Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Lk 1:1-38

This rich beginning to the gospel of Luke begins with a fine historian's introduction (1:1-4) and goes right into the fact that the Lord's birth had tremendous preceding events leading up to it.  Luke is the most expansive of the family events before the birth of Christ into a human family.  Since John the Baptist's mother Elizabeth, and Jesus's mother Mary were relatives (1:36), Luke shows how the angel (and thus the Lord) uses family relationships for encouragement (1:36-37).

The same angel Gabriel, who tells Mary about Elizabeth's pregnancy, omits Zechariah's unbelief (1:20).  Fear had gripped Zechariah (1:12), but the angel began with both Mary and Zechariah by saying "Do not be afraid" (1:13, 30).  There is an implicit comparison in the two responses, due to their similarity of subject and even the questions of the two (1:18, 34), but does Luke resolve the question about why one did not believe the angel's words (1:20), and one did, at least later?  This is  according to Elizabeth, who says so later in 1:45.  What Mary actually told the angel was "may it be done to me according to your word" (1:38).

There is possibly a lesson about faith here.

Is the response of Mary, "may it be done to me," the antithesis of what Zechariah said, "how will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advance in years?"  Thinking about his age and his wife's age made Zechariah ask "how will I know this?"  So he was making a syllogism: because of my age, and my wife's age, I do not know this for certain.  Know what?  What the angel had announced would happen, from 1:13-17.  He "knew" that he was an old man; he "knew" that his wife is advanced in days.  He heard, but did not believe (1:20), more things, the things in 1:13-17.  Mary, on the other hand, heard things of greater significance, undeniably things that could only apply to the Messiah (1:33).  And she heard things about her part in it (1:31).  Did she "know" that she was a virgin?  Of course.  She brought the problem up, thinking that the angel was talking about her conception  as very imminent (1:31).  And the angel explains why indeed it is.

There may be a difference in the "how will I know this?" (1:18) of Zechariah and the "how will this be?" (1:34) of Mary.  If as Zechariah's we want inward certainty, how much data does it take to give it to us, and who is it that gets to say that there is enough data for certainty?  But if as Mary's we want merely to understand how a promise will get around an obstacle, that is not a request for certainty, nor is it disbelief.

 
 

2 comments:

Larry said...

Two visits by the same angel. There is definitely a contrast. One person visited was told he would be silent until what he was told would take place, "because you did not believe my words" (1:20). The other person was told, later, "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord." (1:45). (Sorry, this is to read ahead!)

Larry said...

Another fact about these twin stories is the fact that Luke has chosen them to provide the introduction to the "things accomplished among us" (1:1) for his readers. How does Luke introduce the things accomplished?

These stories introduce people whose children will have accomplishments (1:15-17; 1:32-33). What God will do (1:15), and what Elizabeth's son will succeed in doing (1:16), is told to Zechariah her husband. What God will do in 1:32, by His Son, and what the Son will do as well (1:33), are told to Mary, the one who will conceive and bear God's Son (1:31).

It is interesting, from the point of view of accomplishment, that Luke introduces us to the parents in each case! ... before the story of their childrens' accomplishment, ahead of time. Parents understand this. Parents understand that they, in the combination of what they do and God's work, are how God (according to Luke) gives His explanation of accomplishment.

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