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Lectionary 197: Luke: Portrait of Mary

December 19, 2013


Scripture: Lectionary 197. Dec.20. Isaiah 7:10-14. Psalm 24:1-2,3-4.5-6. Luke 1:26-38:

Luke leads us through the Annunciation Narrative to admire and contemplate Mary of Nazareth, the woman chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.  In this beautiful literary portrait of Mary, the evangelist helps us to meditate on her name which appears three times within the passage we hear in the liturgy four days before Christmas Day.   Only Gabriel and Mary are involved in the scene; both are dialoguing and communicating with each other in an I-Thou manner.  Luke is the only evangelist to introduce the name of the angel Gabriel in the two times the angel appears in the New Testament. Likewise, in the Old Testament the name Gabriel apprears only two times in the Book of Daniel.k of Daniel.

The first mention of Mary’s name is in Luke 1: 28:” …the virgin’s name was Mary.” Luke is indentifying Mary and her location in Nazareth as well as her being espoused to Joseph of the house of David.  This helps me to imagine the virgin Mary in this remarkable portrait of Luke and to realize that one of the translations or interpretations of her name means “Lady of the Sea.”This also helps me recall her title in tradition as “Star of the Sea.”  Within the recent exhortation of  Pope Francis and even more literally in the declaration of John Paul II we can relate to her as the “tar of the New Evangelization.”

The second mention of her name comes from Gabriel who calms her and speaks with her in an engaging and serene manner: “Do not fear, Mary, you have found favor with God.”(Luke 1:30). This contains what Gabriel will give her as a new name in the expression “You are full of grace” or more correctly in the Greek original language of Luke as “kecharitomene.”  It is connected to her belonging to a people of a loving covenant with God who bestows grace, loving-kindness, and beauty on her through this designation. I will come back to this at the end of this reflection in a moment.

Luke then tells us in the third mention of the name of Mary: “Mary said, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.” (Luke 1:38).  With the final mention of the name of Mary, we come to hear the name first through Luke the inspired narrator and writer, then Gabriel addresses her and calms her, and finally, Mary herself speaks as  she is blessed according to the response she gives the archangel Gabriel.    Luke has thus painted a literary portrait with a beautiful frame around the scene of an angel speaking with a young woman who is a virgin.

What about the special name given to her in the narrative?  That word kecharitomene is used only here in the whole of the Bible for a person.  This Greek perfect passive participle is melodius and is associated in Luke with grace, joy, and wisdom– key themes in his Gospel.  Mary is the elected one who will be the mother of the Messiah.  She is a woman of the covenant which is explained through such words as fidelity, loving-kindness, and predilection already in the past, that is, in God’s time (kairos not chronos).  (cf. Ephesians 1:3-6).

“Mary, more than any other human being in the Bible, is the recipient of the most impressive saltutations (1:28, 30, 35, 42-49; cf. 2:19f. and 34.  In her, more than in anyone else, God’s messianic fulfillment is achieved.” (C. Stulmueller, Luke, Jerome Biblical Commentary, p122).

In my imagination I saw the first reading containing the marvelous framework in gilded gold with the words, “ The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”  (cf. Matthew 1:23).  No wonder Luke is thought of as an artist!  Alleluiah.  Amen.


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