ll have to make it the Point for Meditation.)
Resolution and Point for Meditation: Sing the Magnificat with Mary, if you know a version of it. If you don’t know a song version, then recite the Magnificat throughout the day and ponder these things in your heart.
Prayer: My soul magnifies You, Lord, and my spirit rejoices in You, for You are my Savior. Come and glorify Yourself in me by coming to be with me. Fulfill Your promises to me through Your Son, and as You make me Your chosen vessel and servant, give me the Spirit of Jesus Christ that I may more faithfully serve. Amen.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson