Today’s Gospel Story is what we call the Annunciation. A messenger of God tells Mary she is chosen for a special mission, to be the mother of the Messiah. God intervened in our human history and chose a brown-skinned unmarried teen age girl as the person who would help God make this happen. We process the Story through what is going on in our lives as we hear it. The majority report sees it as a nice story from long ago which, as most of what we see in the Gospels, doesn’t have much impact on how we live every day now. It remains just a nice idea from long ago. A question: could this be happening again? The minority report can disturb me if I let it, which I want to. There is little connection with the lives of people today. We don’t pay attention to the pregnant women who, in many ways like Mary, are wandering and looking for a safe place to give birth and raise their families, hindered by ferocious bombings, dangerous border-crossings, devastating fear, homeless for any number of reasons in any number of places, shot and even killed by random gunfire in supposedly safe cities around the world and in our own country and state.
Throughout history, and today, religious systems have put together codes of conduct that keep things neat , orderly, and predictable. Repeatedly God has ignored them and chosen “unsuitable” persons for missions to help with God’s work. In this Story God ignores the social standards that civil and religious systems had established and chose a most unlikely person for a mission that changed our world then and is changing it now. Can we even imagine her courage and trust? Can we be open to see a parallel with our world, our city, our church today? While it is offensive to some to think of the coming of Jesus in anything but pious religious terms, can we say with any true certainty, that Mary is not with us today, or that God is not present in these suffering and often heroic women? Am I telling God how to be God again? Do I have all the answers here?
Among other things this Story shows that each of us as we are is special to God, regardless what the rest of us might think, and capable both of the greatest good and the greatest evil, which I know from experience. Each of us as we are is important and necessary. A question for me is while I accept this on an intellectual and theoretical level, do I believe it on an operational level? Do I live it, or just talk about it?
What I find scary is systems, both political and religious, are still using people for their own ends. Civil officials are passing laws that will get them votes and money, curry favor, and help them keep their jobs. Ecclesiastical systems are acting to make things neat and orderly, keep people in line and maintain clerical control, excluding and judging entire classes and genders of people. Both show little consideration for the lives of the people they would control. Francis said, “The lives of people and the world around us are, and will always remain, superior to ideas and theories”. How do I respond to that? How do I hear God’s messenger, “you have found favor with God” spoken to people I don’t care that much about, or even spoken to me?
How many women around the world today, in Ukraine, at our borders, Gaza and Israel, many other places, are suffering because people who do not know them are causing things to happen that are making their lives miserable and dangerous? How many young women of Mary’s age wander the streets, homeless, live in violent relationships, for any number of reasons, while people uninvolved and in safe places, like me, with glib comments are pushing the blame off on somebody else, simply washing my hands of any responsibility and going on with my safe and often comfortable life? Is this Story having any implications for me as I celebrate Eucharist these next few days? Can I say and mean it that Real Presence is Jesus present in the assembly and in all of us as we gather together, and in those whom we lift up in prayer. Am I really God’s servant willing to go where God calls me and do what God calls me to do? Is all this real or a figment of my guilty imagination? In my younger days I got my hands dirty, at times bloody, and could help unmarried pregnant girls, and girls in violent relationships, thanks to wonderful families and others. Knowing them and their stories I’ve learned not to judge, just accept and help them. God happens in people everywhere.
Much of this cannot be talked about because our lives are so polarized politically and religiously. There do not seem to be universal truths any more. What is “right” or “true” is often determined by our emotional position in politics and in church life, who we follow, where we live, or what we believe. The political notions of gerrymandering and the opposing religious notions of Francis as a good pope, or priests blessing persons in same sex unions, are very clear examples of all this. The primary role of a system is to protect itself and its privileges however it has to, as is happening today.
God’s messenger comes to a girl at prayer, open God. Can I live this way in my day and time? Am I called to do something to help in these difficult and harmful situations? While I might prefer to just stay safe in my conformable surroundings, dare I ask Jesus to take me where he wants me to go, to meet who he wants me to meet, to say what he wants me to say, do what he wants me to do, and keep me out of his way, and mean all this? Do I want to? Celebrating the events of this Story is not just a romantic dream of a past I never knew. It may be a disturbing call to trust, to travel, to act, certainly not to know or be safe, but to be open to mystery. As Mary knew, wandering and wondering. Just sayin . . .