The Blessed Virgin Mary. Do you realize how important those words can be to those who have suffered under abusive leadership or domestic violence?
Toxic leaders at home and in the marketplace do not define who you are any more than Mary’s world defined her.
Some think calling the mother of Jesus, “blessed” is particularily Roman Catholic. According to some sources, the Church began “venerating” Mary at least by the 5th Century. However, it is certainly not biblical to worship her…there is one God. There is one Mediator between God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ.
But calling her “blessed” is a thoroughly Biblical concept found in Luke:
And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”
[Luke 1:41-42 (ESV)]
The expression, “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” is code for, “God is speaking through her.” Mary was blessed to bear the Son of God. We can all, 2000 years later, exclaim with Elizabeth that indeed, Mary was blessed by God to bear the Savior of the world. What an incredible honor.
But we need to think of what this all meant to a young Jewish girl and her fiance in the first Century.
The Shame of it All
Luke deals with Mary, but the Gospel of Matthew looks at the birth of Jesus through the eyes of his adopted father, Joseph.
Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit, but she and Joseph were not married yet. They were engaged…the same as married without consummation at that time. The commitment to marriage was completely there.
But to the watching world, it appeared that she had committed fornication. She obviously had sex prior to marriage. It would have been expected of Joseph to give her a certificate of divorce…to call off the wedding. She had apparently been unfaithful to him as he was not the father. Had he given her a divorce, it would have said to the watching world,
“I am not the father. I did not commit fornication. I am innocent.”
But the text says he was a godly man and therefore was going to treat Mary with grace and kindness by not making it public. He would “divorce her quietly.” He would not heap more shame on her.
But the angel, Gabriel came to him and told him the truth of the matter. “This is the Son of God! He will save the world from their sins. Do not even think about divorcing Mary.”
So, Joseph willingly moved ahead with the wedding plans.
This meant Joseph was admitting to his community to being the one who committed fornication with Mary. He said, “I am guilty” despite being completely innocent.
The Gospel of Luke tells us Mary is warned in advance of her impending pregnancy by the angel. She is called “favored one.” She is told the Lord is with her. She is told the baby will be “great” and she is to call the baby “Yeshua” – salvation. She is told he will be the “Son of the Most High,” that he will rule on the throne of David and “his kingdom will have no end.”
Wow. What a pronouncement.
But consider what she would go through.
She was not married. Remember the story of the woman who was nearly stoned by the religious leaders [John 8] for committing adultery? Mary had apparently committed fornication. She would be shamed by her community.
Despite her innocence.
Who They Are
But Mary and Joseph rested in knowing who the Lord said they were. They were blessed. They were honored. They would be taking on a work that no one else had or would ever experience.
Raising the Son of God. The future (and actually past) King of the World.
But they would have to rely on what they had been told by the Lord. They would have to trust that God knew exactly what He was doing when He appointed them to that task. Because, the way would not be easy in their culture.
They would face shame from their friends, family, and faith community. Mary may have even been threatened with stoning, though we do not know that from the scriptures.
The Lord is Telling You
If you have been a target of leadership abuse, remember that the Lord Who created you, loves you with an everlasting love. The shame you feel from being told you are worthless over and over was taken by Jesus Christ, Mary’s child.
It is not unusual for the church to get behind the charming abuser whether he is the head of a Christian organization or home. Toxic leaders are masters at manipulation. I have seen women who are abused by their husbands being rejected and excommunicated by churches. I have seen church members fail to support missionaries returning from the field because they could not work with their abusive leaders anymore because they were blinded by the mission’s leadership [fortunately that was not our experience].
But the opinions of a community bamboozeled by your oppressor’s charm are not the opinions of the Creator of the Universe.
It is easy and normal to see yourself as worthless when those who you have trusted and loved are telling you in words and actions that you have no value or have failed. But you must remember it is not true. Toxic leaders at home and in the marketplace do not define who you are.
Jesus Christ does. Just as the angel, Gabriel told Joseph and Mary.
The Lord is telling you,
“You are a child of the King. You are loved. You are blessed.”
Trust Him…He knows what He is talking about.