By: Fr. Simon Esshaki
Why is Mary so great? Why is she the greatest woman to every live? The answer to these questions can be found in the Scriptures, mainly in the Gospel of Luke as he presents Mary in the story of the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to her that she would be the Mother of God.
In the Chaldean Catholic Church, we are now in the season of Subara, or Advent, as it is called in the Latin Rite. The Chaldean word translates to Annunciation or Announcement. In this 4-week long liturgical season the Chaldean gospel readings take us through the Annunciations that are at the beginning of the story of Jesus’ Incarnation in the New Testament.
The first Annunciation is not that of Gabriel to Mary, but of Gabriel to Zechariah. Luke starts his Gospel with the Annunciation to Zechariah and then goes right into the Annunciation to Mary. These stories are both very similar and yet very different and show a lot about the character of these two people who were chosen by God to be part of his plan of Salvation.
The Angel Gabriel appeared to both Zechariah and Mary, and told them both that they would have a child in a way that was not natural. In response to Gabriel, both Zechariah and Mary questioned him:
Zechariah said: “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years?” (Luke 1:18)
Mary said: “How shall this be, since I have not known man?” (Luke 1:34)
With these similar questions, one would expect that the Angel Gabriel would have a similar response to both Mary and Zechariah, who both pointed out that what he said would be impossible based on nature. Instead, Gabriel responded to their questioning in drastically different ways. To Zechariah, he rebuked him for his disbelief and told him that he would be unable to speak until the day that John the Baptist was born of Elizabeth.
To Mary, he explained how the miracle would happen: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Why does the Angel Gabriel rebuke Zechariah, but explain to Mary, if they had such similar responses? The answer can be found with a deeper look into Zechariah and Mary’s initial questions to the angel: Zechariah said, “How shall I know this,” and Mary said, “How shall this be?”
Zechariah emphasized on his disbelief, as if to say, “How can I come to believe this?”
Mary emphasized on the fact of the act itself, “How shall this be?” or, “How can this unnatural phenomenon happen?”
Mary as Model Christian
Mary was simply confused at the fact that an angel was standing in front of her and telling her that something would happen beyond the powers of nature. She stood in front of the angel, fearless, and asked for an explanation before she accepted his words. Even when the angel first appeared to her and told her “”Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28), Luke tells us that she was “greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29), whereas Zechariah “was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him” (Luke 1:12).
From what Luke tells us, Mary was not even at all afraid that an angel was standing before her; from the first second, she was thinking about what he was saying, wondering at his words. And then, when he explained the reason for his visit, she asked him a question and continued to ponder.
She finally accepted his words when he mentioned the Power of the Holy Spirit. That was the confirmation Mary needed. Even though this was unnatural, it was going to be a miracle from God, and he wanted her to be a part of it. She accepted as the faithful, sinless servant of God that she is, as she said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
All Christians should be strive to be like Mary. She is the perfect Christian because she uses her mind, thinks, and asks questions, just like all Christians should do. But there are some things that cannot be understood by the human mind, and we should accept those things with true faith, like Mary did, because we believe in the power of God.
Faith builds on reason; the grace of God builds on human nature. Mary’s human nature was pure and immaculate, and that made her the perfect vessel to bear the Son of God himself in her womb. We should imitate her in her use of reason and in her acceptance of God’s grace, so that we can be pure followers of Christ like she was.