Mary, one of the great saints of the church, can teach us much more. And I’ll tell you why (which will explain why that quote above needs to be supplemented)
It is because when Mary hears about the sinful woman, namely:
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among[h] themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7)
…she says “Amen”. Mary realizes that she, like this woman, is a great sinner. As she was one of us – a fallen human being – Mary would have been deeply aware of her own unworthiness – and her own sinful desires and thoughts. When we think of the phrase “religious leader”, it is persons like Mary – and not the Pharisees – who should immediately come to mind. Again, this religious leader, unlike the religious leaders in the text, realizes that she has not been forgiven little, but much, and hence her trust in, and love for her son – the Son – is strong.
And not just strong, but very strong. Humiliatingly strong. This is also what Mary teaches us. She can teach us much more than the sinful woman – for unlike that woman, she more readily receives, throughout her life, all God had to give, including the good works which God prepared beforehand, that she should walk in them. She eagerly embraces His word of grace by saying “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And, fully redeemed in Christ, she eagerly embraces His word of law by saying “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Eager to “run the way of His commandments”, she, in the power of Christ’s Spirit, looks to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and secondly “love your neighbor as yourself.”
But is this not taking the focus off of her son, where she would want us focusing? Not at all. Embracing the pardon and power given in the forgiveness of her son, God’s Son, she eagerly receives all God has to give (what does she have that she has [first] not received?), and this means more, not less Christ. That is because Mary knows, in her bones, that the most important good work than anyone of us can do is to proclaim – shout! – this glorious mercy of God in Jesus Christ!
Luther shares a good word with us as well:
[S]he became the Mother of God, in which work so many and such great good things are bestowed on her as pass man’s understanding. For on this there follows all honor, all blessedness, and her unique place in the whole of mankind, among which she has no equal, namely, that she had a child by the Father in heaven, and such a Child…. Hence men have crowded all her glory into a single word, calling her the Mother of God…. None can say of her nor announce to her greater things, even though he had as many tongues as the earth possesses flowers and blades of grass: the sky, stars; and the sea, grains of sand. It needs to be pondered in the heart what it means to be the Mother of God.” (Luther’s Works, 21:326, cf. 21:346)
Do not feel condemned by this, but rejoice! His seventy-times-seven-mercies are new every morning! Every morning. I repeat these words (here originally):
However many of God’s commandments we may have broken, however much we may have chosen paths that were not those He would have preferred, however many regrets we might have… those are to be left behind, as we go forward in both His pardon and power, which always avails for us in the blood. And let’s especially lift up the true body and blood of Jesus for us here, since that is what many, strangely, since the beginning of the Reformation have been keen to deny (see I Cor. 11:26-32). But I submit a greater realization of such gifts is in fact our highest need.
May 1, 2015 at 11:51 pm
Wait is Mary not supposed to be sinless throughout her life according to Lutheran theology? I know some Lutheran reformers believed in the sinlessness of Mary. Whats with the Bellermine quote by the way?
May 4, 2015 at 1:10 pm
No Lutherans believe Mary was sinless throughout her life. The significance of the Bellarmine quote is that this saint believed that the true visible church could be so small – not an apologetic point to many in Rome are eager to make these days.