In the The Princess Bride Vizzini repeatedly describes the relentless pursuit by the dreaded pirate Roberts as – “Inconceivable!” Finally, after his fourth inconceivable exclamation, his accomplice, Inigo Montoya remarks:
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
We can relate to this revelation. So often we use terms assuming we know what they mean, only to discover later we were wrong.
Sometimes its comical or embarrassing. Like when we use the wrong word repeatedly in conversations a at party only to realize later it does not mean what we thought it meant (hypothetically speaking for a friend😉). But then there are times when we have a revelatory “ah-ha” moment. When we realize the meaning we attribute to a word may not be the intent.
I had one of these “ah-ha” moments this past Christmas season. Reflecting upon the Christmas story I suddenly found myself pausing at the descriptions of Mary by the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth as –
- highly favored (Luke 1:28)
- blessed (Luke 1:42).
In previous years I had brushed over these descriptions and nodded in agreement – of course the mother of Jesus was highly favored and blessed. But this past year for some reason I paused.
Instead of just reading these words I began to digest them. This digestion made me a little uneasy. Why? Because in all honestly Mary’s life does not look like a life of favor and blessing, at least not from my American Dream prosperity perspective. Shouldn’t blessing and favor equate to a life of ease and abundance? Yet Mary’s life was anything but that.
Consider this, Mary and Joseph were poor, evidenced by the sacrifice they presented at the temple after Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:24 & Leviticus 12:8). Jesus was not an only child either. We know from scripture he had 4 brothers and at least 2 sisters (Matthew 13:55-56). We don’t know how or when, but it is assumed Mary was widowed because any mention of Joseph ceases after their trip to the temple with 12-year-old Jesus.
So here we have Mary, highly favored and blessed – the poor widow single mother of seven. This doesn’t sound like blessing and favor, this sounds overwhelming, terrifying, and heartbreaking. But not to worry things will get better, right?
Mary was the instigator of Jesus’ first miracle. She told him:
“They have no more wine,”
and then she instructed the servants:
“Do whatever he tells you.”John 2:3 & 5 NIV
Things are looking up. She is encouraging Jesus. Jesus turns water into wine. His ministry begins shortly thereafter.
However, Mary is not Jesus’ constant companion in his ministry. She may have been there at times, but we are told of one instance where she and Jesus’ brothers went to visit Jesus (Mark 3:31-35). However, the crowds prevent them from reaching Jesus. Jesus was without sin, but for whatever reason he does not welcome his mother and brothers. Rather he declares he is building a new family, the church. No doubt this proclamation and rejection had to sting.
Even Simeon prophesied over Mary warning her:
“…a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”Luke 2:35b ESV
No doubt this metaphorical sword pierced her soul as she witnessed the unimaginable – the crucifixion of her son Jesus. I am not trying to sound irreverent, but Mary’s life doesn’t sound like the epitome of blessing and favor.
Her life sounds difficult, uncertain, and even tragic at times. Why? Because we need to rethink blessing and favor. It does not mean what we think it means.
We assume blessing and favor follow a logical equation. If we do “A+B” the result will be “C.” And “C?” “C” is always good. “C” is #blessed. “C” is blessing and favor.
In our modern-day American Dream prosperity, we equate blessing and favor with a life of abundance, health, and ease. And just to round it out, we throw in position, prosperity, and possessions too. This is what blessing and favor look like. All good things. No bad.
Mary had none of these. However, she was still blessed and favored. Because blessing and favor have nothing to do with the external and everything to do with the internal. The heart. Mary was favored because she had a heart perfectly poised for purpose. Her love and trust in God enabled her to proclaim without hesitation:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”Luke 1:38 ESV
Favor is a heart completely surrendered to God.
And blessing? It took the form of participating in what God called her to do. Saying yes. And this blessing expanded to include not just her, but all mankind.
What a great example Mary set of what it means to experience blessing and favor. Both of which are rooted in her willingness to say yes and be used by God. No doubt much of her life did not turn out how she dreamt before the angel Gabriel appeared. But I can’t help but imagine it was beyond anything she ever dreamt or even dared to imagine, hardships and all.
There is freedom in realizing God’s blessing and favor don’t always align with our expectations. We can be confident that position, prosperity, and possessions are not an indication of or qualifier for blessing and favor. Favor comes when our hearts are perfectly poised for surrender and submission. When we are willing to say “yes” to God. And our “yeses” to God pave the way for a life of purpose and blessing. A life that can be used by God to be a blessing us and others as well.