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Mary: The First Disciple

In summing up the place of Mary in our lives Pope Paul VI put it in the following way: “Mary is held up as an example to the faithful for the way in her own particular life, she fully and responsibly accepted the Word of God, and did it. She is worthy of imitation because she was the first and most perfect of Christ’s disciples” In other words he says: (1) “She fully and responsibly accepted the Word of God” (2) but she also did the Word of God. She translated it into her life and followed her own advice to us when she said a Cana: “Do whatever he tells you”. We may not see Mary too often in the Gospels but when we do see her she is always seen responding to the Word of God. It is good for us to recall these scenes in the Gospel.

The first time we meet Mary in Marks Gospel—the Oldest Gospel— is in chapter three. The basic scene involves a transition in Jesus’ life. He is moving out of the Nazareth family circle into an active career of teaching and healing, centred at Peters House in Capernaum. He is attracting such attention that he does not even get time to eat. 3:20, His worried family think he out of his mind and go looking for him to bring him back home. Someone tells him that “Your mother and brothers are outside asking for you” and he answers by reminding us of his new family. He tells us that those who constitute his family now, since the proclamation of the kingdom of God is being proclaimed, are those who do the will of his Father, those who listen to his Word, and put it into practice. Jesus uses the first appearance of Mary to give us a first lesson on the importance of the Word of God.

Mary is our Model; she is our teacher on how to respond to the Word of God. This lesson on the importance of the Word of God is reinforced in The Gospel of St Matthew. Here we meet Mary again in the story of Jesus’ conception and birth. Joseph is betrothed to Mary. He receives a report that Mary is pregnant, then the message from an angel that her conception is from the Holy Spirit; that her child is to be named Jesus our Saviour; and that He will be God among us. And again we are reminded that the new Family of God is those who listen to the Word of God, and do the will of the Father in Heaven. The Word of God becomes central when Mary is present.

When we come to the Gospel of St Luke Mary becomes a central figure in Luke’s infancy narrative. In an appearance to Mary 1:30-33 the Angel Gabriel announces that she is going to be the mother of the Davidic Messiah. When Mary asks how this is to be since she is a virgin the angel answers: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the most high will over shadow you; and so the child will be called holy; the son of God”1:34-35 . Mary is presented here as the first one to hear the Gospel. She responds: “Let it be done to me according to your word” Thus she fulfils perfectly the requirements we have seen in Mark for the new family of disciples---“Whoever does the will of God is my Father, my Mother and my brothers and sisters”. We see her therefore saying “Yes” to the Word of God. But she doesn’t leave it at that. She immediately acts out her discipleship in two ways: (1) She hastens to go to her cousin Elizabeth to share the Good News. For a disciple of Jesus does no hold on to what God has revealed to them, but they believe it so deeply that they communicate it to others. They put it into practice. As we see in the Magnificent, Mary believed, accepted, shared and explained the Word of God to others. She has become the authentic disciple, and a member of the new family of God proclaimed by Jesus with the Kingdom. J. H.