Scripture for Sunday: Luke 1:39-45
39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Notes on the Text:
The Gospel of Luke has a unique presentation of the birth stories of Jesus. None of the other Gospels tell us about the promised birth of John 1:5–25, the announcement of Jesus’ birth to Mary 1:26–38, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth 1:39–56, the birth of John the Baptist 1:57–80, the birth of Jesus (with shepherds and manger) 2:1-20, and Jesus’ presentation in temple 2:21–38. Even though the Gospels have similarities, each of the writers was trying to convey the story of Jesus with their audience in mind. Luke tries to connect the story of Jesus to the people of ancient Israel through the stories of some of the ancestors. The stories of Elizabeth and Zechariah echo the stories of Abraham and Sarah and their struggle to have children. The proclamations about the birth of Jesus remind us of Old Testament commissioning stories (Example: Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3 and Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10). Luke presents Jesus as the fulfilment of God’s vision for the world through the renewal of the legislation of Jubilee which was given to the people of ancient Israel. The Jubilee was a legislated reversal of fortune in which every fifty years the land of Israel was to lie fallow, all debts were to be cancelled, all slaves were to be set free and each family was to regain possession of their ancestral land (Lev. 25:8-55). When it was observed, Jubilee was designed so that wealth couldn’t accumulate, and power accrue in the hands of an elite few but would rather be redistributed so that all the people of ancient Israel would live in justice, with an equitable share of the wealth, so that poverty would be eliminated, and all would be free to worship God. It was God’s way of remaking ancient Israel into the world as God intended it to be. But Jubilee had not been observed in its entirety for at least 400 years
Our scripture for today is part of that narrative that shows how Jesus’ birth is part of God’s work with the people of ancient Israel. We see Elizabeth, who is a Sarah-type figure, affirming Mary’s pregnancy. When Mary gets the news of her pregnancy, the Gospel of Luke tells us that she goes to visit with her relative/cousin Elizabeth for three months. This would have been a long journey of about 80 miles. One would not take that kind of journey lightly. Mary spends the first three months of her pregnancy with Elizabeth. We know that the first three months are the most critical in any pregnancy. Without the support of Elizabeth, Mary could not have made it through this challenge in her life. Her ability to carry out the mission of her life depended on Elizabeth’s support and mentoring of her. Elizabeth was the best mentor Mary could have had. Here are a few things that are worth noting about Elizabeth’s role as a mentor.
First, Elizabeth was older. Age is not always an indicator of spiritual maturity, but most of the time, people who are spiritually mature tend to be older because they had lived through many experiences of faith and life and learned from them. As the wife of a priest, Elizabeth certainly would have had a long of life of prayer. In fact, just before we are told about Mary’s pregnancy, we are told about Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah and their mystical experience of a divine messenger. This made Elizabeth ready to believe Mary and to validate her vision of God.
Second, Elizabeth experienced hardship in her life. She was unable to be pregnant for a long time. In a culture where women’s primary function was to bear children, not having a child would have been a great source of distress, shame and pain for Elizabeth. Thus, Elizabeth was no stranger to fear, pain, and disappointment. She knew brokenness firsthand, and when she got pregnant at an old age, she was so grateful and appreciative of the power of new life within her. She embraced her pregnancy as a sign of God’s presence in her life.
Third, Elizabeth was a few months ahead of Mary in her pregnancy. She was able to help mentor Mary because she was a few steps ahead. They shared a common experience of God and of pregnancy, but Elizabeth was deeper into the experience that she was able to help guide Mary along the way. I love how Elizabeth responds to Mary’s visit with a song/a poem. She sings her cousin into a new experience in life. She lifts the spirit of her cousin through a song of deep joy. We all know the power of a song or a poem to bring us deep comfort or joy. Have you ever had that experience of sharing a song with a loved one and the power of that to affirm your faith and life? We tend to do that with children. We sing them into adulthood. But for adults, maybe the equivalent is when you share a quote, a prayer, a post, or a poem with a friend or a loved one to give them support and inspiration.
None of us can make it on our own in life. We need others and others need us. That is how God designed the world and that is what helps us find fulfilment in life. It is the same way in the spiritual life. We need people to walk alongside us on this journey of life; people who can challenge, support, and guide us along the way. Miracles don’t happen in a void. God usually uses people to help open our eyes to the sacred around and in us. No matter where you are on the journey, remember the power and necessity of others to guide us. Look for those who have experienced pain and heartache and who could help you discern where the Spirit of God is at work in your life. One of the key elements about finding or being a spiritual mentor is being able to help others listen to the “uncommon” wisdom of God which leads us to freedom to risk and to give of ourselves. A spiritual mentor is not someone who just agrees with you or supports you along the way. They are often people who are in touch with the aliveness of God’s Spirit and who could point you in that direction so that you may become more alive to the divine in your life. We have a lot of people in our lives, but only the ones who share deeply in our joys, sorrows, and souls are the ones who truly help us to fulfill our purpose in life and to see the miracles of God’s love in our lives.
Blessing by John Donohue:
May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where
there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessing, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam ċara (soul friend). Amen.