Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Annunciation to St. Mary, Great Lent Week 5
Volume 7 No. 405 March 24, 2017
IV. Lectionary Reflections: Annunciation to St. Mary

Annunciation Homily, Looking Back Two Centuries Later

by Pope John Paul II

Delivered on Saturday, March 25, 2000 at Nazareth, Israel

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word" (Angelus Prayer).

1. 25th March in the year 2000, the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Year of the Great Jubilee: on this day the eyes of the whole Church turn to Nazareth. I have longed to come back to the town of Jesus, to feel once again, in contact with this place, the presence of the woman of whom Saint Augustine wrote: "He chose the mother he had created; he created the mother he had chosen" (Sermo 69, 3, 4). Here it is especially easy to understand why all generations call Mary blessed (cf. Lk 2:48).

2. We are gathered to celebrate the great mystery accomplished here two thousand years ago. The Evangelist Luke situates the event clearly in time and place:

"In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. . . The virgin's name was Mary." (Luke 1:26-27)

But in order to understand what took place in Nazareth two thousand years ago, we must return to the Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. That text enables us, as it were, to listen to a conversation between the Father and the Son concerning God's purpose from all eternity.

"You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation prepared a body for me. You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin. Then I said. . . ? God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will'" (Hebrews 10:5-7).

The Letter to the Hebrews is telling us that, in obedience to the Father's will, the Eternal Word comes among us to offer the sacrifice which surpasses all the sacrifices offered under the former Covenant. His is the eternal and perfect sacrifice which redeems the world.

The divine plan is gradually revealed in the Old Testament, particularly in the words of the Prophet Isaiah which we have just heard:

"The Lord himself will give you a sign. It is this: the virgin is with child and will soon give birth to a child whom she will call Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

Emmanuel - God with us. In these words, the unique event that was to take place in Nazareth in the fullness of time is foretold, and it is this event that we are celebrating here with intense joy and happiness.

3. Our Jubilee Pilgrimage has been a journey in spirit, which began in the footsteps of Abraham, "our father in faith" (Roman Canon; cf. Rom 4:11-12). That journey has brought us today to Nazareth, where we meet Mary, the truest daughter of Abraham. It is Mary above all others who can teach us what it means to live the faith of "our father". In many ways, Mary is clearly different from Abraham; but in deeper ways "the friend of God" (cf. Is 41:8) and the young woman of Nazareth are very alike.

Both receive a wonderful promise from God. Abraham was to be the father of a son, from whom there would come a great nation. Mary is to be the Mother of a Son who would be the Messiah, the Anointed One. "Listen!", Gabriel says, " You are to conceive and bear a son. . . The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. . . and his reign will have no end" (Lk 1:31-33).

For both Abraham and Mary, the divine promise comes as something completely unexpected. God disrupts the daily course of their lives, overturning its settled rhythms and conventional expectations. For both Abraham and Mary, the promise seems impossible. Abraham's wife Sarah was barren, and Mary is not yet married: "How can this come about", she asks, "since I am a virgin?" (Lk 1:34).

4. Like Abraham, Mary is asked to say yes to something that has never happened before. Sarah is the first in the line of barren wives in the Bible who conceive by God's power, just as Elizabeth will be the last. Gabriel speaks of Elizabeth to reassure Mary: "Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son" (Lk 1:36).

Like Abraham, Mary must walk through darkness, in which she must simply trust the One who called her. Yet even her question, "How can this come about?", suggests that Mary is ready to say yes, despite her fears and uncertainties. Mary asks not whether the promise is possible, but only how it will be fulfilled. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when finally she utters her fiat: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me" (Lk 1:38). With these words, Mary shows herself the true daughter of Abraham, and she becomes the Mother of Christ and Mother of all believers.

5. In order to penetrate further into the mystery, let us look back to the moment of Abraham's journey when he received the promise. It was when he welcomed to his home three mysterious guests (cf. Gen 18:1-15), and offered them the adoration due to God: tres vidit et unum adoravit. That mysterious encounter foreshadows the Annunciation, when Mary is powerfully drawn into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Through the fiat that Mary uttered in Nazareth, the Incarnation became the wondrous fulfillment of Abraham's encounter with God. So, following in the footsteps of Abraham, we have come to Nazareth to sing the praises of the woman "through whom the light rose over the earth" (Hymn Ave Regina Caelorum).

6. But we have also come to plead with her. What do we, pilgrims on our way into the Third Christian Millennium, ask of the Mother of God? Here in the town which Pope Paul VI, when he visited Nazareth, called "the school of the Gospel", where "we learn to look at and to listen to, to ponder and to penetrate the deep and mysterious meaning of the very simple, very humble and very beautiful appearing of the Son of God" (Address in Nazareth, 5 January 1964), I pray, first, for a great renewal of faith in all the children of the Church. A deep renewal of faith: not just as a general attitude of life, but as a conscious and courageous profession of the Creed: "Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est."

In Nazareth, where Jesus "grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and men" (Lk 2:52), I ask the Holy Family to inspire all Christians to defend the family against so many present-day threats to its nature, its stability and its mission. To the Holy Family I entrust the efforts of Christians and of all people of good will to defend life and to promote respect for the dignity of every human being.

To Mary, the Theotókos, the great Mother of God, I consecrate the families of the Holy Land, the families of the world.

In Nazareth where Jesus began his public ministry, I ask Mary to help the Church everywhere to preach the "good news" to the poor, as he did (cf. Lk 4:18). In this "year of the Lord's favour", I ask her to teach us the way of humble and joyful obedience to the Gospel in the service of our brothers and sisters, without preferences and without prejudices.

"O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen" (Memorare).


Mary - Surrendering to God

by Sr. Maria Barrett

Today is the feast of the Annunciation. On this great day, the eternal Word of God stooped down from heaven, was made flesh, and came to dwell among us. In His great goodness, in the wise folly of His boundless love for us, God gave Himself to us, humbling Himself and taking the form of a slave so that we who had been conquered by sin and evil might in Him be made their conquerors.

Yet today is not called the feast of the Incarnation, but rather the feast of the Annunciation. The great mystery of the incarnation was made known to us, through the message of an angel. God chose to work this marvel of love through the Mary's surrender to His word. Let us ponder this event: Gabriel announces the joyful news to Mary: "you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end."

All this is beyond Mary's power to accomplish, but she does not become flustered or assume that she needs to do all that is humanly possible towards achieving it; rather, with perfect confidence in God, she asks how He wants to bring it about. The answer reveals new marvels: Mary is to be not simply the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, but also the bearer of her God, the marriage-chamber of God and man, and the ark of the new covenant. It staggers the mind: that uncreated Wisdom should take one's flesh and become man. Yet all this is to be God's work, through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

And so she responds very simply. What God wants of her is beyond her, and He wishes to bring it about in her through His own action. All that remains for her to do is to surrender herself completely to whatever He wants to do: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word." Simple words, yet of great power, for they allow God to act as He wills. Simple words, yet not easy to say and less easy to live, surrendering the comfort of having something she can get done, of having any focus other than what God is asking of her in the moment.

Mary is the great contemplative, the model for all contemplatives. What God asks of us is also beyond any ability we have, and can only come about as a result of His action. Let us ask Mary to help us live as her true children, ever more surrendered to God, ever more focused on God even in the practical daily things of life that God asks of us in the moment. Let us ask her to help us pray those words, "be it done unto me according to thy word," and to truly allow God to do with us what He likes. We know that what He, in His great love, wants to do with us is better than anything we can imagine or achieve: He wants to conform us to Himself, remaking us after the pattern of Christ, the Divine Word, so that through us He might draw others to Himself, and that together we might be united to Him forever!

Source: Dominican Nuns of Summit, New Jersey

V. Lectionary Reflections: Kfiftho-Crippled Woman

God, Have Mercy

by Prof. Will Willimon

Gospel Reading: Luke 13:10-17

"Most people believe that God is. The Real Question: does God care about us?"

Something like 90% of all Americans believe in God. Most everyone believes God exists. "Does God exist?" is not the question. The tougher question is, "Does God care about me?"

What sort of God have we got? Vengeful? Judgmental? Angry? Detached? Unconcerned?

Enter, Jesus.

Here's an answer: In the middle of one of his teaching sessions, Jesus sees a woman who has been bent over and crippled for nearly two decades. Without the woman even asking for his healing touch, Jesus notices her, calls out to her, and tells her so that she is free from her ailment.

Jesus doesn't say or do much of anything to heal the sick woman; he doesn't have to. It's as if compassionate, merciful, healing is just who Jesus is. It's as if the moment Jesus shows up; the mercifulness begins to overflow.

And though the religious leaders bellyache about Jesus doing such bodily healing on such a spiritual day, the gaping crowd "rejoices" (verse 17) at Jesus' revelation of who God really is. God is merciful. This is God?

Jesus: The Truth About God

Christians believe that Jesus is the whole about God. When we look at Jesus in action, we really believe that this is who God is and what God does. For some (the sick woman) that's good news. For others (the religious authorities), the conviction, that Jesus is the whole truth about God is bad news.

God? "God is high and lifted up, distant, great, all powerful but very far away," most people seem to think. Listen to some of the words people use to describe God, big, abstract, high sounding words: omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, immortal. The sum of these words is this: God is a long way from here and, whatever God is doing, God is not doing that with us.

Then we met Jesus, the truth about who God is and what God is up to in the world. One of Jesus' names was Emmanuel, "God With Us." Jesus is God up close and personal; God as God really is rather than whom we had imagined God to be; God (if you happen to be a religious authority like me!) too close for comfort. And one of the main things we learned about God after watching God With Us in action was this: God is merciful.

I know someone who says, "I spent the first thirty years of my life thinking God was mad at me for something. Then I saw Jesus."

Jesus could have passed by that suffering woman that day, could have preached to her some sweet sermon on bearing up under misfortune. He could have averted his eyes from her and focused instead upon the well-heeled and more attractive people, the defenders of scripture, the keepers of religious rules. Jesus didn't do any of that. What he did was to feel her pain and to respond to her in mercy.

The Hardest Question

One reason why we do business with the Bible is to submit our preconceptions and misperceptions about God to the facts about God in Jesus Christ. In my experience, when people open up the Bible, one over-riding question is on their minds: Who is God? That question is often related to an even more pressing question:

Does God care?

About The Author:

Prof. Will Willimon is Professor of the Practice of Christian Ministry at Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC where he tries to get future pastors to ask hard questions. Will is the author of many books. His latest book is a novel (!) about a church, its clergy, and members, Incorporation, from Cascade Press, Eugene, Oregon.

Source: The Hardest Question

The Day of Your Deliverance Is Decreed

by Jon Bloom

She hobbled into the synagogue to hear the healing rabbi. Hoping against hope. You see, she "had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself" (Luke 13:10-11).

Eighteen years! How many of her tears had God collected in his bottle (Psalm 56:8)? How many of her prayers in his bowl (Revelation 5:8)?

Eighteen years of suffering. The slow burn of chronic pain had worn on her soul. She had suffered the loss of capacities she once took for granted. She had suffered the indignities of others' pity and disgust. She had suffered their suspicion that her body was bent under the weight of divine judgment.

Did she know that her affliction was Satanic (Luke 13:16)?

God knew. He knew all the ways she suffered, better than she did. And God had long permitted Satan to afflict her. Long, at least, for time-bound creatures whose mortal lives are measured in decades, not millennia (2 Peter 3:8).

Why? We rarely are given answers to such questions.

But we get a rare answer in this woman's story. For suddenly, in that little synagogue, the grace of God engulfs her in the compassion of God the Son:

When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your disability." And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight. (Luke 13:12-13)

Just like that. Eighteen years of bondage and with a look, a word, and a touch, the sea of her suffering parts. She has her exodus. This was the day God had decreed her deliverance.

God's Compassion Is Patient

All those weary years of grief just to find that her pain had been predestined to play a part in revealing Messiah to Israel. God had not been slow to show his compassion; he had been patient (2 Peter 3:9). Was it worth it? "She glorified God" (Luke 13:13).

God's Compassion Is Purposeful

Jesus' compassion and this woman's pain also had had a far-reaching purpose. If you, like this woman, discovered that your seemingly meaningless affliction turned out to be infused with meaning beyond what you imagined possible and resulted in joy inexpressible and filled with glory (1 Peter 1:8) for you and a multitude of others, would it be worth it? Sit down and catch your breath. It is. It's promised to you. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

God's Compassion Is Powerful

And his compassion was powerful. When the synagogue ruler objected to such mercy as Sabbath-breaking, he found himself rebuked by the Lord of the Sabbath:

You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:14-17)

Not all the adversaries that were shamed were seen. Yes, the ruler of the synagogue and likely some Pharisees were humiliated. But Satan far more. This woman had been his captive and he had been disarmed and overthrown with a compassionate word. A horrible harbinger of an approaching defeat he was fighting like hell to thwart.

And it was a holy harbinger of an approaching final deliverance for all who love the Lord's appearing:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

In this age, it is not the tears or mourning or crying or pain or death that is strange. "The whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). What's strange is their defeat.

Your Deliverance Is Coming

Today you may say with Job, "my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning" (Job 23:2). You may say with Moses, "Return, O Lord! How long? Have pity on your servants. . . Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil" (Psalm 90:13-15).

But you need to know that, like this disabled woman, the patient, purposeful, powerful compassion of God in Christ for you is approaching like a relentless torrent. The day of your deliverance is decreed. It will come with a sudden joy. Every adversary will be shamed. Every tear will be wiped away. And the days he will make you glad will drown the days you have seen evil into glorious and happy oblivion (Romans 8:18).

© 2013 Desiring God

Free Sunday

by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm

Gospel: Lk. 13:10-17

The words "free" and "Sunday" haven't typically been associated with one another. Except maybe in some commercial on TV trying to lure crowds into a "really big sale." But for those of us who have lived in and around the church, we don't tend to think of Sunday as "free." We tend to think of it as a day when we "have" to go to church. Maybe even Sunday School and church. In rare cases these days, maybe we "have" to go to church in the evening as well. We talk about worship as an obligation, as a burden, as something we "have" to do. But if we were really "free," there are other things we'd much rather do on Sunday than go to church.

Of course, you and I both know that lots of people these days view Sunday as a "free" day. But it hasn't always been that way. From long before the days of Jesus, the command to "honor the Sabbath" was essential to Jewish faith and life.[2] And one of the ways they believed they honored the Sabbath was by not doing any work. And so the Jewish leaders developed a wide variety of restrictions about what you could and could not do on the Sabbath as a practical way of obeying the command. The Sabbath was a day that was anything but "free." Unfortunately, the Christian observance of a "Sabbath" on Sunday has been just as restrictive.

As it was with many things, Jesus shook things up quite a bit regarding honoring the Sabbath. Think about it: it would seem that honoring the Sabbath is supposed to be about honoring God. But as many prophets have attested throughout the ages, you can't honor God from some sense of obligation. It has to come from the heart. Beyond that, it would seem that all the restrictions on what you can and can't do on this day takes the focus off from God and places it on keeping the rules. And it's not that we're "keeping" the commands to honor God. We're just keeping the rules for the sake of being able to say we kept the rules.

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus breaks a major rule for keeping the Sabbath: he healed someone who was not in any imminent danger. And as you can tell from the Synagogue leader's response, this was something one just didn't do. But notice that when the leader objects, he doesn't say anything directly to or about Jesus. Rather he rebukes the woman: "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day" (Lk. 13:14). And yet the story doesn't indicate that she came to the synagogue on that day to be cured. She came for the same reason she always came: to worship God.[3]

I think it's important to notice the difference between this unnamed woman and the Synagogue leader who was an important man in the community. When Jesus set her free from her ailment, [4] she immediately began praising God. It seems to me that there's no better way to honor God on the Sabbath than by engaging in some heart-felt praise to God! By contrast, the Synagogue leader with his obsessive rule-keeping thought that his stingy complaining was somehow a more fitting way to honor the Sabbath. He may have been keeping the rules, but his resentful behavior doesn't strike me as something that brought honor to God.[5]

This episode isn't the only time the Gospels report Jesus clashing with the Jewish authorities over the Sabbath. Time after time, rather than following their restrictions, he honored God on the Sabbath by putting into practice God's mercy and compassion in the lives of people who were suffering and in need.[6] And they always accused him of dishonoring God by violating the Sabbath. In response, he tried to point out the hypocrisy of their obsession with rules. In this case he reminded them that they would free their livestock for feeding and watering on the Sabbath, but they refused human beings the chance to be free from their suffering. He insisted that practicing mercy and compassion were not only permitted on the day set aside to honor God, in fact they were positively required.[7] In contrast to the Synagogue leader's complaint, he insists that this daughter of Abraham "ought" to be set free on the Sabbath day (Lk. 13:16).[8]

There's no better way to honor God on the day we set aside for worship than to follow Jesus in practicing God's mercy and compassion--especially toward those who are suffering and in need. There's no better way to honor God on the day of worship than by setting people free from all that binds them--including setting them free from the stingy rules that we have used to reinforce the notion that they "have" to come to church. I don't believe God wants anyone to come to church because they think they "have" to. I think God is honored when people are set free like this woman--when that happens they not only want to praise God, it may be hard to keep them from it! I believe when you set people free, they will honor God on the Sabbath because they want to--because they cannot help but celebrate God's kindness and mercy and love.


[2] Cf. Joel B. Green, "Jesus and a Daughter of Abraham (Luke 13:10-17): Test Case for a Lucan Perspective on Jesus' Miracles" Catholic Biblical Quarterly 51 (Oct, 1989): 649.

[3] Cf. Fred Craddock, Luke, 170.

[4] Cf. Green, "Jesus and a Daughter of Abraham," 653-54, where he points out that the language associating her ailment with being "bound" by Satan is common in Luke's Gospel, and contributes to the them that Jesus' healing miracles are important demonstrations of the victory of God's Kingdom over the powers of evil that oppress people. Cf. similarly, John Nolland, Luke 9:21–18:34, 725; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4.2:224-225.

[5] Cf. Green, "Jesus and a Daughter of Abraham," 649: "What is central is that these loci of the sacred, Sabbath and synagogue, actually segregate this needy woman from divine help."

[6] Cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.2:232.

[7] Cf. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, 1011: "The episode is but another one in the Lucan Gospel in which Jesus is portrayed as stressing that the welfare of a human being takes precedence over even such religious obligations as the observance of the Sabbath." Cf. also Green, "Jesus and a Daughter of Abraham," 651; Craddock, Luke, 170; R. Alan Culpepper, "The Gospel of Luke," New Interpreters Bible IX:274; Barth, Dogmatics 4.2:226.

[8] Cf. Green, "Jesus and a Daughter of Abraham," 651, where he points out that "daughter of Abraham" is one of the ways in Luke's Gospel that Jesus refers to those who are "people in need of God's mercy, persons defined by others as existing outside the boundaries of God's chosen, yet the very people to whom God shows his fidelity and brings salvation."

© 2013 Alan Brehm


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