Gospel on New Year's Day (1 January 2017)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. (Luke 2:16-21 – NRSC)
In our text we notice Luke’s focus on Mary – Matthew’s focus is on Joseph. We also notice the cultural and religious observance – Jesus was raised in a family of faithful Jewish parents and he became a faithful Jewish man.
they went with haste: Luke has this sense of urgency elsewhere – see 1:39 where Mary goes in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth; 19:5 where Jesus urges Zacchaeus to hurry down from his tree; Acts 20:16 where St Paul is eager to be in Jerusalem; 22:18 – where St Paul has a vision in which he hears Jesus tell to hurry and get out of Jerusalem.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart: Mary’s deeply contemplative and, we can imagine, silent response here, is in contrast to “all who were amazed” and, again we can imagine, expressed their amazement in various excited ways. The Greek verb translated here as “were amazed” is thaumazo. It means “to wonder”, “to marvel” or “be astonished”. Later on – in 2:33 – Luke is to use this same verb to describe the reaction of Joseph and Mary to the things uttered about Jesus by Simeon. However, Luke returns to the more contemplative portrayal in 2:52. After describing the distress Mary and Joseph experienced when Jesus was lost while they were on pilgrimage in Jerusalem, Luke says, “Mary stored up all these things in her heart”. The same Greek word – diatērein (“to cherish” or “to keep”) – is used here as in the Septuagint of Genesis 37:11, where, after Joseph, having told about his dream of the wheat sheaves, incurred the wrath of his brothers, his father is said to have ‘cherished the saying’.” (Joseph A Fitzmyer, The Gospel according to Luke I–IX: introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 28), Yale University Press, 2008, 413.) Joseph Fitzmyer continues: “In Daniel 4:28 the LXX has a slightly different text from the Aramaic of 4:25; not only is the verse-number off, but the Greek is fuller: ‘At the end of the words Nebuchadnezzar, as he heard the judgment of the vision, treasured these words in his heart” (tous logous en tē kardia synetērēse). Both the Genesis and Daniel passages show a person puzzled by what he has heard, keeping the words in mind in an effort to fathom their meaning. This too would be the picture of Mary here, as the next phrase makes clear.” (Ibid)
Pablo Casals (1876-1973) was a Spanish-born cellist. He was also a lifelong opponent of fascism, a man who took every opportunity to speak out for freedom, even in the most threatening moments. He was forced to flee Spain in 1936. Twenty years later, on his 80th birthday, he told his assembled friends and guests: “The situation is hopeless, we must take the next step.” Luke’s portrait of Mary, the mother of Jesus, suggests a similar disposition, though more deeply nuanced and greatly expanded.
There are at least eleven explicit and/or implicit references to Mary in the Gospel of Luke: 1:26-38 – Annunciation; 1:39-45 – Visitation; 1:46-56 – Magnificat; 2:5 – census and registration; 2:16-19 – Nativity and the visit of the shepherds; 2:34 – when Mary goes to the Temple for her purification after giving birth, Simeon blesses her; 2:39 – Joseph and Mary return with Jesus to Nazareth/Galilee (Similar passage found in Matthew 2:19–23); 2:48 – Mary manifests her distress when she finds Jesus in the Temple; 2:51-52 – “He went down with them” and “His mother stored up these things in her heart”; 8:19 – “They (ie Jesus’ family) came looking for him but they could not get to him because of the crowd” (Based on Mark 3:31-35); 11:27 – “Blessed the womb that bore you”. (It is interesting to note that Luke does not mention Mary in relation to either the death or resurrection of Jesus.)
I think it is fair to say that Mary is presented by Luke as a person on a steep learning curve. Any suggestion that Mary is fully aware of what is going on, a quiet, passive cooperator in an unfolding plan that she understands, simply does not stand up to the evidence of the texts. The texts suggest she is torn. She is unknowing but willing, puzzled but determined. She is a thinker and a searcher, a doubter and a questioner, a courageous woman of faith who holds firmly in the dark to what she has glimpsed in the light.
We have already met this woman in Chapter One of Luke’s Gospel. In her encounter with the Angel Gabriel, she is “deeply disturbed by (the Angel’s) words and asked herself what (the Angel’s) greeting could mean” (1:29). She objects: “But how can this come about?” (1:34). The next movement is critical. She listens to the Angel and hears – she listens with the ear of her heart and hears in the marrow of her bones. The Angel speaks of the Holy Spirit, the power from on high. She knows herself as one loved by God, treasured by God, called to be part of God’s plan. She knows two things with certainty: She is not in control, God is. In her being she knows what the Angel says is true: “For nothing will be impossible with God”. Mary’s response is utterly real, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (1:38).
This is a moment of grace and freedom. Mary accepts what she does not understand and begins a journey without knowing the way.