What Mary’s Example Can Teach Us

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by an unexpected challenge or responsibility? Do you feel worn down by the daily struggle of making ends meet? Maybe you are among the millions who feel bewildered and afraid because they have had to leave their homeland as refugees. And who of us has not experienced deep pain and emptiness after losing a loved one in death?

DID you know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, faced all those challenges? What is more, she met them successfully! What can we learn from her example?

Mary is certainly known worldwide. And no wonder, for she played a unique role in the outworking of God’s purposes. Moreover, Mary is venerated by many millions of people. The Catholic Church reveres her as a beloved Mother and as a model in faith, hope, and charity. Many have been taught that Mary leads humans to God.

How do you view Jesus’ mother? And more important, how does God view her?

A Unique Assignment

Mary, the daughter of Heli, belonged to the Israelite tribe of Judah. The first mention of her in the Bible is in connection with an extraordinary event. An angel visited her and said: “Good day, highly favored one, Jehovah is with you.” At first, Mary was disturbed and “began to reason out what sort of greeting this might be.” So the angel told her that she had been chosen for the amazing but also extremely serious assignment of conceiving, bearing, and raising God’s Son.—Luke 1:26-33.

What a responsibility was placed on the shoulders of this young, unmarried woman! How did she react? Mary might well have wondered who would believe her story. Might such a pregnancy cost her the love of Joseph, her fiancé, or might it subject her to public shame? (Deuteronomy 22:20-24) She did not hesitate to accept this weighty assignment.

Mary’s strong faith enabled her to submit to the will of her God, Jehovah. She was convinced that he would look after her. She thus exclaimed: “Look! Jehovah’s slave girl! May it take place with me according to your declaration.” Mary was willing to face the challenges that lay ahead because she valued the spiritual privilege she had been offered.—Luke 1:38.

When Mary told Joseph that she was pregnant, he intended to break off their engagement. That must have been a time of great anguish for both of them. The Bible does not say how long this difficult period lasted. However, both Mary and Joseph must have felt extremely relieved when Jehovah’s angel appeared to Joseph. That spirit emissary explained Mary’s extraordinary pregnancy and directed Joseph to take her home as his wife.—Matthew 1:19-24.

Hard Times

Today, many mothers-to-be spend months preparing for the arrival of a baby, and Mary may have done the same. This was to be her first child. Yet, unexpected events complicated her plans. Caesar Augustus decreed a census, requiring all to register in their town of origin. So Joseph took Mary, now in her ninth month of pregnancy, on a journey of about 90 miles [150 km], likely on a donkey’s back! Bethlehem was crowded and Mary needed somewhere private to give birth, but the only place available was a stable. Giving birth in a stable must have been hard for Mary. She may well have been both embarrassed and scared.

In these critical moments of her life, Mary surely poured her heart out to Jehovah, trusting that he would care for her and her baby. Later some shepherds arrived, eager to see the baby. They reported that angels had called this child “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Then we read: “Mary began to preserve all these sayings, drawing conclusions in her heart.” She meditated on these words and drew strength from them.—Luke 2:11, 16-19.

What about us? We are likely to suffer pain in life. Furthermore, the Bible shows that “time and unforeseen occurrence” can befall any of us, throwing all manner of hardships and challenges in our path. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) If that happens, do we turn bitter, blaming God? Would it not be better to imitate Mary’s attitude and draw closer to Jehovah God by learning from his Word, the Bible, and then meditating on what we have learned? Doing so will surely help us to endure trials.

Poor and a Refugee

Mary faced other hardships too—including poverty and a forced flight from her homeland. Have you faced such challenges? According to one report, “half the world—nearly three billion people—live on less than two dollars a day,” and millions more struggle to make ends meet even though they live in so-called wealthy countries. What about you? Does the day-to-day grind of providing your family with food, clothing, and shelter tire you out, even overwhelm you at times?

The Bible indicates that Joseph and Mary were relatively poor. How so? Among the few facts that the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—reveal about this couple is that 40 days after Mary gave birth, she and Joseph went to the temple to make the required offering—“a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”* (Luke 2:22-24) This sacrifice was allowed only for those who were too poor to offer a young male sheep. Thus, making ends meet was likely a struggle for Joseph and Mary. Even so, they succeeded admirably in creating a loving family environment. Doubtless, spiritual concerns were their priority.—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7.

Not long after Jesus’ birth, Mary’s life was once again turned upside down. An angel told Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-15) This was the second time that Mary had to leave a familiar environment, but this time she had to go to a foreign country. Egypt hosted a large Jewish community, so Mary and Joseph may have been able to live among their own people. Nonetheless, living in a foreign country can be challenging and disorienting. Are you and your family among the many millions who have left their homeland, perhaps for the welfare of their children or to escape danger? If so, you can well understand some of the hardships that Mary may have faced in Egypt.

A Devoted Wife and Mother

Apart from the accounts of the birth and infancy of Jesus, Mary is mentioned little in the Gospels. Yet, we know that Mary and Joseph had at least six other children. You may find this surprising. However, consider what the Gospels say.

Joseph had great respect for Mary’s privilege of bearing God’s Son. Consequently, he refrained from having sexual intercourse with her before Jesus’ birth. Matthew 1:25 states that Joseph “had no intercourse with her until she gave birth to a son.” The word “until” in this verse indicates that after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary had normal sexual relations as husband and wife. The Gospel accounts say that, as a result, Mary had children with Joseph, both sons and daughters. James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas were Jesus’ half brothers. She had at least two daughters. (Matthew 13:55, 56) However, these children were conceived in the usual manner.*

Mary was a spiritually-minded person. Although the Law did not require women to attend the Passover celebration, Mary customarily accompanied Joseph on the annual journey to Jerusalem for the festival. (Luke 2:41) That would have involved a round-trip of nearly 190 miles [300 km] each year—with a growing family! But these trips were doubtless happy family occasions.

Many women today imitate Mary’s fine example. They work hard and selflessly to fulfill their Scriptural obligations. How often these devoted wives show great patience, endurance, and humility! Reflecting on Mary’s attitude helps them keep spiritual matters ahead of their own desire for comfort and pleasure. They know, as Mary doubtless did, that worshipping God together with their husband and children strengthens and unifies the family.

Once when Mary and Joseph were returning from a festival in Jerusalem—probably with several children now—they realized that 12-year-old Jesus was not with them. Can you imagine the distress Mary felt during the frantic three-day search for her son? When she and Joseph finally found him in the temple, Jesus said: “Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” Again, says the account, Mary “carefully kept all these sayings in her heart.” Here is another indication of Mary’s depth of spirituality. She carefully meditated upon all that happened regarding Jesus. Years later, she likely recounted vivid memories concerning this and other events of Jesus’ early life to the Gospel writers.—Luke 2:41-52.

Enduring in the Face of Suffering and Loss

What became of Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father? After briefly appearing in the description of that one incident from Jesus’ youth, Joseph disappears from the Gospel record. Some take this absence as an indication that Joseph died sometime before Jesus’ ministry began.* In any case, it does seem that Mary was a widow by the end of Jesus’ ministry. At the time of his death, Jesus entrusted his mother to the apostle John. (John 19:26, 27) Jesus would not likely have done so if Joseph were still living.

Mary and Joseph had been through so much together! They were visited by angels, escaped a tyrant, relocated several times, and raised a large family. How many evenings must they have sat together and talked about Jesus, wondering what he would have to face in the future, concerned about whether they were training him and preparing him in the right way? Then suddenly Mary found herself alone.

Have you lost your mate in death? Do you still feel the pain and emptiness such a loss causes, even after many years? No doubt Mary found solace in her faith and in the knowledge that there will be a resurrection.* (John 5:28, 29) Such comforting thoughts, however, did not end Mary’s problems. Like so many single mothers today, she faced the challenge of caring for her children without the help of a husband.

It is reasonable to believe that Jesus took over as the main breadwinner of the family when Joseph died. As Jesus’ brothers grew, they would be able to accept their share of family responsibilities. When Jesus “was about thirty years old,” he left home and commenced his ministry. (Luke 3:23) Most parents have mixed emotions when a grown son or daughter leaves home. So much time, effort, and emotion are invested in children that a huge void may seem to linger when they leave. Have any of your sons or daughters left home to pursue their goals? Are you proud of them, but at the same time, do you sometimes wish they were nearer? Then you can imagine how Mary may have felt when Jesus left home.

Unexpected Trials

Another of Mary’s trials was one she probably never expected. As Jesus preached, many followed him—but not his own brothers. “His brothers were, in fact, not exercising faith in him,” say the Scriptures. (John 7:5) Mary, no doubt, told them what the angel had told her—that Jesus was “God’s Son.” (Luke 1:35) Still, to James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, Jesus was just their older brother. So Mary found herself in a family with differing religious viewpoints.

Did Mary get discouraged and give up on the situation? Absolutely not! On one occasion when Jesus was preaching in Galilee, he went to a house to eat, and a crowd gathered to listen to him. Whom do we find outside looking for him? Mary and Jesus’ brothers. So when Jesus was near the family home, she followed him and evidently took her other children along with her, maybe hoping that they would change their attitude toward him.—Matthew 12:46, 47.

You may similarly be faced with the challenge of striving to follow Jesus while other members of your family do not want to do so. Do not become downhearted, and do not give up! Many, like Mary, have patiently encouraged family members for years before seeing any real change. Such endurance is precious to God, whether other humans respond or not.—1 Peter 3:1, 2.

The Hardest Challenge

Mary’s last trial, as recorded in the Scriptures, was no doubt the most heart-wrenching. She watched her beloved son die in agony after he was rejected by his people. The death of a child has been described as “the ultimate loss,” “the most devastating death,” whether the child is still young or he is an adult. Just as had been foretold decades earlier, Mary felt as if a sword had been run through her!—Luke 2:34, 35.

Did Mary let this final test destroy her emotionally or let it weaken her faith in Jehovah? No. The next time Mary is mentioned in the Bible record, we find her with Jesus’ disciples, “persisting in prayer” with them. And she was not alone. Her other sons, who by this time had begun to exercise faith in their older brother, were with her. How that must have comforted Mary!*Acts 1:14.

Mary had a full and satisfying life as a faithful woman, wife, and mother. She had many spiritually rewarding experiences. She overcame many tests and trials. When we face unexpected challenges or when we are anxious over family problems, we can certainly learn from her example of faithful endurance.—Hebrews 10:36.

What though, can be said about Mary as an object of special religious devotion? Does the Bible account of Mary’s unique role justify her being venerated?

[Footnotes]

One of the birds was offered as a sin offering. (Leviticus 12:6, 8) By presenting it, Mary acknowledged that she, like all other imperfect humans, had inherited the consequences of the sin of Adam, the first human.—Romans 5:12.

It has been noted that Joseph’s absence from the record of Jesus’ ministry is remarkable because Jesus’ other family members—his mother, brothers, and sisters—are mentioned. At the wedding feast in Cana, for example, we see Mary actively involved and even taking some initiative, but there is no sign of Joseph. (John 2:1-11) In another incident, we find the people of Christ’s hometown referring to the man Jesus, not as the son of Joseph, but as “the son of Mary.”—Mark 6:3.

For more information about the Bible’s promise of a resurrection, see chapter 7 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

See the box “She Had the Courage to Change,” on page 7.

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Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?

  Yes, he did. Some theologians have tried to argue their way out of that truth, though the Gospels several times clearly reveal the fact. (Matthew 12:46, 47; 13:54-56; Mark 6:3) However, Bible scholars have noted two things about the theories that Mary bore no other children. One, there is a motive behind such theories—to uphold a doctrine that arose much later, the church teaching that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. Two, the theories themselves do not hold up under scrutiny.

  For example, one such theory suggests that the “brothers” in question were stepbrothers—sons of Joseph by an earlier marriage. This notion lacks substance, for it would actually deny Jesus the legal right of the firstborn to inherit the kingship of David.—2 Samuel 7:12, 13.

  Another theory is that these brothers were actually cousins of Jesus, although the Greek Scriptures use distinct words for “brother,” “cousin,” and “relative.” Thus, scholar Frank E. Gaebelein calls these theological theories farfetched. He concludes: “The most natural way to understand ‘brothers’ . . . is that the term refers to sons of Mary and Joseph and thus to brothers of Jesus on his mother’s side.”

[Box on page 7]

She Had the Courage to Change

  Mary was born into a Jewish family, and she followed the Jewish religion. She attended the local synagogue, as the Jewish place of worship is called, and she visited the temple in Jerusalem. As Mary’s knowledge of God’s purposes grew, however, she came to see that the traditions of her fathers no longer had God’s approval. Jewish religious leaders had her Son, the Messiah, put to death. Before that happened, Jesus announced to them: “Look! Your house is abandoned to you.” (Matthew 23:38) God withdrew his blessing from the religious system in which Mary had been raised.—Galatians 2:15, 16.

  When the Christian congregation was formed, Mary may have been about 50 or so. What would she do? Did she reason that she had been born into the Jewish religious system and that she wanted to remain loyal to the traditions of her forefathers? Did she say that she was too old to change? Of course not! Mary understood that God’s blessing was now with the Christian congregation, so she had the faith and courage to change.

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Fleeing to Egypt as refugees

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The worst experience a mother can go through