When Paul McCartney wrote The Beatles’ song “Let It Be,” he may have been thinking of his own mother Mary who died when he was 14 and not the the mother of Jesus, but he nailed the biblical Mary’s spirituality in the song’s title and key phrase: Let it be.
The very last thing said in Mary’s conversation with the angel Gabriel are these words:
“Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, ESV).
We’re told the angel left upon hearing them, meaning Gabriel took that statement as both agreement and permission for the pregnancy and birth of Jesus to take place. As such, it is both the most humble and the most audacious thing a person can say to God’s messenger.
First, there’s the humility.
The two-word Latin prayer Fiat mihi comes directly from this verse. Translated as “Let it be to me,” it is the ultimate voicing of submission. It offers no resistance. It sets no conditions. It merely receives. It takes what’s coming.
I wonder how many times the boy Jesus heard his mother tell the story of that angelic encounter and her final response to the astounding request? Because I hear an echo of it in Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane:
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
The words are different, but the attitude is the same. They both have a posture of openness. They both say, “Yes,” to God.
Mary’s Fiat mihi becomes our most basic prayer as we respond to God. We humbly do what he tells us to do, go where he sends us. As we pray it, like Mary, we define ourselves as the Lord’s servants, not as those who follow our own dreams, not as those who serve our feelings and desires.
Mary’s YES to God isn’t vague. It comes in response to a specific request.
Different translations render Mary’s statement differently, but I prefer the ESV as it follows the KJV here. “Let it be to me according to your word.” As such, it becomes an opening prayer when we read the Scriptures.
Uttering that as a simple prayer before even opening the pages of our Bibles establishes a posture of attentiveness and obedience before the reading begins. “Let it be to me according to your Word.” Let these Scriptures speak to me and let me obey them.
It’s a gutsy, dangerous prayer, setting us in motion before we even know where we’re heading. It’s a trusting, beautiful prayer, setting our hearts at rest in the unfailing love of our God, knowing he is always good, always faithful.
Beyond their humility, these same words of Mary are also bold words of permission. In their YES, they express an ability to say NO.
The angel leaves after Mary speaks these words. He’s dismissed by them. Before hearing them, he hasn’t received the permission necessary for the conception of Jesus to take place. Theologians have suggested that Mary became pregnant the moment she uttered her Fiat mihi.
It boggles the mind to think that Mary could have derailed the Incarnation by her refusal. But this we know about our God: He is a gentleman. He doesn’t force himself on anyone.
God rapes no one. Mary gets pregnant with Jesus only by giving her consent.
This is a great mystery that we all take part in. The great God of the universe allows each one of us to accept or reject him. And Mary shows the best way to respond.
(In the painting accompanying this post — L’ Annonciation painted in 1644 by Philippe de Champaigne — Mary has a book in front of her, already showing her willingness to hear and obey God through the Scriptures.)