bible blog 1233

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


Luke 1:39-56

J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)

39-45 With little delay Mary got ready and hurried off to the hillside town in Judea where Zacharias and Elisabeth lived. She went into their house and greeted her cousin. When Elisabeth heard her greeting, the unborn child stirred inside her and she herself was filled with the Holy Spirit, and cried out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is your child! What an honour it is to have the mother of my Lord come to see me! Why, as soon as your greeting reached my ears, the child within me jumped for joy! Oh, how happy is the woman who believes in God, for he does make his promises to her come true.”

46-55 Then Mary said, “My heart is overflowing with praise of my Lord, my soul is full of joy in God my Saviour. For he has deigned to notice me, his humble servant and, after this, all the people who ever shall be will call me the happiest of women! The one who can do all things has done great things for me—oh, holy is his Name! Truly, his mercy rests on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, he has swept away the high and mighty. He has set kings down from their thrones and lifted up the humble. He has satisfied the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away with empty hands. Yes, he has helped Israel, his child: he has remembered the mercy that he promised to our forefathers, to Abraham and his sons for evermore

56 So Mary stayed with Elisabeth about three months, and then went back to her own home

Visitation_handLGJust a few points about the way Luke tells this story. Elizabeth and Mary are both pregnant with children who have been declared special by God’s angel. Indeed it’s clear that Mary’s child is both Son of God and Messiah, although the reader may not understand what these titles mean. Luke has already shown the women in these marriages to be more ready than  the men to embrace a special destiny. Now with the women coming together, Luke depicts an atmosphere of passionate female joy at being the main human actors in the drama of God’s salvation. Luke may have known such “messianic women” who longed to be the mother of the Messiah as the greatest honour a Jewish woman could attain. 

The bold detail, that Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb, is invented by Luke to depict the birth of Jesus as simultaneously natural-babies do leap in wombs-and supernatural-they don’t leap at the presence of another baby. Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary and Mary’s response are part of the messianic piety with which Luke has invested these women. Mary’s song expresses all the themes of prophetic expectation: she speaks for Israel, the humiliated servant of God, as well as for herself, a woman of the poor. Her fierce faith expresses the character of her God who turns the order of the world upside down, favouring the poor and weak at the expense of the rich and strong. It is said that the Emperor Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome forbade the reading of this passage in public in case it encouraged social unrest.

This is the first definite characterisation of God in Luke’s story; it helps his readers to imagine the one who is creating the events of the narrative. Luke wants his readers to listen to God as the real author of the gospel. The style of this part of the gospel is chosen by Luke to remind readers of the Jewish bible, probably familiar to them in the Greek translation called the  Septuagint. Luke is emphasising that the story of Jesus springs from the story of Israel. His second book “The Acts f the Apostles” tells how the story of Jesus moves far beyond Israel into the Graeco-Roman world, but he wants his readers to remember their Jewish heritage.Giotto visitation

Against all the  sentimentality and consumerism of Christmas, Mary’s song is the perfect antidote: this birth is about dispossessing the rich and feeding the hungry. If that thought doesn’t make you chuckle you’re in need of greater faith and humour.

Readers may be interested in my other blog:

<I might be wrong>

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