Why do many of us live in anxiety all the time? We are always worried about tomorrow.
We worry about our finance, our health, our career, and our children’s studies and career as well. We worry because we feel that we must be in charge of our lives. We do not trust in God except ourselves. Hannah and Mary have this warning for us. Hannah said, “The bows of the mighty are broken, but the weak are clothed with strength.” Mary in her own way also said, “He has shown the power of his arm, he has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.” Indeed, the greatest sin is pride. This was the sin of Adam and Eve when they wanted to be like God, to take charge of their own lives instead of trusting in the providence of God. Pride and arrogance is the cause of our misery and restlessness.
Instead, we are to learn from Hannah and Mary who surrendered their lives to God. Jesus in the gospel warns us, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:31-33) Both of them offered and consecrated their entire life to the rule of God. They kept nothing back for themselves. They lived under the reign of God.
Hannah offered Samuel when he was just three years old to full time service in the Temple. She said, “’If you please, my lord. As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you, praying to the Lord. This is the child I prayed for, and the Lord granted me what I asked him. Now I make him over to the Lord for the whole of his life. He is made over to the Lord.’ There she left him, for the Lord.” It must have been very difficult for Hannah to leave her child at the Temple. Which mother would be willing to leave her child or surrender her child to God, especially when he was still so young? Even when their children have become adults, many parents are not willing to allow their children to become priests or religious. For Hannah to surrender her only son to the Lord was an act of total surrender of her own life, for who would look after her when she became old. She did not think about her future or her self-interests but commended her life and her future into the hands of God.
This was also the case of Mary as well. In faith, she surrendered her entire life to God when she was asked to be the mother of the Saviour. Mary certainly was aware of the challenges ahead of her in accepting the responsibility of being the mother of the Messiah. She accepted the risks of being misunderstood, falsely accused, rejected, condemned and even killed. How could she convince anyone, including Joseph, that her baby was conceived in the power of the Holy Spirit? Above all, she also had to surrender not just her life into the hands of God but also her Son’s life. He was rejected, misunderstood, and crucified. How difficult it must have been for Mary to go through what her Son went through, being rejected, shamed, mocked, betrayed and tortured cruelly before being nailed to the cross; not because He did anything wrong but because of the sins and selfishness of humanity.
How did they find such strength to surrender their lives and that of their children’s into the hands of God? It was their faith in God. They believed that God was sovereign in all things. As Hannah said, “It is the Lord who gives life and death, he brings men to the grave and back; it is the Lord who gives poverty and riches. He brings men low and raises them on high.” Everything is in the hands of God. He is in charge of the world and He is in control of our lives. When we know that God is the Almighty One, as Mary sang in the Magnificat, then we can confidently entrust our lives and future into the hands of God.
Secondly, they recognized that all things come from the Lord. “Those with plenty must labour for bread, but the hungry need work no more. The childless wife has children now but the fruitful wife bears no more.” Mary herself declared, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour; because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid. Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear him.” Both knew that what they were all came from God and therefore whatever they had was the work of God in their lives. They had nothing to boast about except the mercy and graciousness of God.
Thirdly, they believed that God was in favour of the poor. He champions the cause of the poor. He has a special preferential option for those who are poor. He helps the lowly. Hannah prayed, “He lifts up the lowly from the dust, from the dungheap he raises the poor to set him in the company of princes to give him a glorious throne.” In the magnificat, Mary said, “He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.” This is the God who chose to be poor in Jesus Christ so that we can be rich in Him. In Jesus, God came for the poor, the sick, the widows, the outcasts and the marginalized of society.
Finally, they believed that this God whom they worshipped is a faithful God. Mary said, “He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy – according to the promise he made to our ancestors – of his mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.” God is true to His promises. This has always been the constant faith of the anawim. In the Benedictus that Zechariah prayed upon the birth of John the Baptist, he too declared the fidelity of God. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of our life.” (Lk 1:68-75) God is faithful to His promises even when we are unfaithful.
As a consequence, they lived with hearts of gratitude and thanksgiving. When we are grateful for what we have and thankful for the blessings of God, we will always be receptive of whatever the Lord wills for us. As St Paul said, “Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11-13) We, too, when we have been blessed by God, we do not crave for more than what the Lord wants to give to us. We accept everything from His hands. We are contented as St Paul was.
We know that in the final analysis, all of what we have belong to God alone. What we have must be surrendered to the use of the Lord for His glory, even surrendering our children to God’s service. Our lives do not belong to us but to God. So in all that we do, we must give glory to Him by allowing Him to use our lives for His greater glory. All our time, resources, money, time and talents are given to us for the service of His kingdom and for His people. So the more we are blessed as Mary was, the more we are called to bless others. Only when we offer our lives entirely to God, can we find ourselves and joy in our lives. Like Mary, we are only the handmaid of the Lord, His servants. And this was what Mary did, she spent three months assisting Elizabeth in her time of pregnancy. This is what we are called to do, to make our lives an offering to others in love and humble service.