This is the second in a series of articles on mariology, the study of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Last time, we considered how Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary in Luke 1.26-38 marks Mary out as an exceptional figure in God’s plan of salvation. We saw that Mary found favor in God’s sight, putting her in the same class as Noah and Moses (cf. Gen 6.8; Ex 33.17). We saw that God’s work through Mary combined and amplified the work of Noah and Moses, bringing them to fulfillment in the Incarnation of Christ. And that was just our first encounter with Mary in Luke’s gospel.
Today, we will consider what comes next in Luke’s gospel. We read in Luke 1.39-56 that Mary goes to visit her relative, Elizabeth, who is likewise carrying a miraculous and very special child. Luke does not explicitly tell us why Mary goes to visit. Perhaps it is to confirm what Gabriel has told her. Perhaps it is merely to witness the glory of God in His fulfilled promise. Perhaps she went to help Elizabeth around the home.
Whatever Mary’s intentions for the visit, it quickly escalates beyond a mere social call. Luke tells us, “When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1.41). We must not overlook that last fact: the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth and inspired her words which followed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1.42-45).
Read the text carefully. Why did John leap in Elizabeth’s womb? What blessing did Elizabeth say had been granted to her? And whom did Elizabeth bless twice under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit?
If mariology makes us uncomfortable, we might be tempted to say that the proper focus of this whole account is Jesus. And, in a sense, He is one focus of the text: Elizabeth does say to Mary, “Blessed is the fruit of your womb.” But Jesus is not the only focus of this passage, nor is He the primary focus of the passage. To say that the text is mainly about Jesus is to ignore the text.
The text focuses on Mary.
Why did John leap? “When the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” What blessing had been granted Elizabeth? She asks, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Whom did Elizabeth bless twice under the inspiration of the Spirit? “Blessed are you among women…. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Elizabeth and John celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, certainly, but their celebration focuses most intensely on the faithful woman who bears Him in her womb.
If there is any doubt that Mary is an extraordinary person, we should consider just how heavy-handed Luke is being in his treatment of Mary. Zechariah and Elizabeth are described as “righteous before God,” but they don’t receive the special treatment that Mary receives in Luke 1. The archangel Gabriel tells Mary twice that she has found God’s favor. If that weren’t enough to convince us, we then see the Holy Spirit inspire Elizabeth to bless Mary twice. And if we are not convinced by the archangel and by the Spirit of God, then what else can possibly convince us?
But Luke goes further still, for there is one more voice in Luke’s gospel to declare Mary’s praise: her own. We will consider Mary’s song of praise (often called the Magnificat) in full next week, but we will take one observation from it this week. Early in her song, Mary says, “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and Holy is His Name.” Luke is forcing the question now: do we take Mary at her word, or don’t we? And if we don’t, what reason has Luke given us to think that she is wrong when she declares that all generations will call her blessed? (Notice, by the way, why Mary says that she shall be called blessed: “for He who is mighty has done great things;” in other words, any glory given to Mary redounds to God who blessed her.)
Let us finish by considering what practical difference all of this knowledge makes. All knowledge in the Faith is a matter of confession; that is, we should be willing to say (confess) what the Scriptures teach is true. What should we confess about Mary? We have read that she is “favored of God;” that she is “blessed among women;” and that “all generations shall call me blessed.” The fundamental confession about Mary is that she is blessed. Therefore we call her “Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Image: Mary and Elizabeth (1939), Dorothy Webster Hawkley