39 Mariam got up,
in those days she went into the hill country,
went into a city of Judah.
40 She went into the house of Zecharyahu.
She greeted Elisheva.
41 It happened as she heard the greeting of Mary,
as Elisheva heard it,
the baby in her belly,
and she was full of holy breath,
42 She shouted with a great shriek,
Blessed are you among women,
blessed the fruit of your belly.
43 How to me is this:
she should come,
the mother of my haShem,
come to me?
44 For look,
when it happened,
the sound of your greeting,
into my ears,
it leaped in exceedingly great joy,
the baby in my belly.
45 God-like in happiness,
she who was faithful:
There will be a completion
to those things spoken to her from haShem.
46 And Mariam said:
my life does,
47 It rejoices,
my breath does,
at Elohim my deliverer.
48 Because Elohim looked on the humility
of his female slave.
from now on they will call me
godlike in happiness,
49 because he has done to me great things,
the capable one has.
Holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends
into birthings and birthings
of those reverencing him.
51 He made strength with his arm,
he scattered those visibly superior
by the intentions of their wills.
52 He put down the capable from thrones
and exalted the humble ones.
53 Hungry ones he filled full of worthy things,
out and away he sent them,
54 . He claimed Israel his child,
reminding himself of his deeds of mercy,
55 just as he spoke to our ancestors,
and to his descendants
into the eon.
Two women, both of them pregnant. Two women, one of them young (perhaps no more than 12 or 13 years old) and her auntie.
Zechariah is there, too, but he is silent. No matter what he might want to explain to anyone, it is not his turn to speak.
Think about that. The story is just being established: energy is being swirled together, the movement that makes the story is being focused, the essential activity, the “through-line,” is being revealed. And onstage there are two women. They both have names. And they are talking to each other, and it’s not about a man.
This story passes the Bechdel Test some two millennia before the birth of Alison Bechdel.
There are things to know about this scene. Mary is untimely pregnant. As soon as she accepted the task of bringing the messiah into the Creation, she “went with haste” to the house of her auntie. Why did she go “with haste?” Because she lived in a culture that had laws on the books that recognized the practice of honor killing. A woman untimely pregnant was to be killed by her own family. A woman (like Mary) who is a member of a priestly family (because the priestly clans practiced endogamy, both Zechariah and Elizabeth are from priestly families, and because Mary is a “kinswoman” to Elizabeth, Mary belongs to a priestly family), such a woman faced a different fate: her own father was to strangle her at the door of the family home. That’s why Mary ran.
And, she ran to Elizabeth because Elizabeth was her auntie. A friend of mine, Dr. Martin Brokenleg, a colleague and teacher of mine, opened a window on this cultural reality. Amongst Lakota people, Martin taught me, aunties play a crucial role. Aunties comfort and connect children with a world larger than their nuclear family. More important (for this scene, anyway), aunties protect. There is a ferocity that belongs to the office of “auntie” that would surprise you, if you were from outside the culture. Inside Lakota culture, Martin taught me, everyone knows: you don’t mess with an auntie.
Elizabeth was Mary’s auntie. Anyone who imagined that he ought to protect the family’s honor by killing Mary would have to deal with her auntie first. You don’t mess with an auntie.
So, the coming of messiah into Creation requires women. Messiah does not enter the Creation at the head of a patriarchal pyramid, or on a horse at the head of an army. Messiah enters creation in the belly of a young woman, untimely pregnant, who has to run for her life. Messiah enters Creation in the belly of a woman who is protected by her auntie, protected precisely from the danger posed by patriarchal power.
With this in mind, read again Mary’s revolutionary song:
Hungry ones he filled full of worthy things,
out and away he sent them,
This is not a song about turning the world upside down, though patriarchs with power might experience it that way. This is a song about turning the world right-side-up. And in Luke’s story, it is women that make that possible. It is women, women and the systems that they have created to protect each other.
You don’t mess with an auntie. Not if you are going to participate in turning the world right-side-up.
3 thoughts on “A Provocation: Fourth Sunday of Advent: December 23, 2018: Luke 1:39-55”
Lovely reflection. Tiny point. Would it not be Mariam rather than Mary in v. 41?
It’s a bit of a puzzle. “Mariam” is a “barbaric name since it ends in a “non-Greek” terminal consonant (not n, r, or s), so I’m reading “Marias” in v. 41 as a genitive modification of the barbaric name “Mariam.” But I could indeed read it otherwise.