SUBANG JAYA: An image of what seems to be the Blessed Virgin Mary on a window at the Sime Darby Medical Centre (SDMC) here is drawing crowds. A large group of people, mostly Catholics, gathered below the area at the new wing of the hospital yesterday, lighting candles, singing hymns and reciting prayers. Traffic was heavy around the vicinity, with even tourist buses pulling up by the roadside. Secretary Janet Tong, 45, described the apparition as “amazing”. (Terence Toh, “Awestruck by Virgin Mary image,” The Star Online, Sunday November 11, 2012.)

[rb_dropcap]I[/rb_dropcap] always feel bad when the subject of Mary comes up. Raised in a strict Baptist background I had a very negative image of how Mary, the mother of Jesus, was viewed by my Catholic friends. They tried to draw a distinction between veneration and worship, but in practice, I saw little difference in their veneration of Mary and my friends who worshipped the goddess of mercy. That was a long time ago. Nowadays I spend more time looking at the inconsistencies of my own denomination and the inconsistencies of my own heart. And I have long regretted my neglect of Mary.

No, I am not going to Novenas for Mary, and I struggle to find any biblical basis for the Catholic belief that she was born without sin and one who dispenses grace. But I have long come to embrace her as the model disciple. As I reread Luke 1:26 – 38, I am struck afresh by the enormity of the encounter between Mary and the angel Gabriel. If free will means anything, it meant that Mary could turn down the angel’s offer. And who could blame her if she did? But she said yes. Darrell L. Bock draws out the significance of her “yes.”

Mary responds to Gabriel’s message with submission and obedience. She identifies herself as a doule … (bondservant). In everyday speech, this word describes one of humble station who addresses a superior in recognition of their position. As God’s handmaid, Mary accepts openly what God asks of her.

Mary is exemplary is the way she responds to God’s message of grace. God can do with her what he wishes. This acceptance is significant, taken at possible personal loss. Such a step might involve her in potential problems with Joseph and with her reputation . . . There is risk in agreeing to go God’s way, but as the Lord’s servant, she willingly goes. (Luke 1:1 – 9:50, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994, 126-127)

Later on Bock would say that Mary “ . . . has the attitude of a model saint . . .(Luke 1:1 – 9:50, 127) and I say amen, if by saint we mean someone who belongs to God and is completely sold out to Him.

However, for Mary to play the role of model she must be one of us, a regular human being. Elevating to any superhuman status weakens the power of her modelling. “She is special. How can I be like her?” Instead, in choosing Mary, God chooses one who “ . . . seemed to measure low in any ranking — age (13 – 16?), family, heritage, gender . . . (Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997, 92). God is making a point. In His kingdom, greatness is not dictated by age, gender, or social status. It is dictated by our response to His Word and His will, something to remember as we approach another Christmas and another New Year.

So is the image on the window at Sime Darby Medical Centre an image of Mary? I don’t know. As I grow older, I find myself quoting this line from Hamlet more and more.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
– Hamlet (1.5.166-7), Hamlet to Horatio

What I do know is that it is much more fruitful to focus on the person of Mary as she is portrayed in the Scriptures. From Mary, we learn not to focus on ourselves, neither on our strengths nor our weaknesses. Instead we keep our eyes and ears open to God’s Word and God’s initiatives and respond correctly. Following Mary, we say “I am the Lord’s servant . . . May your word to me be fulfilled,” and see what happens. Now that’s truly amazing.