Advent 4, Year C–Luke 1:39-56

Mary.

The woman who stands at the crossroads of divinity and humanity is the focus of my last Advent blog for 2018 because Luke 1:39-56 it is the last reading. As you might expect, I have worked this particular text over a time or two previously here at the Greenbean blog. Below is my own translation from the Greek New Testament which I published here about eight years ago.


Mary rose up in those days and traveled with haste to a Judean city in the hill country.  She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth.

Then what happened is that as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant jumped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She screamed a loud shout and said, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how is it that the mother of my Lord might come to visit me? For it happened at the sound of your greeting in my ear the infant jumped with gladness in my womb. Blessed is the one who believes that it will be completed what has been spoken to her by the Lord.”

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit is gladdened by God my savior because he looked upon the humility of his servant. For behold, all generations will say [There is no verb here in the Greek for “say” or “call” so something has to be added to smooth it over. The lack of a verb is not an omission or a sign of chopped speech, but instead reflects careful poetic search for word choice. The verb is assumed.] I am blessed from now on because of the great things The Almighty did for me. His name is holy. His mercy to those fearing him is from generation to generation. He strengthened his arms and scattered those with arrogant thoughts in their hearts. He deposed the powerful from thrones and exalted the humble.  He filled those who were hungry with good food and he sent away the wealthy empty handed. He took care of Israel his child, remembering mercy. Just as he said to our fathers, to Abraham and his offspring forever.” [In translating the Magnificat, two things are apparent.  One, Luke did not compose this.  The language, style, and vocabulary are not from his hand.]

She remained with her three months and returned to her own home.


We could do a lot of complicated salvation history theology on this passage, but I’ll leave that to the scholars. Here is where I am going today.

  1. Mary, did you know? It is a popular song that seems to be quite front and center this year. The answer is, yes. According to scripture, Mary knew a lot of what was going down. Whether she understood it all, or whether I even understand it all remains to be seen. However, she was not ignorant of the supernatural things taking place in her time and in her life–indeed, in her own body.
  2. Elizabeth is mentioned by name, and is John the Baptist’s mom. The father of John the Baptist and husband of Elizabeth is a priest name Zechariah (Luke 1:5). Both Elizabeth and Zechariah are named as descendants of Aaron–the priestly tribe. Elizabeth and Mary are cousins. Mary is from the priestly tribe. Jesus one true human link is through Levi–the priestly tribe. He is Judahite through his ‘stepfather’ Joseph. Jesus is king and priest.
  3. Some have argued a teenage Jewish girl couldn’t have written this complicated piece of literature. I find that argument sexist and elitist. Luke didn’t write it, the language is too different. He is copying it from a source, and that source might well have originated with Mary.
  4. I think Luke is very brave to include this story. A male writing about two pregnant women filled with the Holy Spirit and doing theology is not a common template–but here we are! Luke charges right in and tells what was happening and quite honestly, it is very believable because he had a good source for the actual event–babies leaping in the womb, women crying out, and then supernatural speech. Good stuff.

WHO WAS JOHN THE EVANGELIST?

I read nice little article on the Gospel of John this morning on the website of Biblical Archaeology Review (my favorite magazine, but I missed a month because of the move–drats!) that roots around at Johannine authorship.  John never self-identifies, but maintains literary distance by describing himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” or the “beloved disciple.”  The article is nice, but it doesn’t explore some of the nuances of John the person.  Here is my brief profile of this very influential theologian and historian.

1.  Before he followed Jesus, he was a follower of John the Baptist.

2.  His brother James died very early in the Christian movement, leaving him as the only “Son of Thunder” that remained.

3.  He had a pushy mom and apparently a well known father, for why else would his parentage be so well attested to.

4.  He was young when he started following Jesus.

5.  Somehow he had access to the high priest (John 18) so maybe he was related.

6.  As the only Gospel writer who was an eyewitness to Jesus’ entire ministry he holds a place of historical priority.

7.  Jerusalem, Jewish festivals, and Jewish symbolism meant more to John than to the other evangelists.  As such, he was a revolutionary with a traditionalist streak.  That indicates an affinity for the Essenes.

8.  He was probably related to Jesus, therefore he was related to John the Baptist.  Note, this means that Jesus was related to James and Zebedee and the pushy mother.

9.  John wrote the Fourth Gospel as well as 1 John.  I’m not so certain about 2nd and 3rd John.

Number 8 is the touchy one.  I once mentioned this in a sermon and was subsequently challenged by my deacons of its veracity.  Below is the biblical exegesis that I gave them in a piece called “There is Something About Mary” and it is a simple exegesis of the visitors to the Tomb and the people at the cross and who they must be and how they are related.  Pay careful attention to the end, where I include the numerical tag to note the person it is talking about.  All of this is very confusing because apparently every third woman in 1st Century Palestine was named Mary.

Mark 15:40
“Some women were watching from a distance.  Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.”

Matthew 27:56
“Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”

John 19:25
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

If we can assume some type of eyewitness consistency, and there is no reason we can’t, then there is no reason why we cannot deduce the following about who visited the tomb.

1.  Mary the mother of Jesus was there.

2.  Mary Magdalene was there.

3.  Mary the mother of James and Joses was there.

4.  Mary the wife of Clopas (could be the mother of James and Joses-not necessarily but probably)

5.  Salome was there.

6.  The mother of Zebedee’s sons was there (who could be Salome).

7.  Jesus’ mother’s sister was there (who could be Salome)

Marking the Text:

1=Mary Magdalene,

2=Mary the mother of James and Joses and the wife of Clopas,

3=Salome the mother of Zebedee’s sons and the sister of Mary the mother of Jesus.

Now, let’s look at it again with the text tagged.

Mark 15:40
“Some women were watching from a distance.  Among them were Mary Magdalene (1), Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses (2), and Salome (3).”

Matthew 27:56
“Among them were Mary Magdalene (1), Mary the mother of James and Joses (2), and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (3)”

John 19:25
“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother (4), his mother’s sister (3), Mary the wife of Clopas (2), and Mary Magdalene. (1)”

There is a good bet that Jesus and John were related, which gives extra insight into the way Jesus talked to John at the cross about the care of Mary his mother, who was probably his aunt.

SERMON DEBRIEFING–THE WOMEN IN ACTS

I began my “Biographies in Acts” sermon series yesterday by surveying the prominent women in the book.  Understandably, Acts is a male dominated text as is most of the Bible.  But if we look hard enough we can glimpse the dawn of a new world in which there is “neither male nor female” but all are “one in Christ.”

1.  Mary and the Women–Acts 1:13-14 lists those who prayed in the upper room after the ascension of Christ.  Included in the list are Mary and the women.  These women were, in my conjecture, actively engaged in the same activity the men were when the Holy Spirit comes in chapter 2.  The evidence is the gender inclusive prophecy of Joel 2 which Peter quotes.

2.  The Grumbling Widows–Act 6 tells us that the first delegation of ministry occurred because the widow women were unhappy.  Thanks widows.

3.  Sapphira–Died because she was equally responsible for the financial lie and subsequent cover-up.  The sordid details are in Acts 5.

4.  Tabitha/Dorcas–Acts 9:36-43.  This woman was a ministry leader in Joppa who died.  Peter brought her back to life (okay, God did it, but you know what I mean).  The evidence indicates she may have been serving in the same way the 7 were in Acts 6.

5.  Mary and Rhoda–Two different women are recorded in Acts 12 as a part of Peter’s miraculous escape from prison.  This “Mary” could be any of the distinct 5 different Mary’s in the New Testament or a completely different Mary.  Rhoda is the servant girl no one believed.  As such she mirrors the Easter story when no one really believes the women.

6.  Lydia–One of my favorite characters in the New Testament.  Lydia’s encounter with Paul and the gospel is recorded in Acts 16 as the gospel spreads to Europe through the portal of Philippi.  She is a traveling business woman who is spiritually minded.

7.  Thessalonian and Berean women–Acts 17 tells us, in both verse 4 and verse 5 that “leading” and “high standing” women were among the early converts.  This tells us about the intellectual appeal of Christianity as well as the favorable disposition it has among women.

8.  Priscilla/Prisca–I’m thinking Acts 18 here, but truly her story is all over the New Testament as she frequently interacts with Paul.  I list her because every time this tent making church planting woman is mentioned it is with her husband, Aquila but her name is always listed first.  I Wonder why?

9.  Philip’s Four daughters–On the fateful journey to Jerusalem Paul and his companions stop at Philip’s house.  We learn he has four unmarried daughters who prophesy.  These prophetesses may have been sources for the information Luke would gather about Philip and he early Christ movement in Jerusalem.

10.  Bernice–Yucky woman who uses sex and politics to climb the social ladder.  She is found in Acts 25 & 26 on the arm of Agrippa.  Agrippa is her brother.  Bernice is the negative example who contrasts all the godly women portrayed in Acts.

There are four summary statements I deduced from my reading of women in Acts.  First, the women seem to act independently of men.  The exception to this are the negative examples (Sapphira and Bernice).  Second, Luke had no advantage in writing about women at all.  That he included them indicates the veracity of the account and the important role women played.  Third, The women in the book of Acts are asexual.  Unlike the  hyper-sexualization of women in sales, fashion, politics, and entertainment these women stand on their own as individuals in Christ, not as playthings.  Fourth, all of these women are “modern” in that they would have fit right into our world today.