May is the month for Mary, so I thought I’d share a quick tidbit I learned recently…
When the angel Gabriel told Zechariah that his wife was to bear John the Baptist, who would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from the womb, Zechariah was skeptical, replying, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (Luke 1:18). Gabriel then pulls ranks a bit, declaring,
“I am Gabriel, who stands before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.” (v. 19-20)
Six months later, Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary. This time, he addresses her, “Hail, ‘Full of Grace’! The Lord is with You” (v. 28). Mary, we’re told, “was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (v. 29). I always assumed that referred simply to the second half – “The Lord is with you.” But reading a little further, I discovered that the angel is saluting her, and calling her by a title.
First, the salutation. Every other time we hear “Hail (individual)” in the Bible, it’s Jesus, and it’s a description of Jesus that exalts Him (although sarcastically, given the context). Judas says “Hail, Rabbi!” in the Garden (Matthew 26:49), and the soldiers cry out, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matthew 27:29, Mark 15:18, John 19:3). Gabriel, far from pulling rank as he did with Zechariah, is being deferential to Mary!
Second, the title. Catholics usually translate this “Full of Grace,” while Protestants often translate it “Highly Favored One.” Neither is a great translation, from what I’ve read. “Full of Grace” is close, but the Greek emphasis is on Mary’s status as a recipient of perfect grace, not as an independent storehouse or dispenser of it. But “Highly Favored One” misses the mark, in that it sounds like the angel is telling her, “you’re about to get a great gift,” (which she was, of course), when in fact, the angel is acknowledging that she’s already been filled with grace. It’s important, because the angel isn’t saying she’s about to find favor with God, but that she’s already found it. Perhaps “Fully Graced One” would work.
In any case, the implications of this are mind-boggling. What had this young girl ever done to deserve such a title, much less a deferential angelic salutation? Apparently, her faith was just that strong. Pretty incredible!