Janelle Maes, OSB | May 31, 2023
Luke brings us to the biblical stage with the meeting of two pregnant women who Reid and Scottoroff, two women theologians, describe as “Women of spirit birthing hope,” “one a pregnant crone and the other an unmarried bride suspected of adultery” (p. 261). Both women have no worldly status; in fact, they are considered poor and of little account with the powers that be. Yet Luke uses them to loudly proclaim salvation to the world.
Luke does not emphasize the charity of Mary coming to Elizabeth’s aid, especially since Mary left when most of the work was to be done after the birth. The Jerome commentary says it was also unlikely that a 14-year-old could make the four-day journey through the hill country. However, women theologians today use this encounter to inspire women to support one another with listening, empathy, and encouragement. Thus, we do empower one another. This is one of the few places in the Bible where men are not involved. We know Zechariah is around, but he is mute since he doubted the angel’s message.
In this Gospel both women speak prophecies with their words and the children they have in their wombs. Elizabeth speaks of God’s saving work with these spirit-driven words: “that the mother of my Lord should come to me…blessed is the fruit of your womb…and blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Here Elizabeth recognizes that God is working through Mary to bring about the messianic age. Both women are overcome with joy.
Mary’s song, the Magnificat, has also come down through the ages and is recognized as a protest against the oppression of the lowly who are poor, who are powerless and many who are women. Deitrich Bonhoeffer describes it as follows: “It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings; this is the passionate, surrendered, proud, enthusiastic Mary who speaks out here. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth” (p. 269).
Some saw this song so subversive that during the 1980’s it was banned from public recitation for a time in Guatemala. Just think, Sisters, what we can be unleashing when we pray this song daily. We pray for our country, the world, and the Church—all the oppression caused by these institutions. We trust in God’s care just as these two women did so long ago. We may not see the results immediately, but we know God works in mysterious ways.
What else do we take from this Gospel? We encourage one another, we celebrate with one another, we support one another, and we empower one another much as these two women did. So, on this feast of the Visitation let us rejoice in God our Savior and thank God for our part in salvation history.
References are from Truly Our Sister by Elizabeth Johnson.