22 December 2012

Luke 1:39-45

"[Elizabeth] exclaimed with a loud cry, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.'" (v. 42)


We saw yesterday that Luke's Gospel parallels the story of the conception of John with that of Jesus. It goes on to parallel the narratives of their births, but at this point brings the two stories together. The precise nature of Mary's relationship to Elizabeth is a matter of conjecture; the word in verse 38 simply means a relation or kinswoman. Why Mary travels to see Elizabeth is not spelled out either. We might infer that she goes in response to Gabriel telling her of Elizabeth's pregnancy or maybe she wants to see the other woman involved in this unfolding drama. We are not given these details; the narrative at this point is sparse.

Where Luke's Gospel does offer detail is in Elizabeth's greeting to Mary. She hails the younger woman as the most blessed of women. This is a text that provides the second part of the 'Hail Mary' in catholic devotion, emphasising that in whatever esteem Mary is held it is on account of her being the mother of Jesus. It is the baby who is the focus of Elizabeth's delight. Startlingly she speaks of the unborn child as "my Lord" (v. 43).

The scene serves to establish the relationship between John and Jesus. The movement of the baby in Elizabeth's womb points her to the Christ child just as later (as we saw in Sunday's passage) it would be the ministry of John to prepare people for the coming of the Messiah.

The NRSV and other English translations record Elizabeth twice describing Mary as 'blessed' (in v. 42 and v. 45). Luke uses two Greek words. The first (literally 'spoken well of') expresses a Semitic idiom to say that Mary is (far) more than usually favoured. The second is a word that might be translated 'happy' and reappears in Luke's Gospel's version of the beatitudes (Luke 6:20-23). Mary is blessed because she is a disciple.

To Ponder

  • Devotion to Mary has been a cause of division in the Church. How can we revere the 'mother of our Lord' appropriately without damaging our commitment to worship God alone?
  • This is a scene dependent on insights which only women could offer. How do we value the different perspectives of the two sexes in our church life?
  • Whom do you call blessed?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler

Having been a Methodist circuit minister and a theological college tutor, Jonathan is now Ministerial Coordinator for Oversight of Ordained Ministries in the Connexional Team..