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!

Perfection

I have long been a fan of the People of the Second Chance movement, especially of their encouraging blog posts and thought-provoking instagram photos. I found that when I was struggling with the realization of my shame, there were people who knew what that felt like. I know now that there are people who also know shame, and there are people who also know grace. They may not have it entirely figured out, but they know how to pick themselves up and keep trying. This is very encouraging to me. Inspired by POTSC, I began writing posts on second chances.

POTSC Grace

I still follow POTSC and read some of their material, and I was pleasantly surprised to see another encouraging photo from them today. It says, “I will hold myself to a standard of grace. Not perfection.”

Apparently this is not a new saying, either. I Googled the sentence and multiple sites showed up, mostly blog posts from women who had been impacted by the quote. For example, Emily Ley writes about balancing family and work and a lady named Natalie discusses perfectionism, but I especially enjoyed Bailey Jean’s post on her blog Anchored in Love.

Bailey quotes Philip Yancey as saying:

[Grace] contains the essence of the gospel as a drop of water can contain the image of the sun. The world thirsts for grace in ways it does not even recognize… Trace the roots of grace, or charis in Greek, and you will find a verb that means ‘I rejoice, I am glad.’

Sidenote: I just might have to read Yancey’s book.

But back to the post, Bailey presents the idea that much of our stress and anxiety comes from the unneeded expectations of perfection that we place on ourselves.

We are not called to perfection, because that’s not what Matthew 5:48 means. We are called to maturity and wholeness. We are called to grace. Just as we have received grace, we ought to treat those around us with grace. In my initial post for my OneWord365 project on intentional grace, I wrote:

I believe this is the time for me to move. To be adventurous. To act on what he’s shown me. And what has he shown me? That He is good. All the time. That He is just and merciful. That He is forgiving.
That He is full of grace.
And if God Himself is not angry with me, who do I have to fear? If God Himself is not upset with me, what can anyone or anything else do to me? If I know that God is forgiving and accepting and gracious towards me, how will I then treat others?
With intentional grace.

That is all well and good, but it means that it is currently the middle of August and I am literally back where I started, back to the very first page. Like, the third-of-January page.

The difference this time around is that I now have a better sense of what grace could look like in the real world. For example, grace means not holding myself to impossible standards. It means giving myself freedom to mess up, back up, and try again. It means paying what my grandma calls “the stupid tax” when I may overspend financially or theoretically. It means not getting upset with myself over my performance or my outfit or my lack of planning ahead or my forgetfulness. It means that even though my new purse has quickly begun to resemble Mary Poppins’ bag, I will not speak negatively towards or about myself if and when I forget something I need.

I will be patient with myself. And I will be patient with others. I will be kind. I will realize that I have been set free from the requirement to be “perfect enough,” and I will seek out ways to show others that they don’t have to be perfect, that I will accept them for who they are and for who God says they are and for who they will become in His timing. And in His grace.

Because it all goes back to that, doesn’t it? I cannot live in grace or show grace unless I have been saturated with the grace of my Father God.

So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

– Romans 5:21, NLT

Grace is a Waterfall

 ὅτι  ἐκ  τοῦ  πληρώματος  αὐτοῦ  ἡμεῖς  πάντες  ἐλάβομεν  καὶ  χάριν  ἀντὶ  χάριτος·

(For of the fullness of Him we have all received moreover grace upon grace.)

– John 1:16

In the first chapter of the book of John, the author presents the story of Christ’s death and resurrection, explaining that out of God’s “abundance” or “completeness,” He gives “grace upon grace” to his children. The Greek reads “charin anti charitos” and means literally “favor/grace in place of grace.”  (Greek found here.)

Niagara Falls / Horseshoe Falls
View from the side of Niagara Falls (Horseshoe Falls)

A more popular English translation reads:

From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.

This grace does not stop. It does not falter. It is like a pounding waterfall, never letting up its continuous flow. From his abundance we have all received one gracious blessing after another.

And I cannot understand it.

I have been attempting to understand this concept of grace for a long time. Most recently, I chose “grace” as my OneWord for 2013, a word I would focus on and try to grasp through blog posts, prayer, meditation, conversations, and life experiences. I have written more than a dozen blog posts regarding grace at my previous blog and I even created a Pinterest page for thoughts, pictures, and quotes.

It was the beginning of May this year when I got upset about how I just don’t understand grace. I felt as if I were “rebelling” against God’s free gift, as if I could choose whether or not to make it a part of my life. Or can I?

I mean, how could a perfect, holy, omnipotent, omnipresent, all-knowing God not only not give me what I do deserve (mercy), but then give me what I don’t deserve (grace)? I am not the kind of person who has doubted God’s love, and I tend to take it for granted often, but considering that he doesn’t hold my sin against me, that he doesn’t see my sin when he looks at me… I doubt his grace almost every time I think about it.

This is the first post on my new blog, part of a website which I have been working on for some time. I decided I wanted to name this blog “Grace Upon Grace” because this journey to understand, or even attempt to live within, God’s overwhelming and encouraging grace is not going to be contained to the year 2013, or this OneWord project, or even this stage of my life. In fact, I anticipate to struggle with this for a very long time because I don’t think God can ever be completely understood. If I could actually wrap my mind around him, he would not be worthy of my praise. I know this will be a journey because developing a relationship with God is a journey. Learning to live as who he says I am is a journey.

So I invite you to join me.


This is my personal blog, where most conversations about God, Grace, and becoming-an-adult will take place, but I you can check out my blogs for overseas student teaching and my 30 Before 30 Project. You can also read old posts at my previous personal blog.