Mary, Receiver of Grace

Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!”

– Luke 1:28

I have always wondered what the angel Gabriel meant when he said that Mary was “highly favored.” The different translations I’ve purused make it sound like God just really liked Mary for some reason. However, I heard something in church this morning that made me question it again, and today I found that the words “highly favored” can be translated from the Greek as literally “having been graced.” It doesn’t stop there.

In Strong’s Greek Lexicon, we see that the Greek word translated as “favored” is χαριτόω (charitoo). Interestingly, charitoo is a verb relating to the noun charis, meaning grace. Charis is the word we see in John 1:16, translated into English as Grace Upon Grace, the title for this blog, and the word that has been hitting me over and over for an entire year. 

Anyway, back to Gabriel describing Mary as “highly favored”: charitoo. According to Strong’s, charitoo can be used in Greek in three specific ways:

  1. to make graceful (charming, lovely, agreeable[, or accepted])
  2. to pursue with grace, compass [or surround] with favour
  3. to honor with blessings

I was blown away when I read this list. God chose Mary to carry and mother his Son as an honor. Because of this, she was “highly favored,” even “surrounded with favor.” She was “honored with blessings” and “pursued with grace.” She was “accepted.” She received grace.

But why?

It is the general opinion of the Catholic Church that Mary was chosen because she was sinless and perfect. Many also believe that Mary never had any other children, and that when she died, she was made Queen of Heaven. While I seek to honor my Catholic brothers and sisters, I must also acknowledge that I do not believe that Mary was sinless.

Ironically, the verse cited by many Catholic apologists to prove Mary’s sinlessness is the same verse I quoted above. The NLT, NIV, ESV, KJV, and both the NRSV and RSV Bible translations use terms like “you who are highly favored” and “favored one” to describe Mary. In contrast, while some of the approved Catholic translations of the Bible also use “favored one,” many (especially the older ones – see here and here) state that Mary is “full of grace” instead, note the RSV:CE and DRA. According to Catholic tradition, Mary is “full of grace” not because God has chosen to demonstrate blessings, acceptance, and favor upon her on the day that Gabriel visited her for the purpose of conceiving Jesus, but that Mary was already sinless and innately “full of grace.” For more information, compare a Catholic interpretation with a Protestant interpretation.

My goal here is to cause division but to make a point.

I have been delving deep into this issue of grace all year, and I have found that grace is not deserved. It is not earned. It is freely given. It is God giving me what I do not deserve out of his abundance of blessings. It is patience and forgiveness and acceptance. Therefore, I find it very hard to believe that either One: Mary earned the grace of God and the privilege of being the mother of Christ, or Two: God created Mary as a sinless and perfect person for the purpose of bearing and rearing Christ. If Mary was perfect and then was considered “full of grace,” what hope does that leave me, sinful to the core and utterly hopeless?

No, Mary was a person like me. She was fearful and confused. She did not know what the angel was talking about. She was blessed not because she was perfect, but because she believed in the Lord. She needed Christ to save her. She considered herself a “lowly servant girl,” willing to be used by the Lord. Christ died even for his own mother.


Think God can't use you?

God can take even the most sinful people and do great things through them. How? Because he makes them graceful, he pursues them with grace, he surrounds them with favor, and he honors them with blessings. He endows them with grace; he makes them accepted. He charitoo them. And us, too. God working through our tiny blips on the timeline of eternity is one way he is pouring grace over us and claiming us as his accepted children. He does not need perfect people to achieve his plans, because he is already working through imperfect people.

What is the irony that I would find an excellent definition for grace, my OneWord for 2013, in the Christmas story? That’s the place in late December 2012 when this all began, and it is the place in December 2013 where it will end. Honestly, this search for grace will be a never ending journey. Understanding grace, understanding my receiving of grace, and learning how to give grace will be life-long, because I will probably never truly get it. And I think that’s okay. I think it’s okay that I feel small and undeserving. To paraphrase Mary’s magnificat, I am overwhelmed with joy in my Savior.

With a little over a week until New Year’s, the time has come to select a word for 2014. I can already tell this is going to be a crazy year. Over three months in Thailand and Hong Kong, college graduation, moving to a new city with friends and starting my first real teaching job (hopefully!), and ending 2014 in a much different place than where I started it. With these thoughts running through my head, I invite you to check out the new www.OneWord365.com website, all prepared for 2014 by its creator, Alece Ronzino. A fellow blogger, Melanie at OnlyABreath.com, offers free OneWord blog button images that you can personalize yourself or get her to personalize for you for a donation. If you are planning to do OneWord365 for 2014, I suggest you check out both the official website and Melanie’s images. Make it a goal for yourself to include your OneWord is as many things as possible: as a journal prompt, a Pinterest board, a Bible verse memorization tool, a phone or computer desktop background, a magazine cut-out collage poster, etc. You might just see it showing up everywhere!