Mary, His Mother
January 1991

“Mary, His Mother,” Ensign, Jan. 1991, 10

New Testament

Mary, His Mother

By word and deed, Mary, the mother of Jesus, teaches devoted followers of her son about the significant virtues of a true disciple.

Although little of Mary’s life is actually recorded, what is recorded reveals a pattern of righteousness. That pattern is (1) faithful obedience to the word of God, (2) expressive joy for God’s blessings, (3) readiness to receive God’s witness and counsel from His servants, and (4) rearing a posterity who glorified God.

Faithful Obedience to the Word of God

Many prophets had known of Mary’s vital role in the plan of salvation. Her mission had been recorded throughout ancient scripture. (See Isa. 7:14; 1 Ne. 11:13–20; Mosiah 3:8; Alma 7:10.)

From the angel Gabriel, who was sent from God to declare glad tidings to her, Mary learned that she was the one to fulfill these ancient prophecies. The angelic messenger declared, “Hail, thou virgin, who art highly favored of the Lord. The Lord is with thee, for thou art chosen and blessed among women.” (JST, Luke 1:28.)

Following the announcement, Mary had a simple inquiry: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34.) Mary’s question was not one of reticence or doubt, but of sincere curiosity as to how this was to be, for she was an espoused virgin. Prior to the angelic visitation, Mary had become espoused to Joseph the carpenter. However, this did not mean that she knew him in a husband/wife relationship. According to the Jewish custom, this meant only that Mary and Joseph had participated in an espousal ceremony (also known as a “betrothal” or “making sacred the bride”). It was roughly analogous to being engaged to be married.

To Mary’s question, the angel answered, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35.)

From this angelic messenger, Mary learned that she was to be the mother of the Son of God, the Only Begotten of the Father in the flesh. The child would inherit the physical, mental, and spiritual traits characterized by his parents—one the glorified God; the other a worthy, blessed mortal woman.

After receiving the angel’s message, Mary, in unreserved obedience, replied, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:38.) In humbly accepting this opportunity of motherhood, Mary exemplifies the quality of obedience to which all disciples aspire.

Expressive Joy for God’s Blessings

When the angel departed from her, Mary left Nazareth, seeking the companionship of her cousin, Elisabeth—the one woman who at first meeting would understand and rejoice with her.

This glorious meeting of two chosen women is unparalleled in recorded history. As the expectant mother of John welcomed the expectant mother of the Savior of mankind into her home, Mary openly expressed her joy to Elisabeth, exclaiming:

“Behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

“For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:48–49.)

Readiness to Receive God’s Witness and Counsel from His Servants

Following the angel’s salutation, the first recorded witness Mary received was from Elisabeth. Next to receive a witness from God was Mary’s betrothed husband, Joseph. This witness—and attendant counsel—came because of an inner conflict Joseph was experiencing concerning Mary’s pregnancy. While he was thinking on this matter, an angelic messenger appeared to him in a dream to declare Mary’s righteousness. The angel said:

“Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:20–21.)

Joseph, as Mary had done before him, heeded the counsel and “did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.” (Matt. 1:24.) His noble character exemplifies the virtues of faithful obedience as well as of integrity, for he “knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name Jesus.” (Matt. 1:25.)

The third recorded witness God sent Mary occurred in Bethlehem. Sometime after the marriage of Joseph and Mary was completed in Nazareth, a decree was issued by Caesar Augustus “that all the world should be taxed.” (Luke 2:1.) Each Jew was to be registered for taxation at his ancestral home, and so Mary and Joseph, who were of the royal house of David, set out for their ancestral home—a small pastoral and agricultural town located about six miles southwest of Jerusalem called Bethlehem.

We do not know how soon the birth occurred after Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem, but we do know that “while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:6–7.)

Soon thereafter, shepherds came to see the newborn infant and became witnesses of the Son of God. In doing so, the shepherds became prototypes of the Christian missionaries, witnessing to all what they had seen and heard.

The fourth time the scriptures say Mary received witness and counsel concerning her chosen son occurred at the temple in Jerusalem. Mary and Joseph complied with the Mosaic purification law, which required all women to remain in retirement for forty days after childbirth. (See Lev. 12.) After forty days, she and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple.

At the temple were two witnesses, Simeon and Anna. It had been revealed to Simeon “that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” (Luke 2:26.) When he saw Jesus, he took the young baby in his arms and praised the Lord, saying, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

“For mine eyes have seen thy salvation.” (Luke 2:29–30.)

Simeon blessed them and specifically spoke to Mary, reaffirming to her the divine calling of her son. Included in his praise was the reminder to Mary of the difficult earthly experiences her child would have. Simeon also said to her, “Yea, a spear shall pierce through him to the wounding of thine own soul also.” (JST, Luke 2:35.)

Confirming Simeon’s testimony was Anna, a prophetess. She “gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” (Luke 2:38.)

Mary also received a visit from wise men from the East. By means of a star, the wise men were led to a house where they saw the “young child with Mary his mother.” (Matt. 2:11.) Their visit served as another witness of her son’s divine calling.

We know from these accounts that Mary was ready and willing to listen to God’s witness and counsel from his servants. Each of these servants, in their varying walks of life, assured Mary of her blessed state in the eyes of God. Mary lived so as to be receptive to their messages. Her life was one of faithful, obedient receptivity. She did not ignore counsel, but “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19.)

Rearing a Posterity Who Glorified God

The New Testament records only brief accounts of the result of Mary’s sensitive and reverent pondering. However brief, these passages clearly show Mary as a follower of Jesus.

What the New Testament profusely records is Mary’s son glorifying God while showing respect to his mother. For example, when Mary sought for Jesus in Jerusalem following the feast of the Passover, she found him in the temple. Mary inquired, “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.” (Luke 2:48.) Mary did not reprimand or insist upon parental prerogative, for it appears she knew her son was not dishonoring her but rather honoring his divine Father.

Another example of Jesus manifesting respect for his mother while glorifying God occurred at a marriage feast in Cana, a town neighboring Nazareth. At the feast, and in response to his mother’s request, Jesus performed the miracle of turning water into wine. (See John 2:1–11.) One effect of this miracle was that “his disciples believed on him.” (John 2:11.)

Christ’s mission to glorify his Heavenly Father and extend salvation to each of us did not prevent him from showing his profound love and respect for his mother. Indeed, the scriptures make it clear that even during the agony of his crucifixion at Calvary, his mother’s welfare was not far from his thoughts. John records that “there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother.” (John 19:25.) When Jesus saw his mother, standing by his disciple John, he said, “Woman, behold thy son!

“Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.” (John 19:26–27.)

The life of Jesus was one of glorifying God. He fulfilled ancient prophecies regarding his ministry, atonement, death, and resurrection. His life is worthy of emulation. His mother, too, is worthy of our acknowledgment for her righteous discipleship.

  • Susan Easton Black is an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University and serves as stake Relief Society president in the Brigham Young University Eleventh Stake.

Illustration by Del Parson

Marriage at Cana, by Luca Giordano