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Gospel for Sunday, December 20: Luke 1: 26-38

IV SUNDAY OF ADVENT

26In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man of the house of David, whose name was Joseph. The virgin was called Mary. 28Entering her, he said: “Rejoice, full of grace: the Lord is with you.” 29At these words she was very upset and wondered what sense a greeting like this had. 30The angel said to her: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And behold, you will conceive a son, and you will give birth to him, and you will call his name Jesus. 32He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High; the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David 33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.” 34Then Mary said to the angel: “How can this be, since I do not know a man?” 35The angel answered her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the one to be born will be holy and will be called the Son of God. 36And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, in her old age has also conceived a son and this is the sixth month for her, who was called barren: 37nothing is impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said: “Behold the servant of the Lord: let it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1: 26-38

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

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THE VOCATION OF MARY

Luke presents Mary in an inaugural scene which has the precise task of characterizing the role of the mother: we usually speak of the story of the annunciation, but, according to the literary genre of the passage, it would be better to call this text “the vocation of Mary” ( Luke 1:26-38).

Let us now analyze the text of the announcement to Mary.

28: “Rejoice, transformed by grace: the Lord is with you!”

Rejoice

Mary must “rejoice” (“kàire”) because she is the incarnation of ancient Israel, that she must explode with joy because the Messiah has arrived: better than the Latin “Ave” is the translation “Gaude” of the Greek fathers . “Mary in fact is greeted by Gabriel with the words of joy (1,28) with which the prophets Zechariah (2,14-17; 9,9-10), Zephaniah (3,14-20) and Joel (2, 21-27) had invited the “daughter of Zion” to hope, that is, the rest of Israel (Is 10.20) who, having returned from exile, would rebuild the “house of Jacob”, of which Jesus will be king (Lk 1.33)” (M. Masini):

God comes “among us”, to make our sterility fertile, to bring salvation and abundance: a great message of hope, joy, happiness.

Pardoned

Loved

Mary is the “kecharitòmene”, the “graced one”, made lovable (not “full of grace”, it would have been “plerès charitòs”, as in Acts 6.8 referring to Stephen). She is the one favored by love, the Israel chosen by mercy (Hos 11,1-4). He is the chosen one made beautiful by grace (Ez 16,8-14). It is Israel made husband of God (Hos 2,21-28; CdC).

Elect

In the language of the Bible, “grace” means a special gift, which according to the New Testament has its source in the Trinitarian life of God himself, of God who is love (1 John 4.8). The fruit of this love is the election – the one spoken of in the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 1,2-23) – by God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every blessing spiritual in heaven, in Christ. In him he chose us before the creation of the world, to be holy and immaculate before him in charity, predestining us to be his adoptive children through the work of Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will. And this to the praise and glory of his grace, which he has given us in his beloved Son; in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:3-10).

When we read that the messenger says Mary is “full of grace”, the evangelical context, in which ancient revelations and promises flow, allows us to understand that here we are dealing with a singular blessing among all the “spiritual blessings in Christ”. In the mystery of Christ she is already present “before the creation of the world”, as the one whom the Father “chose” as the Mother of her Son in the incarnation, entrusting her eternally to the Spirit of holiness. At the same time, she is and remains perfectly open to this “gift from above” (Jas 1:17). As the Council teaches, Mary “stands out among the humble and poor of the Lord, who confidently await and receive salvation from him” (Redemptoris Mater, 8).

New Abraham

Mary’s faith can be compared to that of Abraham, called by the Apostle “our father in faith” (Rom 4:12). In the salvific economy of divine revelation, Abraham’s faith constitutes the beginning of the Ancient Covenant; Mary’s faith in the annunciation begins the New Covenant. Just as Abraham “had faith, hoping against all hope that he would become the father of many peoples” (Rom 4:18), so Mary, at the moment of the annunciation, after having indicated her condition as a virgin, believed that through the power of the Most High , through the work of the Holy Spirit, would become the Mother of the Son of God according to the revelation of the angel (Lk 1,35).

“Like Abraham, Mary finds grace with God, generates a child in a miraculous way, is blessed for her faith, in her person the promises made to Abraham for the people of Israel are fulfilled” (A. Serra). “From this moment Abraham expressly becomes the father of all believers and Mary, as John 19,25-27 will expressly say, becomes their mother” (G. Bruni).

Beautiful

If Eve had disobeyed God, Mary counters her with her “yes” (Lk 1.38), and with her invitation to “do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2.5), like Israel obedient to Sinai. At Sinai, in fact, there is a new creation and Israel, on the sixth day of the Theophany, is made to eat the tree (Mount Sinai), which produces the holy Words of the Torah, and responds: “What the Lord said, we will do it” (Ex 19,8; cf. 24,3.7), in obedience contrasting with Eve’s sin. And the people, who according to the Rabbis were physically handicapped, oppressed by slavery, become the beautiful and spotless bride of the Song of Songs: “I will not inflict on you any of the infirmities that I inflicted on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, the one who heals you!” (Ex 15,26). And Judaism will read the Song of Songs as the love poem of the Groom-God who kisses his bride in the garden, giving him the Torah on Sinai: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (Song 1:2).

Mary is also the new Eve, the first of the “mothers” of Israel, who in the rabbinic tradition was beautiful. The rabbis, paraphrasing Gen 2:22, see God as her matchmaker who adorns her in splendor to present her to Adam. This beauty, lost with sin, is reflected in Sarah the beautiful, in Abisag the Shunammite of David (1 Kings 1.4), in the mother of the Maccabees, but above all in faithful Israel who welcomes the Torah in the garden of Sinai. Mary, Giustino (+165 approximately) will say, is the new Eva, who with her “yes” is made beautiful. At the foot of the new tree of life, the Cross, she will therefore be constituted “mother” of the disciples (Jn 19,25-27), and she will be able, like Eve, to exclaim: “I have acquired a man from the Lord” (Gen 4, 1).

But she is also a figure of the Church, which is born from obedience, she is made beautiful by the Spirit, she becomes the bride of Christ.

“The Lord is with you”

It is the very term of vocation stories. Mary is the model of the believer, called to be with the Lord.

34: “Then Mary said to the angel: “How is this possible? I don’t know a man.”

Mary’s objection represents a normal element in the biblical pattern of announcements. Is this therefore a simple editorial step or a real difficulty raised by Maria? Opinions are conflicting.

a) According to numerous exegetes, especially Catholics, Mary intended to remain a virgin, despite her engagement to Joseph. But the idea of a “vow of virginity”, certainly far from the Jewish mentality, which saw procreation as the only way to perpetuate itself and fit into the messianic expectation (the only exception, the Essenes of Qumram…), only makes headway with Origen (185-254) and then above all with Augustine (354-430).

b) Other exegetes state that from the Lucan text we can only deduce that Mary intended to contract a normal marriage with Joseph, open to offspring. The meaning of her objection concerns her situation as a fiancée, when marital relations were considered inappropriate, but not illegitimate, because engagement had the same legal value as marriage.

c) For other exegetes, Mary’s objection simply constitutes an editorial element, foreseen in the announcement schemes. Luca uses it to delve deeper into the identity of the unborn child. The prevailing interest of the evangelist is certainly Christological, but this cannot a priori exclude the possibility of an echo in the tradition of a sublime reality, which occurred in Mary, with her free consent. Virginity underlines the extraordinary nature of God’s plan, which gives the Messiah beyond any human merit or ability.

35°: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the power of the Most High will spread his cloud over you”

“Holy Spirit” is not preceded by the article and refers to a divine attribute, to his strength,  but there is an allusion to the spirit of God (“mah ‘Elohim”) who “hovered over the waters” of primitive chaos for the creation of the cosmos (Gen 1.2).

In the Bible the mystery of the “cloud” is often spoken of to indicate the Presence of God which however manifests itself in a veiled way: among the various natural elements in which God reveals himself, the clouds stand out, defined as the “chariot” or “seat” of God , and often, in theophanies, accompanied by fire, storm, earthquake. In the Old Testament the word anan, cloud, appears about one hundred times, and seventy times designates a theophany. Perhaps, in the Exodus, the memory of the torches lit to guide the caravan overlapped with that of the Sinaitic storm or some volcanic eruption: all these phenomena were interpreted as God’s interventions alongside his people.

The cloud shows the way to Israel in the desert, envelops Sinai during the theophany, descends near the Tent of Meeting, fills the Temple with glory: it had then abandoned the Temple, and Judaism anxiously awaited its return. This cloud “covers” Mary at the annunciation: the verb used in this regard in the Gospel is episkiàzein, which recalls the Hebrew shakàn, which contains the same root as Shekinah, the Presence of God: better than the usual translation: “He will cover you with his shadow”, we should therefore say: “He will cover you with the cloud of his Presence”. The same divine cloud will then be present at the transfiguration of Jesus, and will accompany the final coming of the Lord.

35b: “He who will be born will therefore be (“dia kai”) holy and called the Son of God”

Mary’s motherhood itself already constitutes in itself an event of salvation and divinization, and is not only instrumental to the birth of the Son. “He who will be born will therefore be (“dià kai”) holy and called the Son of God”: Mary is not just an empty temple in which the Presence of God arrives, but “Mary was predestined from all eternity to be the habitation of the Spirit who through her and in her would begin the renewed creation” (L. Boff).

38: “Here I am, I am the servant of the Lord”

Mary is then the “slave of IHWH” (Lk 1.38: not the “servant”), that is, the mother of the Slave (“ebed”) of IHWH pierced for our sins (Is 53.5): she too is a sword will pierce the soul (Lk 2,35). As the Fathers will say, she is “the Lamb that gives birth to the Lamb” (Lk 2,35). Mary’s words of response express an awareness of relationship.

The Gospel uses the term “dùle”, slave; this suggests a servile relationship. In truth, from a biblical point of view it expresses something deeper. Mary’s words are a response to Isaiah’s expression: “Here is my servant whom I support, my chosen one in whom I am well pleased” (42,1). There is assonance between the words of Isaiah and the words of Mary in his words: “Here I am the servant”, and in what the angel says: “You have found favor with God”.

Mary therefore defines herself in relationship with God, because He has chosen to relate to her, a relationship of choice, complacency, support. Another assonance: “I have set my spirit on him” (Isaiah 42,1b); “The Holy Spirit will come upon you” (Luke 1.35). Mary therefore places herself in her response within the framework of the predilections of grace and mission in which the figure of the Servant of IHWH was placed. Her conscience is that of a faithful servant, loved by God, chosen by him, to fill him with his spirit.

Mary therefore welcomes God’s plan in faith: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

“Let it be done to me according to your word”

Not only that: Maria expresses the enthusiasm and joy of this availability. The Greek verb translated as “to happen” (“gnoito”) is an optative, that is, a form that expresses a desire and a joy: Mary does not accept with resignation, but welcomes with enthusiasm and essentially says: “I am really happy that this is happening what did you say, I don’t want anything else!”. Here is the model of the believer and the disciple, who always chooses “according to your word”, “katà to rèma tu”.

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at migliettacarlo@gmail.com.

Source

Spazio Spadoni

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