The word “disciple” usually brings to mind the Twelve: Jesus’ closest followers, the men with whom he spent most of his three-year ministry. From the many stories we have of their time with Jesus, we find stories of preaching, miracles, and sending. To look at their stories, activity would seem to characterize the life of a disciple. Hearing Jesus’ call, we follow. Understanding his identity, we count the cost and leave everything. Enthralled by his love, we forgive, love, and serve.
Of course, Jesus had many more disciples — some of them named in the Scriptures, many unnamed. Of those named, Mary, mother of Jesus, often captures my attention. Her story reminds us that being a disciple does not just mean giving and going — it also means receiving.
Before the Scriptures introduce the birth of the Savior, they bring us the story of Mary — a young woman, engaged to be married. Without warning, she is visited by an angel, a fearsome encounter. In a few words, the angel turns her world upside down. She responds simply, “Let it be to me according to your will.”
In Mary’s answer, I hear her acceptance, without complaint or fear, of a difficult and unknown future. Surely a million and one questions must have been whirling around in her mind and heart. Surely she knew the stigma and reproach she was agreeing to, in becoming pregnant while not yet married. She was accepting a gift of favor, yes, but it would not come without pain or sorrow. I’m sure she knew the stories of her own ancestors well enough to know that God’s favor does not insulate one from deep suffering.
And yet, she accepts the Lord’s will. Her words foreshadow Jesus’ own, when he instructs his disciples to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” “On earth” is a very grand stage. Mary’s words remind us that our own hearts, minds, and bodies are the specific places on that stage that must first be given over to God’s will.
Mary’s posture of acceptance, of receiving something surprising and difficult, is a posture for us today. We may be faced with unexpected ministry situations, perhaps more limited and more difficult than before. Perhaps we are separated from loved ones, unable to go home in times of need, illness, or even death. Or maybe we ourselves are ill, mentally or physically, and the strength for another day seems far away. Or we have lost part or all of our regular income.
These are only some of the many difficult situations that we may have welcomed along with the dawn today. Perhaps your situation is heavy enough to make you want to crawl back in bed, pull the covers over your head and wake up when it’s all over. Even as our host country begins to reopen, the complications to meeting publicly for worship weigh on my heart. I would like to pass, please.
For me, then, and perhaps you as well, being a disciple today looks like opening my hands. Well, maybe opening my eyes, first, rather than forcing them shut against the sunlight peaking through my blinds. And then, opening my hands to the day that is before me. Willing to accept in faith what God gives.
In Jesus Christ, each of us has received the favor of the Father. He looks at us and is well-pleased. Like Mary, our position of favor comes with good, even incredible, gifts — and also with pain, as we suffer the consequences of living in a sinful world and of following the Man of Sorrows. May we have the faith and courage to say today, “Let it be to me according to your will.”
What circumstances is God asking you to receive in faith today?