Mary visits Elizabeth. 1:39-56
The passage before us consists of Mary's visit with Elizabeth, v39-45, and the Magnificat, Mary's psalm of thanksgiving, v46-56. Mary, who is now pregnant, visits the home of Zechariah and stays with the family for some three months. Zechariah's wife Elizabeth is also pregnant and not only is she filled with joy on meeting Mary, her child leaps in the womb. In Mary's song she gives thanks to God for turning her humiliation into exaltation by realizing in her his promise to Abraham - the coming of God's long-awaited messianic king.
v39. Mary and Elizabeth demonstrate a close friendship. They may well have been neighbors. As was typical of the time, priests tend to live outside of Jerusalem.
v40-41. The "greeting" was traditionally a formal address containing a statement about the person, eg. "Hail, King of the Jews!" The greeting caused a movement of Elizabeth's foetus and so served as a confirmation that the Holy Spirit was involved, not only in Mary's pregnancy, but her own. The phrase, "filled with the Holy Spirit", is common to Luke. It is used in the Old Testament sense of someone empowered by God to perform a special task, often a prophetic one. The Spirit comes upon the prophet and he speaks. Such a "filling" is for the task at hand and is not ongoing.
v42-45. All mothers are "blessed", but Mary has received a unique blessing. Mary is "fortunate" in that God has "favoured" her as mother of the messiah, but also because she took the Lord at his word ("believed").
v46-49. The Song of Mary, titled the Magnificat in the Latin Vulgate of the medieval church, is a lyrical poem similar to the Psalms. It has a special affinity with the Song of Hannah, 1Sam.2:1-10. These particular verses express Mary's gratitude for the outpouring of God's special favour upon her.
v50. Mary now affirms that God's kindness extends to all who reverence him. The word "fear" means respect rather than scared. Fear of God is "the Old Testament description of piety", Plummer.
v51-53. The coming of the kingdom serves to reverse the perceived standing of mankind before God. Those favoured with power, wealth, status, the seemingly righteous before God, .... they will be brought low ("put down"). The "humble", lost, broken, "poor", the outcasts from God's mercy, .... they are lifted up ("exalted"). This great reversal, which achieves the redemption of the lost, is best taken as a present reality. In typical prophetic style, God's future intentions are proclaimed as already accomplished; God's Word is as good as done.
We must take care that we don't read this passage as if it were a social-justice manifesto. The language used of Israel's deliverance from oppression is typical of the Old Testament. The New Testament writers happily use Old Testament imagery, but see deliverance in terms of an eternal redemption, a redemption inaugurated now, but realized at the second coming of Christ.
v54-55. Mary ends by linking the deliverance of Israel to the promise made to Abraham by God. The New Testament writers see this promise fulfilled in Jesus, the "servant Israel." Those who are "in Christ" become the "servant Israel", children of Abraham through faith rather than natural descent.
v56. Mary stays with Elizabeth for some "three months", possibly until John's birth.
Faith as reliance
"Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished."
For many years I had a problem with the word "faith". I was never quite sure what it meant. Even to this day believers will speak of faith as if it were a divine quality of perfect trust. It is claimed that a person who possess this spiritual gift is able to accept God and his word without any doubts. I think it was this idea which confused me, and I suspect that it confuses many others as well.
If faith is a doubt-free acceptance of Jesus and of his word, then I don't have it. I often have doubts; I wonder about it all; I question the ground of my being. So, my faith is certainly not doubt-free.
The other extreme is to see faith in Jesus as if it is a good bet. Having considered all the options in life, we take a punt on Jesus. I mean, if we are wrong we lose nothing, but if we are right we gain everything. Jesus is certainly a good bet, but the bet is not faith.
Faith is reliance on the revealed will of God. Elizabeth declares that Mary is blessed, not because she is somehow more spiritual, righteous, even sinless, but because she takes God at his word. She went with what she was told, along with all her doubts, fears and questions. This reliance on God's word, this sticking to it, this firm resting on it, is what the Bible means by faith. Such a faith is saving faith. Faith is relying on what we hope "will be accomplished" in Christ our Lord.
Consider the different ways we understand the word "faith/belief" and discuss them in light of faith as "reliance" on God's revealed will.
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