Mary and Elisabeth Meet Zachariah Lorenzo Salimbeni
Luke 1:56 tells us that Mary (and Unborn Jesus) stayed with Elizabeth (and unborn John) and Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah for three months. Most spiritual writers through the centuries have understood this to mean that Mary was present for John’s birth (and for the circumcision and naming of John eight days later). In fact, many believe that it was Mary who told Luke the details of these various events – or if not Mary directly, that Luke learned of them through a Marian tradition.
The priest Zechariah was the first representative of Israel to be informed of the immediate coming of the Messiah. See Lk 1:5-25. When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah he received but a lukewarm reception. Gabriel was not impressed and struck Zechariah silent, unable to speak. Nonetheless, Zechariah would have relayed the words and events in a written form to his wife Elizabeth and also to his guest and relative Mary (especially since Mary was the mother of the Messiah).
Mary would have been immensely interested in every word that Gabriel spoke. While most of the angelic message was actually about the son Elizabeth would bear, there were multiple references to the Lord (v. 15, 16, 17). Curiously, and in light of Gabriel’s next visit to a representative of Israel – that is, Mary in Nazareth – each of these references to “the Lord” could be understood also as references to Jesus. (Recall Elizabeth’s later comment when Mary arrived: “And why is this granted me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” v.43)
All of these references to “the Lord” revealed that there would be a period of preparation during which John would have a tremendous ministry to the people of Israel. One reason this is significant is because it indirectly predicts the early success of “Christianity” within Israel (for example on Pentecost and following). At any rate, this was an optimistic message from the angel about what was to come, albeit, within an indefinite time frame.
Not only was Gabriel’s message to Zechariah very optimistic, but Gabriel even described it in a telling phrase: “I was sent…to bring you this good news” (v. 19). This characterization by God’s messenger of what is coming, confirms in Mary’s mind that God’s Mercy is at work and is a wondrous force for good and blessing. But perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Gabriel’s message was when he said of Elizabeth’s son: “he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (v. 15). This explains the mystery of John leaping for joy when the Unborn Christ approaches him and Mary greets Elizabeth. Would Mary remember that spectacular event more than thirty years later when she was in the Upper Room with the early Church on Pentecost Day when the Holy Spirit would fill each member of the Church? (see Acts 1:13-14, 2:1-4).
Finally after the baby’s birth, when Zechariah obediently names his son John – according to Gabriel’s instructions – Zechariah is now filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks! He proclaims what we now call the Benedictus (Lk 1:67-79). Zechariah points to the mystery of Salvation that is dawning upon Israel. He speaks of Christ as “a horn of salvation” raised up by God Most High. Mary is nearby with this “horn of salvation”, the Christ, growing within her womb (unbeknownst to the neighbors gathered around for the blessed ceremonies). Zechariah confirms that all of this is “as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old” – a phrase reminiscent of the Nicene Creed reference: “We believe in the Holy Spirit…He has spoken through the prophets”.
So once again, Mary is the recipient of all of this Divinely inspired information about the Messiah, His mission, the meaning of it, the supporting characters involved and so on. Mary’s heart is like a holy depository of sacred Messianic information. Mary – because God has called her to this function, as part of her “office” as the mother of “the Son of God” – is now the filter, the arbiter of the message of salvation, carrying it within her heart, to deliver at the appropriate time (while she carries the Christ within her, to be delivered after nine months).
This post is the 3rd in our series on the Creed developing within Mary’s Intellect and Heart as the Christ Child develops within her womb. We turn now to the Visitation: Lk 1:39-55.
The Holy Spirit is extremely active during the various exchanges and actions when Mary (and Unborn Jesus) arrive at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth and specifically when Mary greets Elizabeth (and Unborn John) and when Elizabeth responds. Luke tells us that “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.’” So, Elizabeth refers to Mary’s unborn child (about one week after conception) as “my Lord”. This is revelatory! Elizabeth has identified Unborn Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and Mary as the Messiah’s mother. Elizabeth states that it is a privilege to have the mother of the Messiah and Lord visit her.
What does Mary learn from Elizabeth’s inspired words? First, let it be said that everything about God is extremely personal. God is NOT distant, obtuse, detached from His Creation and creatures! He has become Incarnate. He has fulfilled what He promised. A week ago Gabriel said that Mary had “found favor with God” (Lk 1:30). Now Elizabeth is acknowledging that Mary has a special relationship with God and is blessed for believing “that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her”. This highlights Mary’s personal relationship with God. It is a beautiful relationship; alive in trust, bursting with expectation! Mary is being rewarded for obeying God and believing in the words spoken to her. This is God’s way of thanking Mary for accepting this motherhood of a Divine Person; the Son of God. So Mary sees and tastes the Goodness of God in the words of Elizabeth. This is living the Creed. The Creed in Mary’s heart says that “God is All Good, God is Most Faithful”. This belief drove her onward to Bethlehem, to Egypt, to Cana, to the foot of the cross, to the Upper Room and to Heaven.
But most of all, Mary hears her unborn child called “Lord”! She hears herself called “mother of (the) Lord”. These are titles, and offices. Elizabeth is testifying – albeit, indirectly – that Mary has been given a singular office by Almighty God; ‘mother of the Lord’. This is a sacred duty and obligation in service to the Mission of her Son (see prior post for Gabriel’s description of her Son). With the leaping of unborn John in his mother’s womb (caused by Unborn Jesus) and Elizabeth’s comments, Mary has now seen that her Son’s mission has already begun. She knows from firsthand experience that God is acting here and now, and that the Son of the Most High is the focal point of everything – she is her Son’s handmaiden.
The next 10 verses are Mary’s famous inspired response and are called the Magnificat for the opening line: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” Note the two words “Lord” and “Savior”. Incredibly, Mary is perceiving that these two titles, which she would have used in the past to describe the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, can now also be used to describe her (unborn) Son. This is a fundamental unfolding Revelation of the first order. Elizabeth used the word “Lord” and Mary responds using the same term. But she says “my soul magnifies the Lord” because He is within her, and she is reflective of His Presence as Elizabeth stated. Mary is inspired to use the term ‘Savior’ also. Mary is in a unique position, for when she speaks of God, she is speaking not only of her Creator Yahweh, but also of that Son growing within her. She is associating her Son with the term ‘Savior’, now pointing to the redemptive reality that is dawning upon Israel, twice referencing God’s mercy.
Mary’s Magnificat is centered upon the reality of God; referring at least 18 times to God (he, his, him, and so on). The last verse of the Magnificat recalls God’s relationship with Abraham. Mary is showing the continuity of God’s personal redemptive relationship with the people of Israel, and her Magnificat seems to recapitulate that historical relationship. Abraham was the Father of their faith – now Mary is the Mother of their Savior. She is discovering these truths of the Incarnation as she is living them (and she was inspired by the Holy Spirit as she gave voice to these truths). Her Magnificat offers a holy glimpse into the Creed that is taking hold of her heart, a unique Creed, a mixture of faith, hope, love and maternity – a tender personal Creed especially due to this fourth mentioned element; maternity. Every Christian can learn of this palpable Creed by sharing in Mary’s intimate perspective on her unborn Savior Son!
Our next post will consider the three months Mary (and Unborn Jesus) spent with Zechariah, Elizabeth (and unborn, then newborn John).
In our last post we listed the extraordinary events and Revelations which unfolded in the life of Mary (and Unborn Jesus) during the nine months of her pregnancy. Our list was presented trimester-by-trimester and relied upon the Gospels of Luke and Matthew for scriptural facts. Today’s post is part of a series of upcoming posts reflecting upon the content of the Revelations given to Mary, trimester-by-trimester; the meaning and significance of these Revelations will be discussed.
Luke 1:28, 30: The initial mystery of her favored relationship to God is revealed to Mary by Gabriel.
Lk 1:31-33 The miraculous nature of her impending pregnancy is revealed to Mary. That her child will be a male, and will be “called the Son of the Most High”, that He will be given the throne of David, will reign forever and there will be no end to His kingdom. This means that her Son will be a King, not just an earthly King by an eternal King, with subjects. Many Christians think of Christ’s kingship as symbolic, but it is not merely symbolic – it is a real and true kingship, in fact Christ is the true measure of all Kings (and Queens) throughout history. There is an incredibly personal and poignant word given to Mary also about this pregnancy, this Son: “you shall call his name Jesus”. Here begins the magnificent Christian devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. It was a name she would embrace in prayer, a name to whisper, a name to marvel at, a name like no other name – a name she discovered by the hour, a name sent down from Heaven upon the head of her baby.
Lk 1:35 This has to be the most fantastic truth ever revealed to a human being!!! The Archangel Gabriel explains how the Incarnation will take place. The child “will be called holy, the Son of God” because the child will be conceived, as the Nicene Creed says, “by the power of the Holy Spirit” and as Gabriel says “ The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you…” Virtually the entire first half of the Nicene Creed is embedded here in the cumulative words of Gabriel to Mary! Mary represents the Church and Gabriel is the messenger of God “Most High”. He is revealing the first mystical kernel of the Christian Creed to Mary and she will embrace it body and soul – she will live the Creed. The Church’s belief in the Incarnation will be rooted in this evangelical exchange. Mary will tell the Church what she was told and the Church will cling to this holy revelation, her martyrs will cling to it with their dying breaths!
Lk 1:36-37 Gabriel tells Mary about the pregnancy of Elizabeth, putting everything into perspective: “For with God nothing will be impossible”. (Approximately a week later, when Mary sees with her own eyes that Elizabeth is, in fact, six months pregnant, she will understand all the more emphatically, the power in the words revealed to her.)
Lk 1:38 Mary’s response to this litany of heavenly revelations has calmed Christians for two thousand years: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” In her heart she now has the key to human history, the hope of humanity, the revelation of all God’s promises in one Word. As the Fathers of the Church would say, she conceives in her heart before conceiving in her womb.
She immediately conceives in her womb – now Christ is physically growing within her womb and the Christian Creed is mystically growing within her intellect and heart. The Creed – in embryonic state – is taking root in a human heart.
Our next post will consider the Visitation (Lk 1:39-45, 46-55).
Mary’s pregnancy was unique for dozens of reasons. One aspect of her pregnancy that has been neglected is the corresponding Revelations she received regularly throughout the pregnancy which are explicitly referenced in the Gospels but almost universally overlooked. God wanted her to be illuminated in her intellect and heart while she was nurturing within her womb the growing mystery of salvation; the Incarnate Son of God.
Let’s do a quick review of these Revelations by trimester (approximated). Note that each Revelation is either directly given to her by an angel of God or by the Holy Spirit or by persons who were directly instructed by angels or inspired by the Holy Spirit. (And all of these direct Revelations presuppose a profound and holy grasp of her foundational Israelite faith, including a superior knowledge of Hebrew scripture).
FIRST TRIMESTER: Luke 1:26-38 (this Revelation was given in conjunction with the conception of Christ), Lk 1:39-45, Lk 1:46-55 (these two occurred about one week later). Mary stayed with Elizabeth and Zechariah for three months and the following Revelations were given her: Lk 1:5-25, Lk 1:57-79. (We are assuming that Mary who experienced these events or had them relayed to her firsthand, passed them on to Luke.)
SECOND TRIMESTER: Matthew 1:20-24 (cross reference Isaiah 7:14). Joseph is instructed by an angel and no doubt revealed to Mary exactly what he had been told.
THIRD TRIMESTER: Luke 2:1-7 (cross reference Micah 5:2).
FOURTH TRIMESTER ? – REVELATIONS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING
THE NATIVITY: Luke 2:8-20, Lk 2:21, Lk 2:22-38, Matthew 2:1-11, Mt 2:12-18.
Mary is tutored by God throughout her pregnancy and immediately following the birth of Jesus. As she was living God’s Plan of Salvation, minute-by-minute, experiencing these grace-charged events, she was also being given Revealed teachings from God (directly and indirectly). We have listed a sequence of both events and Revelations above. In our next post, we will reflect upon the “Revealed teachings” given to Mary during these months, in part to prepare and strengthen her as she embraced her role as an intimate supporting collaborator in the Incarnation Mission of Jesus Christ.
As Mary flees for Egypt, her womb is now empty, but her intellect is full, her heart even fuller…with love for the child in her arms.
El Greco (1541-1614) St. Luke (detail)
The first reading in Sunday’s Catholic Mass (7-12-09) was from the 7th chapter of Amos. It recounts a well known confrontation between Amos and the established priesthood in 8th century Israel. Amos is the outsider who God sends to the powerful to shake them up and set them straight, but the powerful elite reject humble Amos, and rejecting him, they consequently are rejecting God also.
The priest of Bethel, Amaziah, who is close to King Jeroboam, tells Amos that he is not welcome. Amos responds by emphatically stressing the point that he is no “professional” prophet, not a member of some elite class of religious functionaries, rather he was recruited for this job by God Himself: “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel…”
Today, around the world there are hundreds of thousands of Pro Life prophets who God has inspired to help pregnant women, help the unborn in various ways, to speak out for a Culture of Life. These men and women can say to the “Elite” politicians, journalists, doctors, judges, lawyers, professors, social engineers and social workers, as Amos did; “I am no professional pundit… I am no establishment-paid prophet, I am a housewife, a repairman, a salesman, a clerk, and the Lord took me and said to me ‘Go, bear witness to the Gospel of Life which I have given to the people as a gift to guide them in their lives and in their families.’”
The prophetic office is associated with witnessing to the truth revealed by God to His Church, but also to witnessing to the truth about human life. The Pro Life movement worldwide is thus a prophetic movement inspired by God. While we do not find our bearings through polls, yet Pro Life prophets can find some small consolation in the fact that the majority of Americans in a Gallup Poll (51%) “now call themselves pro-life rather than pro-choice on the issue of abortion”. Gallup has asked this question annually for the past 15 years and this is the first year a majority have answered this way – up from 44% last year! (Associated Press, 5/16/09)
PRO LIFE PROPHETS KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!