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Mary, mother of Jesus – A true disciple
Evelyn Shellenberger, a member of Paoli, (Ind.) Mennonite Fellowship, served with MCC in Qom, Iran, from 2001 to 2004 and September 2008 until June 2009. The following reflection was published in 2002.
Today was one of those days when haunting questions demanded my attention. I was sitting in our small apartment in Qom, Iran, looking out at the Iranian desert: dry, brown, hot, barren, uninhabitable, lonely and desolate. Perhaps the desert environment helped to give voice to my questions. Why am I living in Iran anyway? Think about it, what have I really accomplished during the past year? Has my presence made any difference here? Did I make the right decision to say "yes" to this assignment?
During such times of questioning I find comfort in meditating on the stories of people of faith who show us the way through the dark times. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is such a person of faith for me. I turned to the story of the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary, as recorded in Luke. From this story we only know that Mary is a virgin who is engaged to Joseph. History tells us that she is very young at the time of the angel's visit.
Gabriel spoke words of encouragement and comfort: "The Lord is with you. ... Do not be afraid." And then the unbelievable announcement, "You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus."
Mary's response is powerful and instructive – the response of a true follower of God, one who hears the word of God and acts on it. "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word," she says. I reflect on the incredible courage of saying yes to God's request. She did not know the consequence of her choice at the time. Would she perhaps be stoned by angry mobs for being an unmarried mother? Would she be rejected by her family and by Joseph? Would she perhaps be famous for birthing the Son of the Most High?
Mary was not promised a smooth path because she said yes to God. She was only reassured that God was with her and she need not be afraid. I search the rest of the New Testament to see how her decision to say yes to God impacted the rest of her life. As Mary gave birth to Jesus in that stable and experienced the pains of childbirth, did she wonder if she chose rightly? When Jesus was presented in the temple, Simeon told Mary that a sword would pierce her soul. After such a statement did Mary question her choice?
And then I read of Mary sitting at the foot of the cross watching her own son die. Mary, as you sat under the cross and watched your son suffer, did you think back to that day when Gabriel visited you and wonder if you had chosen well? Could you have perhaps spared this suffering had you chosen differently? I have never doubted Mary's commitment to follow through on her yes to God, no matter what the outcome. She was a woman who pondered things in her heart, who was attentive to how God was working in the world and was devoted to prayer (Acts 1:14).
God has called some of us to leave home, family and friends to serve in various parts of the world, in the name of Christ. Like Mary, we responded to God's call by stepping out, one foot at a time, into the unknown. We only see our way as we live each day being attentive to the ways God is working where we are. We do not know for sure where we are headed or what the future has in store. But we can trust in God's words given to Mary through the angel Gabriel, "Do not be afraid, for I am with you."