Balance is hard to achieve. Especially in religion.
Rarely are we able to correct an extreme pendulum swing by moving back to dead center. Rather, we swing too far in the other direction. I’d suggest that’s what’s happened in the case of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Clearly, the Roman Catholic Church fell in love with Mary. I mean, they really fell in love. So much so that at times one might wonder whether Jesus or Mary is the real Savior of the world.
Protestants derisively refer to Catholic dogma and tradition surrounding Mary as “Maryolatry”—i.e. a form of idolatry focused on the person and role of Mary. And Adventists are as outspoken against this imbalance as any.
In good Protestant fashion, we’ve repudiated the Catholics’ non-scriptural elevation of Christ’s mother. In fact, we’ve been so effective that we’ve all but removed her from our Who’s Who of Biblical Heroes. In my nearly four decades of telling stories to Adventist children, I don’t recall any of them ever telling me that the biblical hero they want to talk to first when they get to heaven is Mary. Not even any little girls.
That’s really sad.
While Catholics have certainly taken their adoration of Mary to a biblically unjustifiable extreme, they at least recognize, based on solid biblical evidence, that Mary was a true hero, a special person.
In announcing to Mary the role she is to play in Christ’s birth, the angel says: “’Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you’" (Luke 1: 28).
Granted her humble and unpresuming attitude, her response is understandable: “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God’” (Luke 1: 29, 30).
When Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth, her cousin, grasping some sense the magnitude of the role to which Mary has been called, exclaims: "’Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’” (Luke 1: 42, 43). Elizabeth clearly considers it an honor even to be in Mary’s presence.
In response to Elizabeth’s comments, Mary breaks forth in poetic praise and describes her own feelings about what’s transpiring: "'My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name'" (Luke 1: 46-49).
Mary, who’s but a mere girl, understands that the role to which God has called her is indeed an awesome responsibility and an amazing privilege. Thus she isn’t timid in declaring, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.”
Wouldn’t it be unfortunate if in our legitimate and commendable zeal for correcting Catholicism’s imbalance in unjustifiably elevating Mary’s role, we as Protestants, and as Adventists, fall into the other ditch and fail to appreciate what a blessed and heroic human being she really was?
James Coffin is senior pastor of the Markham Woods Seventh-day Adventist church.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/184