Breath of the Spirit
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This wonderful thing is happening in Mary’s life, not because of anything she did, or anything that happened to her prior to this annunciation, but simply because God chose to make her an instrument of Yahweh’s salvation.
DECEMBER 21, 2014: FOURTH SUNDAY OF ADVENT
II Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a-16
Biblical faith rarely revolves around what we can do for God. Our sacred authors are much more concerned with reminding us about the things God has done and will do for us. That’s certainly the case with today’s three inspired writers.
Nathan, for instance, dead-ends David’s plans to build a house for Yahweh by simply reminding him about God’s plan to build a house for him. “When your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I (Yahweh) will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. . . . Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me: your throne shall stand firm forever.” Yahweh’s relationship with David’s family will last longer than any building constructed to honor God.
In a similar way, Paul ends his letter to the Romans by reminding his readers that God is the one force in their lives who constantly “strengthens” them. It’s through their imitation of Jesus’ dying and rising – this “mystery kept secret for long ages” – that they’re able to experience a strengthening God entering and working effectively in their daily lives.
That’s why Luke makes a big thing about Jesus’ conception. Though Scripture scholars like Raymond Brown have consistently warned us not to take such biblical annunciations literally, we should never overlook the messages those unique narratives convey. We actually have three gospel annunciations pertaining to Jesus. Today’s Lucan annunciation to Mary is by far the best known. But, we shouldn’t overlook the other two: Matthew’s chapter 1 annunciation to Joseph, and Mark’s baptismal annunciation to Jesus. In each passage, the evangelist is concerned with conveying one or more theological insights into Jesus’ personality and ministry.
Luke accomplishes this in several ways. No one can overlook Gabriel’s statement, “The child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” Nothing could be clearer. But even his future name – Jesus - is significant. It’s easy to forget that the historical Mary never actually called her son Jesus. She never spoke Greek. She would have employed his original Hebrew name “Joshua.” The “Jo” is an oft-used biblical abbreviation for Yahweh; “shua” means saves. Whenever Mary called Jesus for supper, she was proclaiming her belief that Yahweh is constantly saving us – a very significant proclamation of faith when it’s directed to this specific Joshua.
But even the first words of the angel’s encounter with the virgin are theologically significant. Matthew employs the Greek word “kecharitomene” when he speaks about Mary – a word modern English translations (including the Catholic New American Bible) render as “highly favored one.” But because some of the first English translations of the Christian Scriptures came from the Latin Vulgate and not the original Greek, we’re accustomed to hearing Mary referred to as “full of grace.” (“Gratia plena” is how St. Jerome originally rendered the angel’s greeting.)
Without any reference to Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Matthew just seems to be saying, “This is your lucky day, Mary! If I were you I’d buy a lottery ticket!” This wonderful thing is happening in Mary’s life, not because of anything she did, or anything that happened to her prior to this annunciation, but simply because God chose to make her an instrument of Yahweh’s salvation.
Hearing these words, the evangelist’s community would have reflected on how they, as other Christs, were also instruments in Yahweh’s salvation. They hadn’t forced God to include them in his/her plans. Their relationship with the risen Jesus was God’s free gift. It wasn’t given them because of their good looks, their deep spirituality, or because they’d do a better job than anyone else carrying on Jesus’ ministry.
They, like Mary, were simply kecharitomene.