And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. [Luke 1:38 (RSV)]
Ignoring the fact that most of us in the room couldn’t qualify as virgins, are well-past child-bearing age, and our genealogies don’t link us to the tribe of Judah and the line of David, the pastor leading our women’s Bible study asked if we were the kind of women God would chose to give birth to His son.
Aside from being young, virginal, and of the right lineage, what kind of woman was Mary? At first glance, she seems little different than any other young girl in the obscure village of Nazareth. There is no mention of her having wealth, exceptional beauty, or social status. Looking like any other peasant girl, she seems unsuitable for a job as mother of God. What about Mary set her apart from every other girl in Palestine who met the lineage and virtue requirements?
Rather than looking at outward appearance, God looks into hearts; while we don’t know about Mary’s physical beauty, her character must have been exceptionally beautiful. Faithful, obedient and humble, she was filled with love for God. She risked her entire future when she submitted to Him. In many translations, Mary calls herself the “Lord’s servant.” The original Greek, however, was doule, which means bondmaid, female slave or handmaid. A doule wasn’t hired help who could quit when she wanted. She was someone who surrendered completely to her Master’s will.
I thought about the pastor’s question. Had I fit the physical and lineage requirements, would God have chosen me to bear His son? He wouldn’t have given me a second look when I was Mary’s age—I was far too willful, rebellious, selfish and unsure of myself to ever call myself a servant to anyone, even God! Even if the woman I am today fit the physical and lineage requirements, God wouldn’t consider me. It’s not that He wouldn’t trust me to feed, comfort, teach, love, guide, encourage, and protect His Son; I’d qualify in the mothering department. It’s that submission thing; I don’t think I’d freely surrender my will to His and God will not force Himself upon anyone. Mary had enough faith to yield her will to God but, even with 72 years of experiencing God’s faithfulness under my belt, I’m not sure I have the heart of a handmaiden. Humble and complete submission to the Master’s will does not come easily. “Thy will be done,” are some of the hardest words to pray and truly mean.
Both Mary and Jesus submitted to God’s divine will; should we do anything less? Father, forgive us for choosing our will over Yours. Give us a handmaid’s heart.