Though it follows a valid biblical theology to occupy ourselves “doing good things for God,” at times it’s just as valid to sit back and reflect on what good things God has done for us, even before we started doing good things for God. Today’s three readings zero in on that theology.
David discovers this dimension of faith in a powerful way in our II Samuel passage. As you can quickly see, the king’s confrontation with Nathan revolves around an interpretation of “house.” The king’s determined to build Yahweh a house; Yahweh plans to build David and his family into a house.
“Yahweh spoke to Nathan and said, Go tell my servant David, Thus says Yahweh: Should you build me a house to dwell in? . . . Yahweh reveals to you that he will establish a house for you. And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I shall raise up an heir for you . . . . Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.” Quite a turnabout!
Paul’s praise of Jesus in our one sentence Romans passage is prompted by just one insight: “To him who can strengthen you. . . .“ The Apostle brings the mystery, the prophets, the faith, even God into the picture only because of their relationship to us who have been strengthened.
Yet the classic narrative of God working in the life of an ordinary human being is in today’s gospel pericope: Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary.
Sacred authors employ annunciations to let us, the readers, in on the meaning of the events they’re narrating. The angel, or divine person who delivers the news is the author’s “theological interpreter,” informing us of the significance of what’s happening. Because we’ve created a special feast commemorating Mary’s Lucan experience, when we hear the phrase “the annunciation,” we instinctively apply the term to her. But we should note that Matthew’s Joseph also receives an annunciation in chapter 1, and Mark’s Jesus is provided with a divine annunciation during his baptism by John. As the late Raymond Brown often taught, “If our sacred authors didn’t insert annunciations from time to time, we’d really be in the dark.”
That’s why today’s gospel is so important. It not only provides us with the meaning of Mary’s unique pregnancy, it also helps us understand some of our own uniqueness. (Since those who have provided us with our current American lectionary have mistranslated some key words, I suggest you pull out your New American Bible and read today’s pericope from there.)
From the beginning to the end of the passage, Luke emphasizes what God has done for Mary. Gabriel’s initial greeting “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” flies in the face of popular religion. It shouldn’t surprise us guilt-filled faithful that Mary’s “troubled” by this address of favor.
The angel quickly follows with the details of the virgin’s pregnancy, always stressing what God and the Holy Spirit will be doing for her in the process. Mary’s expected only to acknowledge and accept what the angel proclaims, as she finally does with the statement: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Since throughout his gospel Luke makes Mary the “type” of the church, what he says about her, he also says about us. In other words, he wants us to acknowledge God and the Spirit working through us in order to bring Jesus into the world.
Today of all days, it would behoove us Eucharistic presides to change the mamsy pansy liturgical greeting “The Lord be with you!” into the powerful biblical statement “The Lord is with you!” Those who refuse to do so really can’t be serious about the gospel they’ve just proclaimed.