December 6, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The parallel annunciations in Luke’s Gospel

John F. Fink(Second of four columns)

Last week, we reflected on Matthew’s Gospel’s account of Jesus’ genealogy and his birth. This week, we’ll start to look at Luke’s Gospel, which uses early Christian traditions about the birth of both John the Baptist and Jesus, always making the point that Jesus is greater than John.

During this season of Advent, the Gospel readings at Mass tell us about John, placing him among figures from the Old Testament. His parents were aged, as were Abraham and Sarah when they had Isaac, or barren as was Hannah before God answered her prayers and she bore Samuel, or Manoah’s wife before she gave birth to Samson.

John’s father, Zechariah, is a priest of the division of Abijah, and his mother, Elizabeth, is from the tribe of Aaron. In Old Testament times, the priesthood was tied to the tribe of Levi and the sons of Aaron. So John, too, was a priest.

There are parallel annunciations in Luke’s Gospel—to the priest Zechariah and to the young girl Mary. The archangel Gabriel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will bear a child, and he tells Mary that she will.

In Zechariah’s case, Gabriel says that his son will be the messenger referred to by the prophet Malachi, “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me” (Mal 3:1), and “I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes” (Mal 3:23). Gabriel doesn’t say that John should be identified with Elijah, but that he will go before the Lord “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Lk 1:17)

In Mary’s case, Gabriel says that her son “will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father” (Lk 1:32). John will be the prophet preparing the people for the coming of the Son of God.

When Mary asks how this will happen since she doesn’t have a sexual relationship, Gabriel tells her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her. “Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:35).

With that knowledge, Mary accepts her role in salvation: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).

Luke then tells us about Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. This was no easy journey since the usual route for caravans from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and on to Ein Karem, was through Jericho, in order not to go through Samaria—about 120 miles, a trip of at least five days. Mary and Joseph’s later trip to Bethlehem was about the same distance.

When Mary encounters Elizabeth, John leapt in his mother’s womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Some theologians have taken that to indicate that both were thereby cleansed of original sin.

Elizabeth says to Mary, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45), in contrast to Zechariah’s disbelief, for which he was stricken dumb.

We are then given the story of John’s birth. †

Local site Links:

Like this story? Then share it!