The Listening Disciple
Here I have chosen a 15th century icon from Moscow called “The Mother of God of Tenderness.” In this type of icon, of which there are many examples, the Mother listens attentively and sadly while the son reveals to her his passion and death. The icon captures a prominent New Testament theme.
While the modern world is very curious about history, the New Testament writers were much more interested in.
The Scriptures often give just a few basic historical facts about a person </span>─ not enough to satisfy our modern curiosity ─ and then focus on the meaning of that person’s life for us who are believers. For the Scriptures, Mary is the ideal disciple, the model listener. She hears God’s word and acts on it. This theme is most explicit in Luke’s gospel. In Luke’s first two chapters Mary is evangelized by Gabriel, by Elizabeth, by the shepherds, by Simeon, by Anna, and by Jesus himself. All of them proclaim the good news of God’s presence and sing in praise of God’s goodness. Luke tells us that Mary kept all these things in her heart, turning them over and over again.
His mother and brothers came to be with him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside and they wish to see you.” He told them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who listen to the word of God and act upon it.”
This theme, Mary as the Listening Disciple, has often been overshadowed by other more exalted Marian titles. But it is an extremely important one. In fact, it lies at the core of New Testament spirituality: all disciples, like Mary, are called to listen to the word of God attentively and act on it.
What can we learn from this second Marian face? We can learn to listen. There is almost nothing more important that Mary can teach us. At root, being a disciple means being a hearer of the word. The whole of Christian life can be summed up in the Lucan phrase that describes Mary so aptly: “She listened to the word of God and acted on it.”