Have you ever contrasted, while reading these verses, the reaction of Mary – compared to that of the shepherds – regarding the birth of Jesus? Luke makes it clear that the shepherds were “sharing their testimony,” as we might call it, with everyone. On the other hand, Mary, even as the mother of Jesus, and as someone who had also been told things by an angel (Luke 1:26-38), and who had earlier shared this experience with her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-56), remained silent on what had happened.
So why when the shepherds seem to have gone all out in sharing what they knew of the good news, did Mary stay silent? Some have said that as a woman her testimony would not have been accepted in that ancient culture, but there are plenty of instances in the New Testament of that not being the case (for example, John 20:18). It seems far more likely that given the situation regarding her son’s mysterious conception, it might appear that she was simply telling a story to cover what people humanly presumed had happened. In other words, the situation was different for Mary – the same event, the same knowledge of the truth, but different circumstances. Had Mary shared her testimony under those circumstances, it might well have led to the truth being doubted and defamed.
This story has obvious implications for our lives today. We fully understand that we should never fear to confess our faith or to share the gospel, but Mary’s example shows that this fact should be tempered by wisdom according to the circumstances. This spiritual reality is in harmony with the physical reality stressed numerous times, in different ways, in the Book of Proverbs. For example, “A prudent man conceals knowledge…” (Proverbs 12:23); and we see the principle at its most basic level, of course, in the reminder that there is indeed “… a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
When we look at the ministry of Jesus himself, we see that sometimes he spoke out regarding the truth, but sometimes he did not (for example, Matthew 21:23-27). He also instructed his followers “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (Matthew 7:6). This statement was allegorical, of course; but Jesus also instructed his disciples to move on when it was clear that people were antagonistic and had no interest in the truth of God (Matthew 10:11-14). “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves;” he said, “therefore, be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16); “For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light” (Luke 16:8).
All these scriptures show a clear pattern of the use of wisdom in situations where the truth of God might be shared. In Mary’s situation, it would clearly have been problematic if she had spoken what she knew and, rather than God being glorified, her audience actually had been less likely to accept the truth. The truth of God is a wonderful gift to share, but it is one that should always be shared at an appropriate time and with wisdom.