Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Questions and Prayers

And Mary said, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

As Luke introduces us to Mary he tells us a story in which Mary has very little to say.

Most of the talking is done by Gabriel. Gabriel has figured prominently in Luke’s gospel, having already appeared to Elizabeth in much the same way as he appears to Mary. Mary only speaks twice. She asks a question (“How can this be?”) and she speaks a prayer (“Let it be to me according to your word”).

Our questions and prayers belong together. Somehow we forget this. We assume that people who have questions about God’s will and God’s ways don’t pray, or that those who pray don’t have questions about God’s will and God’s ways. We are wrong to think this way. Good questions make the stuff of good honest prayers.

“How can it be” and “let it be done” make good neighbors.

Roughly thirty-three years after her son was born Mary attended a wedding at Cana of Galilee. Jesus was there too. An awkward social circumstance arose with regard to party provisions. The host (for reasons we do not know) had run out of wine.

Mary took the matter to her son. “They have no wine,” she said. Jesus’ answer sounds curt, especially since he is addressing his mother. “Woman, why do you involve me?”

Scholars work hard to explain Jesus’ words to Mary. What we do well to notice is that Mary doesn’t answer her son directly. No rebuke to his remark, no justification of her request. Having shared the problem with her son, she turns to the servants with a brief word of instruction. “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:1-11)

Mary is for us a model of prayerfulness. In Nazareth, told of the birth of her son, she prayed a prayer of trust. In Cana with her grown son, she takes a problem to him and leaves it for him to do as he will.

In both instances we see the essence of prayer. We bring our lives before God and know that he will act. God will do his will. His purposes will be accomplished. Mary did not fully understand all that Gabriel told her. She had no promises from her grown son as to what would be done about the lack of wine. But what joins these two stories is the letting go, letting go of the need for explanations and answers. Questions and prayers make good neighbors.

And so Mary teaches us to pray. She teaches us what Jesus would later teach his disciples. When we pray we are to say “Thy will be done.” Not “Thy will be known” or “Thy will be explained.”

We may not know exactly what God’s will is. We do not always receive assurances as to what will happen and explanations as to how. We lay the matter before Jesus and we leave it there, knowing that he will do what is good, even if we don’t understand it.

Now it’s your turn. What matter do you bring before Jesus today? What will you leave with him trusting that whatever he does will be good? What are you facing that eludes figuring out, refusing a clear answer or resolution. Listen carefully to Mary and borrow her prayer, confident that God will do what is good.

Do what you will to do, Lord God. In the midst of what we cannot understand or figure out, teach us to trust you, knowing that “You are good and what you do is good” (Psalm 119:68). Amen.

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