And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." —Luke 1:38
Think of all that Mary just learned: She will soon be expecting a baby, this child is the long-awaited Messiah who will restore Israel’s kingdom and bring the history of the world to its climactic moment, she will conceive not through natural means but by the Holy Spirit, and the child will be the divine Son of God.
That’s a lot to swallow in one short conversation with an angel! What is interesting about Mary’s response is that the Greek word in this verse for “let it be to me” expresses not a passive acceptance but a joyful wishing or desiring on Mary’s part.
Upon hearing of her extraordinary maternal mission, she positively desires it and fully embraces god’s call. This is why many scholars—catholic and protestant alike—recognize Mary as the first christian disciple and a model follower of Jesus. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus says that those who hear the word of god and keep it are blessed and are included in his family of disciples (see Luke 8:21).
Mary fits this description better than anyone else in Luke’s Gospel. From the very beginning, she accepts God’s word from the angel Gabriel and calls herself the servant of the Lord. In subsequent scenes we will see that Mary responds promptly to her relative Elizabeth’s needs as soon as she learns from Gabriel that Elizabeth is pregnant in her old age. Furthermore, she is counted among the “blessed” disciples in Luke’s Gospel.
Not only will Elizabeth call Mary blessed for believing God’s word (1:45), but Mary herself will say that all generations will call her blessed (1:48). Similarly, like a good disciple who hears God’s word and keeps it, Mary will “keep in her heart” the angel’s joyous message at Jesus’s birth (2:19) and Christ’s words to her when she finds him in the temple (2:51).
Finally, in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke shows Mary persevering in faithfulness, devoting herself to prayer and to the life of the early Christian community in the days following her Son’s Resurrection and Ascension into heaven (see Acts 1:14). Throughout her life, therefore, Mary’s acceptance of God’s word is exemplary. This is one reason why we consider Mary to be not only the first Christian disciple but the most perfect disciple of all time. Her obedience anticipates the response many will make to Christ’s call to follow him in his public ministry and throughout the Christian era. Her faith also serves as a model for how we as Christians should follow Christ today.
Like Mary, we should respond to God’s word promptly, joyfully, and with a servant’s heart—not simply with a passive acceptance but with an active embrace and hunger to do God’s will.