Of all the characters in Scripture, why pick Mary of Nazareth to feature in a book?
I neglected Mary for about 50 years. I thought my yearly dose of Christmas pageants and Easter plays taught me everything I needed to know about her. But I missed Mary in the middle. And that’s why she needs a book. I’m here to shout from the rooftops that Mary of Nazareth must be studied. We’ve relegated her to certain segments of our faith tradition, and we’ve missed out as a result.
Is there really enough about Mary and haven’t we heard it all already?
I was surprised to learn that Mary is the fourth most mentioned character in the New Testament after Jesus, Paul and Peter. And she is the most mentioned woman in the New Testament. That means there are more verses on her than we realize.
Is this a book just for women or mothers?
Women study the life of King David and the Apostle Paul. Why then would men not look at the whole life of Mary? All believers need to look at all the characters of Scripture. And as with all the characters of the Bible, there is something for everyone, if we will but walk in her shoes. However, because I am a woman and a mother, I do write from that perspective.
Mary seems such a perfect woman. How can I relate to her and how can I ever measure up?
Mary is unique among the examples from scripture in that there seems to be nothing negative said about her. But because Mary was human, we can know that she wasn’t perfect. She had anxiety. She knew grief. She experienced sorrow and uncertainty. I found many aspects of Mary’s experience that I could relate to. Stick with me. There’s a little bit of Mary in all of us.
What does it mean that Mary was “favored?”
Before I did my deep dive into Mary’s life, I thought that God favored Mary because she was an incredible person of faith and goodness, worthy of this high commission to bear the son of God. But I discovered that favored means none other than grace—pure and simple unmerited favor of a good and sovereign God. God had a plan to bring his son into the world as a human to take on the sins of the world. And so in order to fulfill that plan, he chose Mary. Yes I do believe there were certain characteristics about Mary that made her the ideal woman to be chosen, but it wasn’t those qualities that caused her to be chosen. That revelation encouraged me that God favors me too.
In the book, you tell us that blessed doesn’t mean what we think it does. In a few words then, what does it mean to be blessed?
The biblical concept of blessing was one of the most surprising parts of the study for me because we throw around the word blessing all the time. And we don’t really know what it means biblically. There are actually two words in scripture that are translated “blessed” and both of those are found in Mary’s story. What I discovered from the Biblical meaning of blessing has changed my vocabulary and made me more sensitive to what I am inadvertently saying when I use the word blessed. For more, you’ll have to read the book. I don’t want to spoil it.
In the book, you mention that Mary and Joseph were a “blessed alliance.” What do you mean by that?
I could not do a study of Mary of Nazareth without shining a light on her partner, Joseph the carpenter, as he deserves far more credit than simply guiding the donkey. He was vital in helping Mary do what God had asked of her. The fact that he would go against an honor-shame society was unheard of in those days. That he would take a backseat to Mary and her calling all those years to prepare the way for Jesus to do what he was called to do. I see this partnership of Mary and Joseph to be a “blessed alliance.” When author Carolyn Custis James coined this phrase, she was referring to the Genesis account where God created Adam and Eve to work together to build his kingdom.
We all know that Mary’s soul was pierced when her son, Jesus died a criminal’s death on the cross. In what other ways was Mary’s soul pierced?
With just a little bit of imagination, I saw the many other ways that Mary’s soul was pierced. She risked being stoned. She gave birth in less than ideal circumstances. She ran for her life to a foreign country. She lost her son for three whole days. Her other children didn’t believe in Jesus. She heard Jesus called all sorts of horrible things. She became a widow at a young age. When Mary accepted the commission of God, she said absolutely yes to whatever would come her way, even if it meant pain. I was surprised by how many of Mary’s struggles I can relate to.
Mary is known to ponder and treasure. What does that mean and how can any believer practice this?
In Favored, Blessed, Pierced, I examine the three Greek words that describe this practice and they all have something to do with remembering, reflecting and retaining so that we don’t forget. How exactly Mary did that without pen and paper, I don’t know? She must have had an incredible memory. Because just think, we have this record only because Mary told the story. Her discipline—and I call it a discipline because I think it’s something that we have to practice—is a great way for us to persevere when life gets tough, hang in there when things don’t turn out the way we think they should and remember God’s words and his faithfulness when we’re in pain.
What about the teaching on Mary from other faith traditions?
I am not qualified to speak to those. But I have a master’s degree in Christian Education and lots of experience studying God’s Word from a layman’s position. And so in Favored, Blessed, Pierced, I’ve looked at every verse in scripture that refers to Mary and her story and at what the original Greek words mean, read commentaries, books and articles and applied her story and her journey to my life.
How do you suggest that a reader use and benefit from Favored, Blessed, Pierced?
Favored, Blessed, Pierced can be read first as a daily devotional. The 31 entries are short enough for you to digest fairly quickly, but I encourage readers to take time to meditate on the questions, prayers and scripture verses that are given for further study. It’s also a perfect study for Advent, especially since Advent starts on December 1 this year (2019). But Mary is timeless and I want to take her out of Christmas and Easter and put her in the every day, so you could read this devotional at any time. You can even read it like a book from cover to cover and then form a group of spiritual friends to discuss it. At the back of the book, there is a guide with some suggestions of how you might do that.
May you be challenged and encouraged by the example of Mary of Nazareth. Get your copy on Amazon now!
Author and coach Renee Fisher also interviewed me about Favored Blessed Pierced. Read that interview here.
If you do not want to purchase a book, you can read my rough, unedited, out-of-order blog posts that formed the draft for the book. On the home page, select the category of “Mary of Nazareth” and all related blog posts will appear.