Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Luke 1. 26-38: ‘A young girl’s pregnancy foretold’
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Sharing Together "The Continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in our community":
What is your reaction (or that of your family, street or local community) to the news that an unmarried teenager had become pregnant?
The Text viewed from the 'Underside"
Luke writes for mainly Gentile readers to answer the question ‘Who is Jesus of Nazareth?’ Many would have been very hazy about the story as it spread through the Roman Empire.
An unmarried girl getting pregnant in Western society today would seldom make the news and ‘living together’ is quite common. Too often the boy concerned denies responsibility and leaves the girl to cope as best she can. But in New Testament times, as in many traditional societies today, such an event would hit the headlines! An offence against the moral, religious and social code would shame the family and the neighbours would be scandalised.
Some of us may be sceptical about Mary’s version of the story. Her initial reaction to the news is fear (v29), followed by a trusting bewilderment. She realises that God has favoured and chosen her, an unknown teenager from a back-of-beyond place, to give birth to a child with a special destiny. Her question (v34) ‘ How can this be?’ is not so much the naïve question of an ignorant country girl, but rather indicates she is puzzled because she has never had sexual relations with any man. Luke makes the point that the conception of ‘the holy one to be born’ was through the action of the Holy Spirit and not through the normal means.( v 35)
Luke sees Jesus as the fulfilment of Jewish expectations. He does not say that Mary is descended from David, but it is evident that Jesus was regarded by Joseph and others as his own (adopted) son and thus a descendant of the royal house of David from which the Messiah was to come (vs30-33).
This will happen when, as Mary (v 35) is promised, ‘the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of (God) will overshadow you.’ Mary’s trusting response is ‘I am the Lord’s servant may it be as you have said ( v38).
Responding as a community
- How can you recognise a messenger from God today? Share your experience with the group.
- Do we really have real choices about our future and do we plan and anticipate the future? How can we try to discern what plans God may have for us? Share stories of choices you have made that have altered the direction of your lives
- Is the virginal conception of Jesus through the Holy Spirit an essential part of Christian belief? Does anything (or everything) depend upon it or not? Consider why Mark, John and Paul don’t mention it.
The fourth candle of Advent is lit to remind us of Mary and her openness to cooperate with God’s purposes. She simply trusted and gladly responded & became the means through which the long awaited Christ came among us.
Here I am said Mary ‘ I am the Lord’s Servant may it be to me as you have said‘
God of the poor and the vulnerable. We pray for the many ordinary people whom you are using to in the building of your Kingdom on earth, who are open to the promptings of your Holy Spirit, and who respond as Mary responded, in simple faith and trust.
Mary heard your messenger speak
Lord we thank you that you have called by name and made us your own. May we discern your purposes for our own individual lives in the places where we live and work, and the future towards which you are calling us.
Silence for reflection
All : I am the Lords Servant may it be to me as you have said‘
We pray that we may fulfil the purposes for which you have called us together as a Christian community in this place….
Silence for reflection
All: We are the Lords Servants may it be to us as you have said‘
We pray for those women who are victims of humiliation and degradation or who have been abused and abandoned
Pause while we reflect and mention places situations in the world today
Lord make us aware where the honour and dignity of women is not respected and to be brave enough to reject abuse and bold enough to stand for justice and to take action to make a difference .
May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as in heaven. Amen
We have walked in the wilderness;
We have waited and wondered
May God bless us as we wait for a child’s cry
We have seen injustice;
We have brought God our questions.
May God bless us in darkness and light.
We have been bombarded with glitter and tinsel;
We have looked for a Saviour.
May God bless us as Christmas comes near.
(Blessing from Candles and Conifers p67- Ruth Burgess Wild Goose Publications 2005)
Risk-taker, Unborn Child and Holy Spirit,
Bless us with wonder, and justice and hope. Amen.
Mary’s story has been the subject of much scrutiny. The story appears to have been widely known in the early church. If the account was not true would they have repeated such a hostage to fortune?’ We should also note the care Luke has taken in checking out eyewitnesses’ accounts of Jesus’ life (1vs 1 – 4). Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels both say substantially the same thing in very different ways. Clearly the texts are not dependant upon each other. Mary’s question ‘how can this be since I have not known a man’ (i.e. not known sexually - Greek= ou ginosko). She means ‘ I have not had sexual relations with any man in the past ’ and hence I am a virgin now.
The ‘ Word for virgin (Greek= parthenos) is identical to the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint) version of Isaiah 7v14 but, in the original Hebrew, it can be simply mean ‘a young woman’ shall conceive and not specifically a virgin. In the New Testament, Matthew and Luke use the Greek word parthenos = a virgin when they quote Isaiah 7v14 and annunciation to Mary. And so Matthew quotes a virgin (parthenos) shall conceive and give birth. In other words, the OT text does not require a virginal conception. Joseph’s instinctive reaction was to assume the worst, but he shows an amazing generosity of spirit and concern for Mary and resolves to end the betrothal quietly to spare her public disgrace. The angel intervenes, appearing to him in a dream and reassures him that the conception has been through the Holy Spirit rather than through relations with another man.
Jesus genealogy: Luke does not say that Mary is descended from David…but it is evident that Jesus was regarded by Joseph and others as his own (adopted) son and thus a descendent of the Royal house from which the expected messiah was to come
A Radical interpretation? In Luke 1.48 in Mary’s response to her situation is expressed in the familiar words of the ‘Magnificat’ in which she expresses her trust in God who has regard for the ‘lowly’ (Greek tapeinosin) state of his servant. The same word tapeinosin is used to describe her state of ‘humiliation’ or even ‘degradation’ after the rape of Tamar in the Septuagint (Greek) version of the Old Testament. Thus a possible reading of Mary’s response is ‘despite what has happened she knows that God has been aware of her ‘humiliated’ or even ‘degraded’ state, but through the Holy Spirit God will come upon her to redeem the and the child she will bear will have the Lords blessing will be special and important and God will act in the life of this child
The Holy Spirit and Gods’ overshadowing’ The promise is made to Mary that ‘the Holy Spirit will ‘come upon you’ (v.35). See also Jesus’ promise to his disciples before Pentecost of ‘power from on high’ (Luke 24.49) in Acts 1v8. This indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit acting in power. The lin with Pentecost is clear. Mary is a supreme example of what happens when God is at work by his grace to do what we cannot do by ourselves. Christian belief is about one particular person through whom Israel’s God made his personal appearance in history. Neither Luke nor Matthew suggest that Jesus’ conception is the most important thing. Paul never mentions once that there had been anything unusual about Jesus conception or birth. It was not an issue then and need not be now. The most important happenings for Paul were Jesus’ death and resurrection.
What kind of Kingdom? Luke 1 v 32-33 2 Samuel 7.14; Psalm 2.7; Micah 4.7 and 5.25; Isaiah 9.6-7 and 11.1ff are open to wide interpretation but provided a basis for Jewish messianic expectations.
In Matthew’s gospel King Herod saw the birth of the ‘messiah’ as a serious challenge to his power and took immediate action. The popular acclamation in Matthew as Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time Hosanna to the Son of David (long live the king) was a serious political statement as to how Jesus and his ‘kingdom’ was seen by the people saw Jesus as the popular Messiah. This was also a serious political challenge to Rome - after all Caesar claimed to be Lord’ and puppet king Herod soon sought to eliminate any rivals as he ordered the killing of all males under the age of 2 in the Bethlehem area (see Mathew 2.13)
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion