Beyond Labels

"God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.”  Notice how the Gospel of Luke introduces us to this young woman: before he tells us her name, he tells us her hometown (Nazareth), her marital status (virgin and engaged), her fiancé’s name (Joseph), and her fiancé’s family background (house of the fabled king David). Only then, does he call her by name, “Mary.” As Fran Ferder puts it, “The ordering rightly describes the significance of a woman of her times. . . .  Mary is labeled before she is named.”

We label each other: rich, poor, black, white, straight, gay, privileged, disadvantaged, wife, husband, divorced, never married, boss, employee, fat, fit, Republican, Democrat. We know about each other, but we don’t know each other. We substitute stereotypes for stories and abstract categories for actual flesh-and-blood human beings.

God doesn’t relate to us as labels, reduce us to roles, or value us by our social status. God sees us clearly, knows us fully, and loves us completely. Even though Mary lived in a culture which disregarded women like her, God sent a messenger to her who said: “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

Whoever you are, wherever you are, no matter what you have done or failed to do, and regardless of how others have treated you, God approaches you as God approached Mary. God meets you with love and greets you with favor, which means with grace.