Blessed Are We
Thursday, May 31, 2012
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth
My niece is expecting a baby in mid July. My daughter's sister-in-law is expecting at about the same time. Both young women are holding baby showers in the next few weeks that are too far away for me to attend. Fortunately, I can attend this one taking place in Luke, Chapter One.
I hope it's not too irreverent to think of this meeting of Mary and Elizabeth as a first-century baby shower of sorts. It was a gathering like 21st-century baby showers in some ways. Pregnant women getting together to support one another. Conversation that runs the gamut from the mundane to the monumental aspects of pregnancy and motherhood: cravings, hopes, and fears about a new role in life, which pediatrician to choose. In other ways Mary and Elizabeth's meeting was not like any shower I've ever been to. There were only two women present, and the only gifts exchanged were those from God: the ability to conceive a child in the first place, an awareness of their place in salvation history, and the guiding, inspiring presence of the Holy Spirit in living out their roles. The other key difference is that the impact of this meeting extends many centuries into the future, to the present day, in several significant ways.
At the Intersection of Two Stories
This scene is part of a larger, overarching story of salvation. The overarching story line with which Luke opens his gospel is the story of John and Jesus, the relationship of the forerunner of the Messiah (John the Baptist) and the Messiah, Israel's expectation and its arrival. The two stories of John and Jesus intersect in the meeting of their mothers. This meeting draws on prior themes in the traditions of bold women in Israel's history and it reaches into the present to inspire us, men and women alike, with boldness today.
A Scene in Which No Men Are Present
In this scene the two women meet and converse without the presence of any male character (other than their unborn babies). Biblical scholar Richard Bauckham points out that the Bible is an "androcentric narrative" and as such rarely includes scenes in which women appear together without men (51). There are some exceptions to that rule; several "women only" passages we find in the Hebrew Bible (from Bauckham, 51):
- The daughters of Lot discuss getting their father drunk so they can lie with him and get pregnant (Gen. 19:32, 34).
- Leah gives Rachel mandrakes so she can have a night with Jacob (Gen. 30:14-15).
- Moses' sister negotiates with Pharaoh's daughter to find a nurse for the baby in the basket and brings Moses' mother to fill the position (Ex. 2:1-10).
- The mother of Sisera (Canaanite leader killed by Jael) consults with her ladies in waiting as to why he isn't home yet. (Because he is lying dead in Jael's tent, a nail pounded through his temple.) (Judg. 5:28-30)
- Peninnah torments Hannah for her inability to conceive a child (1 Sam. 1: 1-8).
- Ruth and Naomi in the Book of Ruth: Ruth refuses to leave Naomi. The two travel from Moab to Judah and amicably work out the details of their future in a new land.
- A slave girl suggests to Naaman's wife that he should go to the prophet in Samaria (Elisha) (2 Kgs. 5:2-3).
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.