by Sherry Nanninga Walker
.. the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
(Luke 1:26-29, NRSV)
When the angel appears to young Mary in Luke 1, the gospel does not record her teen eyeroll. So we think of Mary (age 12 or 14) as demure, compliant, receptive as Gabriel speaks.
Or perhaps that’s what we were taught, like Dr. Mary McAleese. In a recent conversation with Sr. Joan Chittister (in
The Women the Vatican Could Not Silence
), McAleese says she learned:
...Mary was told she was going to be the Mother of God, and she said immediately, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.” But that’s not what happened.
Because actually, there was a dialogue between herself and the angel. And in that dialogue Mary says, “Hang on a minute. How’s this going to happen? How’s this going to work out? I’m not sure about this. Explain to me.”
Her immediate reaction was to question, to query. And was only when she was reassured that God would not abandon her, and would be with her, that Mary said, “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”
But somehow we elided that. We took that story, and we took out [Mary’s] natural skepticism. We took out her questioning. And most importantly, we took out her right to question, and our right to question.
Mary shows us that our questioning is respected. A query expresses doubt, asks for verification. Mary does not say
Here am I, the servant of the Lord
, until she’s questioned God and pondered, and she’s sure about her choice.
That certainty travels 100 miles with Mary when she visits Elizabeth in Ein Kerem, just outside Jerusalem. Perhaps questions remain during Mary’s journey, perhaps for a lifetime. But Mary is certain enough to tell Elizabeth:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior...
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.
Mary’s song sounds like the song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2), who also asked of the Lord, and said yes.
Church of the Visitation, Ein Kerem, Jerusalem