Mothers of Reconciliation

Luke 1:39-45

Do you have any favorite relatives, favorite cousins, aunts, uncles?  If you found it necessary to make yourself scarce for a while, do you have a relative you know you could go stay with who wouldn’t judge you and would maybe even be glad to see you?  

Immediately after Gabriel told Mary that she was to be the mother of Jesus, Mary decided to get out of town.  Nazareth was a small town, and a small town is not always the friendliest place for a not-yet-married mother-to-be.  People talk.  And when they don’t have all the facts, they tend to invent them, often with an unkind or salacious spin.  So, the Gospel of Luke tells us, “Mary set out in those days and went in a hurry to a town in the hill country of Judah.”  In a hurry, with haste, Mary went to stay with her older, loving, wise, nonjudgmental relative, Elizabeth, who also happened to be miraculously pregnant.

If someone told you that you that you could only have one of the four gospels to read and study for the rest of your life, the Gospel of Luke would not be a bad choice.  Luke has a good sense for drama and he tells the story of Jesus in very human terms.  

Luke anchors his version of the Good News in history.  After a brief introduction, his narrative begins with the words, “In the days of Herod, king of Judea…”  He tells us that Jesus is born during the reign of Augustus Caesar, when Quirinius is governor of Syria overseeing the collection of the first census and poll tax.  He wants us to have historical context, not so much so we can pin events down to exact dates, but rather to give us a political, social, and cultural backdrop as he stages the story of Jesus.

Another reason to consider Luke if you could have only one gospel is that political and economic justice are important themes in Luke.  Jesus inaugurates his ministry in Luke’s gospel by reading in the synagogue from Isaiah 61, using Isaiah’s poetry to make it clear that his proclamation of God’s reign is all about good news for the poor, healing, justice and liberation (Luke 4).  Subversion of the dominant paradigm is insinuated between the lines.

In Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit is named more often and more directly and plays a more visible role than in Matthew and Mark and John.  Jesus tells more stories in Luke.  Some of our favorite and best-known parables are found only in Luke.  And Luke uses scripture from the Tanakh, the Old Testament, in subtle ways to link the story of Jesus to his ancestors, because when all is said and done, Luke understands that Jesus is the crowning glory of generations of his people and his family; his story is the ultimate chapter of a long continuous narrative about the trials, triumphs, and brokenness of God’s people.    

But if you only get to have one gospel, maybe the best reason to choose Luke is the women.  Women play a larger role in Luke and speak more in Luke than in any of the other three gospels.  And the things they say are prophetic. 

When Mary meets with Elizabeth, even their names are telling part of the story and linking them to the heritage of their people and a family tradition of liberation and new order.  The name Mary is a diminutive form of Miriam.  The name comes from the same root as myrrh and has multiple meanings:  bitter, beloved, rebellious.  Miriam in Exodus was a prophet, sister of Moses.  According to a tradition[1], when Pharaoh’s army was about to overtake the Israelites, Moses held out his staff and his hand to part the Red Sea, but Miriam is the one who led the people through the parted waves, calling the women to follow her, the women in turn then calling their men to follow them as they raised their tambourines and sang and danced her way across the dry path between the walls of water.   The name Elizabeth is a form of Elisheba from El shava, meaning “God is my oath.”  Elisheba was also part of the Exodus story.  As the wife of Aaron she became the mother of all the priestly line of Israel.  When Mary and Elizabeth meet, it is a meeting of generations of priesthood and prophecy, but in a marvelous twist the mother with the priestly name will bear a child who will become a prophet, and the mother with the name of a prophet will bear a child who will be later be called, “a high priest in the order of Melchizedek.”[2]

And where are the men in all this?  Absent or silent.  Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah the priest, has been silenced because he did not believe the angel Gabriel when Gabriel told him that Elizabeth would bear a child.  He will not speak again until his son John is circumcised.  And Joseph, Mary’s betrothed?  The surrogate father of Jesus barely appears at all in Luke’s gospel. He is named only four times and never speaks.  And Luke gives the distinct impression, reading between the lines, that Joseph stayed behind in Nazareth while Mary went to see Elizabeth.  Luke tells us that when the order for the census came, “Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem…”[3]  The implication is that he stopped by the house of Elizabeth and Zechariah “in a town in the hill country of Judah” to pick up Mary on his way to Bethlehem.

The men are silent, but the women speak.  Oh do they speak.  When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  A loud cry.  Krauge megale it says in the Greek.  A very loud shout.  Elizabeth’s words are included in the prayer of the rosary, but I’ve never heard them shouted.  Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.  BLESSED ART THOU AMONG WOMEN AND BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF YOUR WOMB…

No, it’s not usually said that way. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if it was—to remind us of the great joy Elizabeth feels when she is filled with the Holy Spirit and recognizes the child that her young relative is carrying in her womb.  She speaks prophecy.  She speaks profound blessing.  Why should that be merely whispered or mumbled?  These are words of joy for the whole community of humanity!

This is a story of women proclaiming the Word of God.  This is a story of a family living out God’s power and presence.  God builds community, peoples, nations from proclamation and from families.  

Sadly, far too often proclamation is misguided and families are dysfunctional.  Too much of our story as a human family is a story of anger, disruption, fracture, and violence.  Maybe because the men have been doing most of the talking.  Too much history and not enough herstory. The descendants of Abraham fighting the descendants of Abraham—the children of Sarah and the children of Hagar locked in hostility for generations.  The descendants of one race locked in a vicious spiral of fear of and hatred for other races when we are all related in the human race, when we are all family.

These two women who meet in this unnamed town in the hills of Judah, these two women who rejoice loudly and prophesy in each other’s presence, these two women are the mothers of reconciliation and renewal.  Their sons will enter a fractured world of unreconciled peoples to bring a call for change and a vision for peace and understanding . God will use this family to bring healing and renewal to all families—to the whole human family—if we can learn how to listen. 

The son of Elizabeth will preach repentance, metanoia, a summons to change course.  The child of Mary will proclaim a direction for that change of course, a vision of the reign of God, a new way of being, a way of embracing our heritage and responsibility as children of God and siblings in humanity.  One will embody God’s call to be transformed.   One will embody God’s power of recreation and renewal.

These two women are family.  Their sons, these cousins, enter the world to remind us that we are all family, all related, all our stories intertwined.  Mary and Elizabeth remind us that God speaks and works through families even if it’s the slow work of generations.  Mary and Elizabeth remind us that God speaks and works through women to heal the world.  They are the mothers of John and Jesus.  They are chosen by God to be the mothers of renewal and reconciliation.

[1] Exodus 14-15

[2] Hebrews 5:10

[3] Luke 2:4

Painting by Corby Eisbacher @ArtByCorby

3 thoughts on “Mothers of Reconciliation

  1. Hi Pastor Steve,

    With Luke not being a part of the 12 disciples and writing his gospel some 15-20 years after Jesus’ resurrection, I’ve recently learned that he wrote his gospel after speaking to first person witnesses to the events.

    Do you think there were more women talking to him at the time because he was a physician?

    Do you think his more human approach to the interactions of women and their circumstances was directly influenced by his calling? Matthew was very direct and bullet pointed being a tax collector and all.

    Just wondering what your thoughts would be on this.

    Thanks much,

    Norma Wall

    On Sun, Dec 5, 2021, 11:41 AM Thoughts Along the Way wrote:

    > Steve Beckham posted: ” Luke 1:39-45 Do you have any favorite relatives, > favorite cousins, aunts, uncles? If you found it necessary to make > yourself scarce for a while, do you have a relative you know you could go > stay with who wouldn’t judge you and would maybe e” >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Norma,

      You’re asking the kinds of questions that biblical scholars turn into career-long investigations.

      So… a lot of important work has been done on the gospels in the past 30 to 40 years and some previous assumptions about them have been undermined or overturned. There have been new manuscript discoveries and old manuscripts have been reexamined and compared.

      One thing to bear in mind is that the names by which we know the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—were assigned to them by early traditions. None of them are signed. So the author of Luke may or may not have been Luke, the physician, who is mentioned in Acts. It may have been some other Luke—Lucas was a common name, as were all the rest of them.

      The oldest documents in the New Testament are the authentic letters of Paul, written mostly between 50-64 C.E. (Common Era—what we used to call A.D.)

      The earliest of the gospels we have is Mark which was probably written in Palestine during the time of the Jewish rebellion against Rome. Ched Myers and other scholars place it around 66-69. Luke and Matthew used Mark as a source. Scholar Mark Goodacre makes a good case that John did, too.

      Most scholars date Matthew and Luke somewhere around the same time—around 80-85 CE—and John is dated anywhere from as early as 90 to as late as 120.

      This means that the gospels as a whole would have been written anywhere from 35 to 80 years after the life of Jesus. Given this, while it’s not impossible that some of the original apostles and eye witnesses were still around, it’s not the most likely scenario. Average life expectancy was 35 years and the leaders (and writers would be leaders) of the early Christ-follower communities were often martyred.

      The different gospels addressed different communities and told the story of Jesus in different ways for reasons that were particular to their audience. Mark was writing to a community of faith in Palestine during the insurrection against Rome. He is using the story of Jesus to remind the followers of Jesus that his Way is the way of the cross: “If any of you would be my followers, take up your cross (literally) and follow me.” He is urging them NOT to join the rebellion but to remain nonviolent in their subversion of Rome’s domination. Matthew is writing to Jewish believers who want to know how to maintain their Jewish identity and still follow Jesus who so often confronts other Jewish figures such as scribes and Pharisees. Luke is written to a broader, primarily gentile audience and assumes that some of the Jesus followers are more educated and of a higher class. John is most interested in presenting Jesus as the cosmic Christ, the Word of creation who became flesh and lived among us.

      As for more women talking to Luke—absolutely, especially more than Matthew. We know from Paul’s letters and from a wealth of extra-biblical information that women played an enormous leadership role in the early Christian communities. There is a whole body of literature about that now, well worth reading. *When Women We’re Priests* by Karen Jo Toriesen is a good read on that topic.

      The writer of Luke would certainly have had contact with a number of women leaders in the early Christian communities and would have included them in his “investigation.” This, by the way, is another reason to really like Luke. He makes it clear that he is writing after having done significant research and interviews. The women he would have interviewed would have been the most likely to have treasured and passed down the traditions of the women who followed Jesus and were among his disciples.

      So… that’s a very condensed overview of what is known about the gospels—and much of what is educated guesses about them. If Luke was indeed Luke the physician mentioned in Acts, then your idea that women might have spoken to him more easily makes sense. But women in most of those early Christian communities would have spoken more freely with him because there was, in the beginning at least, less patriarchy and more equality between men and women in those communities. Sadly, we see the dominant culture’s patriarchal structure begin to impose itself on the Christ followers by the end of the first century.

      Well that’s a lot more than you asked, Norma, but I hope you find it useful. Keep asking your questions. The Bible, after all, is much more a question book than an answer book. Greetings to your family.

      Pastor Steve

      Liked by 1 person

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