Saturday, June 25, 2011

When God Calls: Part II

The Call of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Daughter of Abraham
Luke 1:26-56

Giovanni Lanfranco, "The Annunciation" (c 1620)
The call of God to Mary has much in common with the call of Abraham.  In exchange for consent to God’s will, God also promises Mary many things in return.  Here also, God calls for Mary's consent to something that is beyond human understanding and reason. The promise of a child to Mary also stood in stark contradiction to her life and her circumstances. As a true daughter of Abraham, Mary is also called to great faith.

But while there are great similarities to note, there are also marked differences.  Abraham did not come to know God until he was 75 years old.  From her childhood, Mary's life was one that was dedicated to prayer and service to God in the Temple.  Abraham was old and his wife was barren. Mary was a young virgin, and the child that God promised her through the words of the Angel Gabriel had not been sought or hoped for.  But the greatest difference between Mary and Abraham lies in how Mary responded to her call. 

In the case of Abraham, his initial response to God was one of silent and unhesitating obedience to leave his home for one unknown.  It was only later, as time passed, that he began to question God, asking Him where was the child that He promised, and how can you make a great nation of me when the only heir I have is one of my servants?  He also acted on his own initiative and lack of faith, in particular when he deceived the Egyptians about the identity of Sarah as his wife, and when he consented at her urging, to beget a child, Ishmael, by her handmaid, Hagar, rather than patiently waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promise for a true heir from his wife's womb.

Mary, on the other hand, was a woman of unwavering faith.  In fact, her faith seemed to increase as God called her to greater and greater trust in the face of greater and greater uncertainty and suffering.  Mary’s initial response to the greeting of the Angel (“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”) was one of astonishment and even fear, for surely Mary knew immediately with the Angel’s declaration that “the Lord was with [her],” that this was a call from God out of the quiet, hidden life she had always known, to something public and extraordinary.  But when the Angel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid,” she obeys.  When the Angel tells her that she is to bear a child, and that this child will be great and holy, she believes.  Her question, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” was an admission of her inability to understand as a mere creature, this great and seemingly impossible thing that God would do.  But unlike Abraham, who believed upon the reassuring word of the Lord that his descendants would be in number like the stars, but later gave in to doubt when he consented to beget a child by Hagar, Mary’s response of “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be to me according to your word” was spoken once and for all.  It was the profession of a perpetual vow to obey and follow the call of God, making no protest, but always responding in silent obedience, “keeping all these things in her heart.” 

For Mary, the call to be the mother of the Messiah meant a complete change in her life, and in her identity.  As a woman pregnant and not yet wedded, she was subject to shame and scandal, even stoning, first in the eyes of Joseph, her betrothed, and also surely in the eyes of the community.  From the moment the Word was made flesh in her womb, and forever thereafter, Jesus’ very existence, His very identity, directly affected Mary—and not only Mary.  Through Mary, beginning in her visitation to her kinswoman Elizabeth, that same existence and identity of the child in her womb already began to change and sanctify the world.  For Elizabeth, Mary was no longer her kinswoman, but became, “the mother of my Lord,” and by merely being present as that mother, sanctified and filled the child in Elizabeth’s womb with the Holy Spirit.  And as Elizabeth further declares, Mary was blessed above all women, as “she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” (Luke 1:45)

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