Today’s readings got me thinking about reaction vs. response and about the difficult job of those messengers in the Bible who spoke for God. First there is Isaiah, human prophet, whose job was to warn people about coming destruction and then in the gospel “an angel of the Lord’ whose message was quite a bit more unbelievable – at least from my vantage point.
Nobody wants to hear bad news but if there seems to be a way out that involves God, it seems sensible to take the advice of the one bringing that message. I’m always surprised at what seems to be hubris on the part of Ahaz (but I would need to put it in context of the whole situation to be sure). When Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign from God, the king says, I will not ask; I will not tempt the Lord! Isaiah is clearly frustrated as he retorts, Is it enough for you to weary people; must you also weary my God? (IS 7: 10-14) In the end, he gives Ahaz the message anyway.
Then there’s Mary, whom we celebrate today as the one who heard the message that she was to be the mother of God in Jesus. I often think that the Scriptures are a bit like literary cliff notes: those wonderful summaries that high school and college students used to use (still do?) instead of reading the whole text of a book. I can’t imagine the conversation that Mary had with the angel being as brief as it appears in the gospel of Luke (1:26-38). Think about it. Some sort of presence appeared and gave this teenager the news that the Hebrew people had been awaiting for centuries. In the first place she must’ve been startled – but the angel sounded really kind, telling her not to be afraid, that God was favoring her, that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, was also the recipient of God’s favor…Still, it had to be a scary moment and she was clearly confused because she was a virgin so the only question that is recorded from her side of the conversation was about how this could possibly happen to her. Simple answer: God will take care of the details – so she said “Yes.”
The comparison is stark: a prophet’s message to a king who refuses to bow to the message and a young girl whose response to an unimaginable moment of God’s favor is wholehearted acquiescence because God is the center of her life. What does it call for? The first word that comes to me is humility and a close second is willingness.
The website of the US Bishops Conference has a video presentation for today that rivals the brevity of these exchanges and challenges our response. When I clicked on it, I was surprised that the only message was written across the screen on three frames – no talking, just one sentence about Mary and a question for us.
When the angel came to visit Mary, she trusted God to work in her life and through her actions. How do we respond to God’s work in our lives?