Homily for May 31st, 2014. The Visitation, Luke 1:39-56.
Luke’s gospel tells us that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that God wanted her to be the mother of God’s son, Gabriel also told her that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, though far beyond child-bearing age, was also, as our British cousins say, “in a family way” – six months pregnant, in fact. With characteristic generosity, Mary decides to go and visit Elizabeth. She couldn’t start right away. It was a man’s world. A woman, especially a young teenager like Mary, could not travel alone. She must have at least one chaperone.
When Mary arrives at her cousin’s house and greets her, Elizabeth, as we have just heard, “cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. … At moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.’” Doctors tell us that a new mother (and Elizabeth, though old, was pregnant for the first time) usually begins to feel her baby moving in her womb during the fifth month of pregnancy. Thereafter the movements become increasingly frequent and intense. Considering the time it would have taken Mary to reach her, Elizabeth is now in her seventh month at least. Her baby is now very active. Moreover, medical science has discovered, fairly recently, something called “startle response,” when the baby moves on hearing a sound outside the mother. The child in Elizabeth’s womb, who would become John the Baptist, was reacting to the sound of Mary’s loud cry, greeting with joy, as his mother said, the approach of his younger unborn kinsman, Jesus. How marvelous are God’s works!
With the words, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” Elizabeth acknowledges her failure to believe that a woman as old as she was could conceive. And Mary responds with words that proclaim the reversal of normal worldly expectations. She praises God for scattering the proud, casting down the mighty, raising up the lowly, feeding the hungry, while sending the rich away hungry.
Three decades later her Son, in his Sermon on the Mount, would speak remarkably similar words, calling blest (which means happy) the poor in spirit, the sorrowing, the lowly, those who hunger and thirst for holiness, the merciful, the single-hearted, the peacemakers, those persecuted for holiness’ sake, and all those insulted, persecuted, and slandered because of Him who spoke these words. (Matthew 5:3-12)
Truly marvelous are God’s works, wonderful indeed!