Pete Wilcox, Bishop of Sheffield
Luke 1.42: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!’
We call the mother of Jesus ‘the Blessed Virgin Mary’, and rightly so. Three times in the very first chapter of the Gospel of Luke Mary is hailed at ‘Blessed’ by her kinswoman Elizabeth (see also verse 45); and later in the Gospel (Luke 11.27-28) an anonymous voice in the crowd calls out to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and breasts that nursed you’ — a clear further reference to Mary, the Blessed. But what makes Mary ‘blessed’? The Lord’s own answer in this latter episode is telling. Hearing that voice in the crowd, the Lord replies, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and obey it’. It’s clear to me that Jesus did not mean to suggest that his mother was not in fact blessed; rather he is stating that her blessedness lay not in the fact that she bore him in her womb and nursed him at her breasts, but in the fact that when the Word of God came to her, she received it and obeyed it. Interestingly, this chimes in perfectly with the third reference to Mary as the Blessed One on the lips of Elizabeth in Luke 1. What she actually says in verse 45 is this: ‘Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord’.
The point is that the Lord calls each one of us to give ourselves in his service. He did not want Mary’s money in and of itself, nor her time, nor her particular gifts or abilities. He wanted her. Mary found herself called to offer her whole self in the service of God. She was called to embrace his word, his summons — and she was blessed because she said ‘Yes!’. The wonderful thing about that is that only one person in all history could have carried Jesus in the womb — and if that was THE route to blessedness, most of us could not follow Mary. But she was blessed because she was open to the Word of God and readily gave herself to the One who made her, loved her and called her — and we are also blessed when we do the same to the One who made us, loves us, and calls us today.