Her name meant “Rebel” or “Rebellion”. In a culture where your name was thought to reveal your whole character, either in a prophetic sense or as it was known and manifested, it was an interesting choice. With a name like that, would you really have the option of proving it wrong? If Rebel had been a model of virtue, would people have been able to see past her name and chuckle at the irony?
As it turned out, that question was pointless. Despite the fact that an honorable matrimonial match had been secured for her, Rebel, as her name had seemingly foretold, was now disgraced. Before the wedding could take place, she was pregnant, and her fiancé was not even the father. Can you imagine the talk that must have gone on? Was anyone surprised? Hadn’t everyone known all along? What else could be expected with a name like that?
Yet, the same God who cared enough about the meaning of names to go so far as to change a few, such as Abram and Jacob, purposely chose this young girl named Rebel to be the mother of his son, and did not propose a revision. He pre-selected the name John, which meant “Yahweh is Gracious”, for John the Baptist, so couldn’t he just as easily have instructed Mary’s parents to give her a name worthy of the mother of the Savior? Of course he could! Apparently, the name “Rebel” suited him just fine.
We want to hold the mother of Jesus in the highest regard. We want her to be the Mother of all Mothers, one chosen by God to raise his son specifically because of her many virtues. We want her to be worthy. We want to imbue her with, well, the qualities of God. There lies the problem: Jesus had two parents, but only One was worthy.
It is true that, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary, as recorded in Luke 1:26-28, he said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” Then, he reiterated that status by telling her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
Many people, due to an ingrained yet misguided belief that the only way to find favor with God is by exhibiting exemplary behavior, have taken the angel’s words and, in their zeal, applied that erroneous conclusion to this scene, attributing to Mary a completely unattainable level of righteousness.
God’s favor has never been a thing to be earned, it has always been a matter of Grace—God’s unmerited favor. Mary possessed no intrinsic qualities of which she could be proud and because of which God rewarded her with this honor. God graced her with his favor and then gifted her with everything she would need in order to face the purpose to which she was called.
We have no way of knowing what Mary was like prior to her meeting with the angel. All we do know is that God did not seem to be very concerned about the way she was perceived, first with her name and then with her scandalous pregnancy. It is almost as if God went out of his way to cast the mother of his Son in a dubious light.
I think that is because he intended for Mary, Rebel, Rebellion, to represent humanity. She stands in for all of the rebellious since Adam, when he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. She typifies every defiant, disobedient, mutinous, wayward actor. Her name was actually a prophecy of the very ones her son would come to save. We are Mary. Mary is us. Our rebellion necessitated a savior and graciously God sent Jesus, whose name means, “God saves.”
I take comfort in God signifying, by Mary’s name, his choice of an ordinary, imperfect human to bear and raise his child. For me, this takes nothing away from the blessing God bestowed upon her. In fact, I find it more meaningful. If the entire burden of how a child “turns out” rests on good parenting, there was never more at stake than with this mother and this child. Can you imagine the pressure of ruining the Messiah? Every mother carries the fear of “breaking” her child. Yet, whether or not Mary felt that burden, it was never hers.
There is no scenario in God’s kingdom where his success rests on our shoulders. That is good news! Regardless of popular opinion or all outward appearances, God has provided, in Christ, everything necessary to bring his plans to completion. This was true for Mary and it is true for us. He is not in need of our help to accomplish his purposes. When he includes us, it is for our benefit, our blessing.
God gave Mary a privilege that no other human will ever experience. As Martin Luther once said, “God was born of Mary….God is Mary’s Son and…Mary is God’s mother….She is the true mother of God and bearer of God….Mary suckled God, rocked God to sleep, prepared broth and soup for God, etc. For God and man are one person, one Christ, one Son, one Jesus….” (On the Councils of the Church, 1539) Yet, as astounding as that privilege was, it was simply her blessing. She was not the subject of it, but the object. God allowed that Rebel to give birth to his Son and through her blessing, we, the rebels of the world, are saved.