Just as memorable movies employ theme music to highlight important people or events, our evangelists employ certain catch phrases of statements to pinpoint the themes of their gospels. Luke, for instance, wants his readers to be good disciples of Jesus. He believes there’s one basic way to accomplish this. For him, perfect followers of Jesus commit themselves to just two things: they first hear God’s word, then carry it out. In today’s pericope the evangelist puts his theme into Elizabeth’s mouth. Greeting Mary, she states, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
Even causal readers of Luke’s gospel quickly realize that Jesus’ mother is Luke’s stellar example of the good disciple. She assured Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to God’s word.” Later Luke mentions, “She stored up these words in her heart.” And during her son’s ministry, when a woman from the crowd yells, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!” Jesus comes back with, “Blessed rather is the one who hears God’s word and carries it out.” There’s no doubt about Luke’s theme and the one who exemplifies it.
In a parallel way, the author of Hebrews stresses the same concept, but in different terms. Hear how he keeps returning to the idea of Jesus being the one who carries out God’s will. In today’s passage he twice repeats the statement, “Behold, I come to do your will!” Since Jesus is distinguished from all others by his determination to carry out God’s will, the writer believes that same characteristic should also set Jesus’ followers apart from others. It’s one thing to be exact about the liturgical niceties of “sacrifice and offerings,” it’s quite something else to be exact in carrying out God’s will in one’s life.
Anyone who studies and lives by Scripture understands that both God’s will and God’s word are “moving objects.” Knowing what God wants or listening for God’s word isn’t something that happens once a lifetime. Perceiving God’s will and word is a lifetime process. Micah testifies to that.
Addressing the disastrous Assyrian invasion of Judah toward the end of the 8th century BCE, the prophet assures his people that Yahweh will send someone to deliver them from the hands of their enemies. The only problem is, like all humans, Micah is limited in his idea of God’s future actions. He promises deliverance will come from one of the kings descended from David. That’s why he mentions Bethlehem: David’s birth place. He’s restricted by the political structures of his day and age. Though he marvels about this “backwater” town being the hometown of the country’s greatest king, he’s still limiting salvation to the royal family.
We Christians hear Micah’s words from a different perspective than his original audience heard them. We see Jesus in his promise to eventually make Yahweh’s salvation “reach to the ends of the earth.” And we presume this carpenter from Galilee is the one who “shall be peace.”
In other words, those who give themselves over to God’s will and word are committing themselves to take that will and word beyond their own limits. No matter how convinced we are that we know exactly what God’s telling us and what road God wants us to take in life, we’re constantly discovering new words and new directions.
I presume Mary didn’t know exactly where God was leading her or perceive the depth of God’s word at the beginning of her discipleship. Today offers a terrific occasion to reflect on how we’ve perceived God’s will and word changing during our discipleship.