Posts Tagged 'Mary'

For March 23, 2014: The Annunciation, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 7:10-14

With the kingdom of Judah caught between powerful enemies, King Ahaz seeks an alliance with Assyria in defiance of the promise from God that Isaiah has given him. In a reading that is familiar from Advent and Christmas, the Lord offers to prove that the Lord’s intentions are good—but Ahaz refuses.

The Response            Canticle 15

King Ahaz was asked to trust God for an outcome that looked uncertain, and he declined to do so. A girl named Mary, offered a miracle that will turn her life upside down, says yes. Canticle 15, which we know as the Magnificat, is the song of praise that Mary then sings, and the continuation of the gospel for the Annunciation.

The Epistle            Hebrews 10:4-10

Sacrifices and burnt offerings in the Old Testament are intended to atone for sins. Chapter 10 of the book of Hebrews explains how they cannot work. It is Jesus coming to do the will of God that sanctifies us—and in so doing, Jesus gives us a model to follow.

The Gospel            Luke 1:26-38

Like the Old Testament reading and the psalm, this gospel passage is familiar from Advent. Mary, in contrast to King Ahaz, is appropriately perplexed by the angel; she seeks to understand why the angel greets her as he does; and when he gives her a sign, she accepts it and declares her obedience to God’s will.

 

Ponderables

The readings for the feast of the Annunciation play on themes of understanding, obedience, and sacrifice. Ahaz, raised to be a king, nevertheless misunderstands what is being offered and why; he chooses to disobey when obedience would be relatively easy, and the consequence is that he unwittingly sacrifices the good of the nation to his own desperate need to feel in control. Jesus, uniquely begotten by God, understands exactly what the divine plan for the world is and how it involves him; he continually chooses to obey, even to the point of death; and the consequence is that he deliberately sacrifices his own life and human need to feel in control in order to do God’s will in saving even the least of us. Mary, for her part, is the product of a culture that expects her to marry when and how it demands and does not encourage her questions; she nevertheless thinks about what the angel means and asks how things work; and the consequence is that, though she cannot fully foresee all that is being asked of her, she agrees to the potential sacrifice of her good name in the community in order to become the Theotokos—the bearer of God.

Mary is quite rightly held up as a model of human obedience to the Lord—and she questions and ponders. So what if questions and doubts are in fact integral to belief in God? And what if it is this kind of reasoned, questioning human obedience that prepares the way of the Lord?

For Dec. 22, 2013: 4 Advent, Year A

The Reading            Isaiah 7:10-16

In the eighth century B.C., Jerusalem is under threat. Isaiah has advised fearful young King Ahaz to let God deal with it; here the Lord offers a grand sign as proof. Ahaz piously refuses—his faith is in an alliance—but he is given the sign anyway: a baby who won’t yet be weaned before the two enemy kingdoms are no more.

The Response            Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

Psalm 80, written in the time of Isaiah, is a corporate lament: all God’s people are suffering—in the striking metaphor of verse 5, eating and drinking tears by the bowlful. They ask for the light of God’s countenance. Christians tend to think of “the man of your right hand” as a prophecy of Jesus. But what if it actually means us?

The Epistle            Romans 1:1-7

The letter to the Romans is one of five epistles that is agreed to be by the apostle Paul. At the beginning of the letter, Paul introduces himself in a complex paragraph that sums up his mission: to declare to the Gentiles the salvation that God promised in the scriptures and delivered through the death of Jesus.

The Gospel            Matthew 1:18-25

The gospel for the fourth Sunday in Advent relates the familiar story of Joseph, legally bound to Mary but both worldly and righteous enough to assume the usual explanation for a child he knows he hasn’t fathered. He is prepared to break the contract—privately, to spare Mary further shame—but God has other plans.

Ponderables

Signs loom large in today’s readings: signs rejected and signs accepted.

In the reading from Isaiah, King Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign: he has plans for an alliance with Assyria against the twin threat facing him, and he is not interested in any proof of God to the contrary. He fails to realize that allying with Assyria will make Judah an enemy of Babylon and lead to exile and the destruction of the Temple. The baby in the sign is most likely Ahaz’s own son, and was not named Immanuel, or ‘God with us’.

Psalm 80, from the time of the exile in Babylon, laments the suffering of God’s people: the metaphor in verse 5 suggests not only that the people are weeping tears by the bowlful, but also that tears are all they have to eat or drink. Suffering and darkness were taken as signs of God’s displeasure, so the psalm begs repeatedly for the light of God’s countenance. We think of “the man of your right hand” as Jesus—but what if it actually means us?

The epistle is a litany of signs in the scriptures. Unlike Ahaz’s faith, Paul’s is real, so he has accepted the Lord’s sign—the miraculous encounter outside Damascus—even to the point of abandoning his old life to bring the good news of Jesus to people with whom, as a proper Jew, he should never even have associated. And who are those people?  Well, we are.

The gospel, in telling the story of Mary and Joseph, takes the previously unremarked verse 14 from Isaiah 7 and elevates it to a prophecy of Jesus. Like Paul, Joseph is genuinely righteous; he intends grace in dealing with Mary, he is open to God’s signs, and he is willing both to receive grace and to give it in ways he had not planned. What a remarkable Abba or daddy for Jesus to grow up with! And what a model for us to follow!

For July 21, 2013: Proper 11, Year C

The Reading            Amos 8:1-12

Though his book is near the end of the Old Testament, the prophet Amos is an earlier figure—and, as we saw last week, uncomfortably forthright. In today’s reading, God puns on the Hebrew words for ‘summer fruit’ (qayits) and ‘end’ (qets) to announce that dishonest dealing and abuse of the poor will no longer be overlooked: misery and mourning are coming for all, and the Word of God will be nowhere to be found.

The Response            Psalm 52

“This is the one who did not take God for a refuge, but trusted in great wealth and relied upon wickedness.”

The Epistle            Colossians 1:15-28

Like the prophecy of Amos, Psalm 52 predicted disaster on account of wicked dealing, though the psalmist says that the good will be unscathed. Today’s reading from the book of Colossians describes Christ risen and reigning, first and firstborn: it is through Christ alone—not through the rules we obey nor those we enforce on others—that any of us humans can hope to be reconciled to the goodness of God.

The Gospel            Luke 10:38-42

“‘There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’”

 

Further thoughts

“Busy” is an unusual word, and for more reasons than the peculiarity of its spelling. Unlike many other basic vocabulary items in English whose roots go back to Proto-Germanic or even Proto-Indo-European, busy is known only in English, Dutch and Low German. In late Old English the adjective bysig meant ‘occupied’ or ‘diligent’, and one’s bysignes was what kept one busy. By the late fourteenth century bisynesse could mean one’s occupation.

In the prophecy of Amos we see these senses applied: those whom the Lord excoriates have been diligent in taking opportunities to enrich themselves on the backs of the poor and needy, by selling short measure and defective goods at high prices. They are, to borrow Scrooge’s characterization of Marley in A Christmas Carol, “good men of business”. Scrooge intends it as a compliment—but Dickens, Amos, the psalmist, and we know better, or so I hope. As Marley retorts, “Mankind should be our business!”

Bysig has an earlier meaning, however: ‘anxious or concerned’. An Old English translation of Luke 10:41 reads Ðu eart carful ond bysig ymbe fela ðing ‘ you are care-filled and busy about many things’. Martha was not merely bustling about, in other words: she was frazzled, and possibly beginning to lose her grip. I don’t think Jesus intended to disparage her. This is, after all, the guy who made it his business to save a wedding by changing water into wine. I think he was inviting Martha for at least a little while to join her sister: his presence and Mary’s, and hers, and that of each of us, is much more important than whether the napkins are folded correctly or the butter is cut into tidy pats.

The reading from Colossians underlines this point: the business of Christ Jesus is to be God and man, first and firstborn from the dead, Creator and Wisdom and Brother whose sacrifice is what makes each of us justified before God; and our business is to follow Jesus as we can, spread the Word, and in our own ways be the Kingdom of God come near to a world that can’t stand the smell of itself otherwise.

For December 18, 2011: 4 Advent, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

The second book of the prophet Samuel relates the kingship of David, the mighty ancestor of Jesus. As today’s reading opens, David is flush with victory, settled in peace in a kingly dwelling, and he decides that his next move is to build God a house as grand as his own. God’s response is not what one might expect.

 

The Epistle            Romans 16:25-27

Today’s Epistle reading is both short and long. It is one sentence that forms a doxology, or statement of faith. In this very long sentence Paul takes a very long view: backward to the promises of God in the Old Testament, through the coming of Jesus Christ, and onward to God’s eternity.

 

Further thoughts

On the Sunday before Christmas, one expects the Old Testament lesson to prophesy the birth that we await so eagerly. It does that, to be sure: Nathan the prophet concludes by relaying God’s promise that the throne of David—his house, in the sense of ‘dynasty’—will endure forever.

Where the passage begins, however, is with brash King David announcing that he’s going to build God a house. God’s response to this ambition is less than enthusiastic: “Little man, did I ask for a house? Do I need a house? And do you really believe that your path from sheepfold to kingdom was all your own doing?”

In David’s lifetime God’s promises come to pass, mostly, though David’s shortcomings in impulse control, forethought, and humility lead to disasters including his liaison with Bathsheba. David’s progeny, including Solomon, fare no better to much worse, eventually bringing Israel to civil war and subjugation by foreign powers. By the time the Romans put Herod on the throne, there has been no Davidic king in almost 600 years; one could be forgiven for wondering how or even whether God’s promise of “forever” would come to pass.

We know how the story goes from here. God’s promise is fulfilled, of course, in Jesus, and through David’s descendant Mary. We tend to sentimentalize Mary as pure through sheer passivity, but today’s gospel hints that she is more disciplined, prudent, and self-aware than her famous forebear. When the angel Gabriel calls her the favored one of God, Mary doesn’t strut and preen; instead, she asks herself what this could mean. When Gabriel tells her she will be a mother, Mary asks how, showing a grasp of both biology and social implications: pure Mary pregnant out of wedlock is bound to be the subject of finger-pointing, no matter how holy the baby, and she must trust that God will either lead her fiancé and her family to understand or help her go on without them. Finally, Mary understands that, though it is up to her to say yes and then to follow through, it is God’s power and grace that will start her on this astonishing adventure and keep her going.

In short, Mary has a very good idea how costly it will be to say yes to God, and she says it anyway. Who better than she to be the mother of the Lamb who willingly died for our sins?


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