Yesterday we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday. We followed the Apostle Thomas’ journey from doubt to faith. Today we reflect once again on doubt and faith, the doubt of King Ahaz and the faith of Mary. Mary’s faith, previously a hidden treasure, suddenly shines out at one of the most crucial moments of human history. She gives her assent to the will of God, and the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. Through Mary, Divine Mercy becomes visible in the world. As Pope Francis has written, “In the ‘fullness of time’ (Gal 4:4), when everything had been arranged according to his plan of salvation, [the Father] sent his only Son into the world, born of the Virgin Mary, to reveal his love for us in a definitive way. Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God” (MV 1). In a sense, the Jubilee of Mercy finds its origin in today’s great feast of faith, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. “No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary. Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh” (MV 24).
Today’s first reading takes us back to the days of King Ahaz, some seven hundred years before Mercy became incarnate in the womb of Mary. Ahaz, a descendant of King David, ruled over the kingdom of Judah. He was not a man of strong faith, but preferred rather to rely on political alliances. He was a self-willed politician, and a frustrating man to deal with – which is why the prophet Isaiah accused him of trying the patience of both men and God. At a moment of particular crisis, God offers Ahaz a special grace: he can ask for a miraculous sign. The purpose of the sign would be to strengthen the King’s weak faith. Ahaz stubbornly refuses, hypocritically claiming that he does not want to “tempt the Lord.” The real reason for his refusal is that he simply does not want to submit his will to God.
Why do we read about Ahaz today? He is quite the opposite of Mary, not at all a fitting character to honor on the feast of the Annunciation. We do not honor Ahaz, but we do ponder the amazing sign that was promised him, the famous prophecy of the virgin who will give birth to Immanuel, “God is with us.” The prophecy shows us that God’s “yes” was more powerful than Ahaz’s “no.” In spite of Ahaz’s stubbornness, God was so determined to be born as one of us through the miracle of a virgin birth that he revealed it nonetheless. He was preparing for the marvelous role of the Virgin Mary. As the reading from Hebrews says, when Jesus Christ came into the world, he said to the Father, “I have come to do your will, O God.” What he found in Mary was a perfect human response, a “yes” that would finally correspond to his own divine “yes.” It is the ultimate “pro-life” story, the union of two perfect “yeses” to the will of the Father.
The story of Mary’s surprise encounter with the angel Gabriel is told very simply. He enters her house and makes a momentous announcement: she will conceive and bear a son, whom she is to name Jesus. Her son will be God’s Son. He will reign forever on the throne of David. Mary’s initial response to this fantastic proposition is neither to accept nor reject. She prudently asks one key question: “How can this be since I do not know man?” We can imagine the sort of questions that may have run through her thoughts: Is this really an angel from God? Is he simply flattering me, perhaps to trick me? Who is this son he is speaking about? What has this to do with Joseph? But for Mary, the most important question of all is: What is the will of God for me?
Gabriel gives a two-part response, and both parts assure Mary that the message is authentic and trustworthy. First, her pregnancy will be a result, not of man, but of the power of the Holy Spirit. Second, her elderly and barren cousin Elizabeth is already six months pregnant. Gabriel’s convincing conclusion is quite simple: “Nothing is impossible with God.” This is enough for Mary. Now she can say with her whole heart, “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.” She does not understand it fully, but she knows enough to offer her complete “yes.” “Espousing the divine will for salvation wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son” (CCC 494).
Because of her perfect “yes” to God, Mary is also the perfect model for our own response to the will of God. She teaches us how to say “yes” to God, with prudence, humility, freedom from sin, and trusting, obedient faith. The fruit of this “yes” is that we become mothers of Christ! Jesus himself taught this when he said, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk 3:35). The tragic alternative is to say “no” to God – which is the worst, anti-life decision; it is the spiritual equivalent of contraception. When we harden our hearts against God, and interfere with the process by which he wants to give us life, we end up hardening our hearts against others as well, and against ourselves. Today, with the strength we gain from Mary’s example and her intercession, we make a renewed decision to do God’s will. We say to him, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” When we do this, in a marvelous way, “God with us” truly comes to live within us.
In what ways do I resemble Ahaz who refused to submit his will to the Lord? Like Mary, am I willing to trust in God even when I do not understand his will? When do I harden my heart against others?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 12, no. 4. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.