Monday’s Gospel reading, Luke 1:26–38, is a repeat from December 8.
It starts with:
“10 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
“to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.
“And coming to her, he said, ‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ ”
A little earlier in that chapter we get an account of Gabriel’s interview with Zachariah: Luke 1:10–20. That’s when Gabriel personally delivers God’s response to Zachariah’s prayer — and Zachariah demands proof.
Zachariah got proof, all right. He couldn’t talk for months. Not until he agreed with his wife about his son’s name: in writing.
Elizabeth said the boy’s name was John, the same name Gabriel had specified:
“18 When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father,
“but his mother said in reply, ‘No. He will be called John.’
“But they answered her, ‘There is no one among your relatives who has this name.’
“So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
“He asked for a tablet and wrote, ‘John is his name,’ and all were amazed.
“Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.”
Questions and Responses
I don’t know why Zachariah’s and Mary’s questions got different responses.
Figuring out what goes on in the head of another human is hard enough. Trying to understand what one of the few angels named in the Bible was thinking may be impossible.
That won’t stop me from guessing.
Maybe it’s my imagination, but Gabriel’s response to Zachariah seems a tad testy.
“Then Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.’
“And the angel said to him in reply, ‘I am Gabriel, 8 who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.
“But now you will be speechless and unable to talk 9 until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.’ ”
Maybe I get that impression because a little earlier Gabriel had been calming Zachariah down:
“Zechariah was troubled by what he saw, and fear came upon him.
“But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, 5 Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.”
And right after Gabriel had described what a great man John would be — Zachariah asks “How shall I know this?”!
That’s a pretty brash question from someone who’d been fearful a minute earlier. Plus, it was unnecessary. If Elizabeth was pregnant, he’d have his proof in a few months.
Mary’s question made more sense: “how can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”
Besides, Gabriel would know that he’d be taking orders from this young woman: and I’m getting ahead of the story.
Joseph and Mary’s Betrothal
We’re up to the familiar “Christmas story” today: Matthew 1:18–24, when Joseph learns that he’s involved in a very special mission. All things considered, he took the news rather well.
Moses tried to talk his way out of his job in the ‘burning bush’ interview. I talked about Exodus 3:11, 13, 4:1, 4:10, and 4:13 two weeks back. (December 4, 2016)
Joseph had at least as much reason to balk as Moses did.
“6 Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, 7 but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit.
“Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, 8 yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.
Footnotes 7 and 8 explain that a betrothed man and woman were considered husband and wife.
Look at the situation from Joseph’s viewpoint.
Here he was, betrothed to someone he thought was a fine young woman: and she’s pregnant. Infidelity at this point was adultery, which could mean death by stoning.
If Mary hadn’t been pregnant, the betrothal would probably have lasted a few months, after which she would move into Joseph’s home.
I suspect, but haven’t researched this, that Mary could still have moved in with Joseph. Folks would simply have assumed that the couple got impatient.
But Joseph knows he’s not the father, which must have hurt. He had reason to think Mary was lacking in good sense, or had Gomer’s habits. (Hoseah 1:2–3)
That sort of thing doesn’t get a person permanently blacklisted, though.
Rahab was a “harlot.” we meet her in Joshua 2:1. She met someone named Salmon, settled down, had a son named Boaz, and all three show up in our Lord’s family tree. Like it says in James 2:25, what we do matters: and she did good. (Matthew 1:5)
“A Righteous Man”
Okay. Joseph was “a righteous man,” devoutly observing the Mosaic law: uncomfortable about Mary’s apparent infidelity and unwilling to let her get killed.
Let’s remember that there’s more to the Old Testament than ‘thou shalt not’ and death by stoning — Psalms 109:21; Wisdom 11:23; Sirach 2:7; and Daniel 3:35; for example.
I talked about our Lord, the woman caught in adultery, mercy, Matthew 5:27–28, and getting a grip, before. (November 21, 2016; November 20, 2016)
Back to Joseph’s awkward situation.
“Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord 9 appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.”
Let that sink in: “For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” The ‘other man’ was — God.
Maybe Joseph didn’t argue because the angel showed up in a dream. Maybe he feared that the Almighty would get angry if he didn’t go through with the rest of the marriage.
Or maybe he had an attitude toward orders from God like Mary’s.
“May it be Done”
After Gabriel outlined how she could have a son, Mary said:
“Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.”
No “buts,” no “what ifs,” just “may it be done to me according to your word.”
Mary was probably in her teens at the time.
She lived in a society that was unsympathetic toward women in her position, at best.
She would have known the risks she would face.
Her “may it be done to me” was “submissive,” since she accepted God’s authority.
But I do not think she was “submissive” in the sense of being passive or servile.1
Recognizing competent authority is one thing. Mindlessly doing what I’m told would be a bad idea for anybody. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 85–87, 156, 1897–1904, 2256)
I think Mary’s “may it be done to me” took guts and grit: qualities she’d need, a third of a century later.
And that’s another topic.
“Son of David”
The two genealogies of Jesus, in Matthew 1:1–17 and Luke 3:23–38, don’t match up.
I figure a footnote in the New American Bible’s Luke 3 makes sense.
Matthew’s genealogy starts with Abraham because he was showing our Lord’s bonds with the Israelites.
Luke was showing that Jesus came for all of us. That’s why his genealogy goes back to “Adam, the son of God.”
Like I keep saying, the Bible wasn’t written by Americans.2 (Catechism, 101–133)
I might not have called Joseph the “son of David.” But reading that phrase in Matthew 1:20 doesn’t make me doubt that Joseph really lived.
I’ve talked about reading the Bible and using my brains before, too. (December 13, 2016; November 8, 2016 ; August 28, 2016; July 29, 2016)
Angels, Advent, and all that:
- “God, Angels, and Belshazzar”
(December 13, 2016)
- “Jesus and Expectations”
(December 11, 2016)
- “Sin, Awareness, Repentance”
(December 4, 2016)
- “Advent and Being Prepared”
(November 27, 2016)
- “Mercy: Still Practicing”
(November 20, 2016)
1 I remember the ‘good old days,’ when folks who acted as if they’d read Ephesians 5:22, but not Ephesians 5:21–30, were taken more seriously. I do not miss the ‘good old days.’ Men and women have equal dignity, and I’m expected to love my wife as Jesus loved the Church. (Catechism, 1601–1617, 2331–2336)
2 I like being an American, on the whole. But my native culture’s quirks are not unchanging realities. Faith and reason, science and religion, work together; or should:
- “Tides and Our Moon’s Origin” (December 9, 2016)
- “KIC 8462852 and Strange Stars” (December 2, 2016)
- “Faith, the Universe, and Wisdom” (August 28, 2016)
- “Not Going Native” (August 14, 2016)
- “Humility isn’t Being Delusional” (July 31, 2016)
Pingback: Epiphany Sunday | A Catholic Citizen in America