In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39-45)
Just a quick glance at the titles of this week’s two posts will tell you that they are united by single theme: the cost and power of obedience in our lives and the lives of those around us. This should not be surprising. It is, after all, central to the whole Christian life—faith, as St. James reminds us, must be accompanied by deeds or else it is not faith at all. It is dead (Ja 2:14-26).
But in hearing this, it becomes all too easy to swing the pendulum in the other direction and focus so intently on our deeds–the discrete (though often not discreet) ways that we express our love for God and man through service and worship–that we lose sight of the true motivation and significance of those actions: love, relationships, salvation and redemption. True obedience, true faith, is not about ticking off certain required boxes of appropriate and necessary actions. It is, as I have written elsewhere, about finding ourselves in a story so epic and beautiful that it spans all of time and creation, intricately connecting every deed and action and infusing them with inestimable and infinite value.
Nowhere is this more beautifully suggested than in the deceptively simple narrative of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth and, indeed, the whole first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Luke’s account of these events appears to be streamlined, as if all we needed to know were simply that they happened. But in fact nearly every detail he gives evokes a deeper, richer story that reveals their true meaning for those who have eyes to see. This is no simple account of two relatives meeting in their pregnancy (which we had most likely already guessed). It is not even a simple account of the prophetic reaction and proclamation that happened when the Mother of our Lord visited Elizabeth during her pregnancy. No, Luke has told this story in such a way as to reveal how every action described here finds its roots in the Old Testament narrative of the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem after its capture by the Philistines during the time of David. Check out some of the fascinating parallels below:
2 Samuel 6: 1-15
Luke 1: 39-56
The ark traveled to the house of Obed-edom in the hill country of Judea Mary traveled to the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah in the hill country of Judea Dressed as a priest, David danced and leapt in front of the ark John the Baptist-of priestly lineage-leapt in his mother’s womb oat the approach of Mary David asks, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?” Elizabeth asks, “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” David shouts in the presence of the ark Elizabeth ‘exclaimed with a loud cry’ in the presence of Mary The ark remained in the house of Obed-edom for three months Mary remained in the house of Elizabeth for three months The house of Obed-edom was blessed by the presence of the ark Elizabeth declares Mary as blessed twice and the fruit of her womb (Jesus) The ark returns to its home and ends up in Jerusalem, where God’s presence and glory is revealed in the temple Mary returns home and eventually ends up in Jerusalem, where she presents God incarnate in the temple.
I don’t know about you, but when I see or discover things like this, I find myself in awe of the mastery of Luke to see and capture these parallels because they are just so incredible and fascinating. But even more than that, I find myself in awe of God and the beauty and intricacy of epic He is writing through history and reveals to us in Scripture. It really is bigger, better and more beautiful than anything we could ever fathom. And when we take the time to meditate on these things more closely we see that is not the Devil, but the Sovereign Lord of Love and History, that we ultimately find in the details.
There is so much that can be drawn from this for our own lives, not least of which is the revelation through these details of the beautiful and unique role that Mary’s obedience plays within this epic story of God’s salvation and redemption of the world. She is no “mere” vessel used by God to bear his son, but the Ark of the New Covenant, made and prepared to be the holy vessel by which the Lord’s presence would be both borne and born in the world.
She is this precisely because the whole of her life—her heart, her mind, her body—were completely surrendered to the Lord in obedience. Hers was not an obedience of specific actions performed to achieve certain ends or fulfill certain requirements. It was an obedience of surrender to the story of God’s salvation and redemption of the world, through which each and every word and deed of hers would become imbued with infinite value and love.
This is the type of surrender to which we are all called, one in which we don’t measure out our faith or faithfulness by the quantity (or quality!) of specific deeds themselves, but by the depth of our own “Yes” to God and all the challenges, discomforts and hardships this may entail. As Fred has captured beautifully in the first two posts of this week, it may take us to places we never imagined we’d go and put us in situations we would be otherwise prone to avoid (namely, the cross!), but the value and power of that obedience to bring God’s healing and redemption to not only our own lives but also those in the world around us inestimable.
For it is the means by which we, like Our Lady, bear Christ in and for the world around us.
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.
Image note: Although the painting depicts the Annunciation and not the Visitation, it behooves us all to place ourselves in the shoes of our Lady. Will we, also, say to the Lord’s call on our lives, “Behold I am the servant of the Lord, be it unto me according to your word”?