I read recently an article in a magazine put out by the denomination that I am a part of that talks about “biblical womanhood.” The concept of “biblical womanhood” states that women are not to have a large part in church or faith organizations. Their “role” is to a silent participant and confine themselves to more “domestic” roles than leadership. The interesting thing is that there is not much “biblical” proof for it. And even Paul himself celebrated and appreciated the women who made up the leadership in many of the house churches that his journeys resulted in. And it seems quite fitting that Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth brings forth verses that celebrate women’s involvement in the Divine’s plan and mission in the world.
From 1 Samuel 2:1, “Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.” Her young Samuel became the prophet Samuel because she released her son to be raised in the temple. And Samuel championed young David whose line the Messiah came out of. The psalmist also records the Divine’s attention to women, blessing them with hope and a future. The ninth verse of Psalms 113 says, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!” This is true of Hannah and Elizabeth.
When Mary found herself with child, she did not run off to the synagogue – for what help could she expect there?
“In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1:39 – 45)
In the great rush to claim leadership in religious groups of Christian persuasion, it is forgotten that a woman first nurtured that which would become the greatest source of faith. The theological logic goes that women are fit “only” for giving birth and keeping a household running – no small task, beloved reader! But women are just as fit and capable for greater things as men. The Jewish faith, actually, has its ground roots in the home rather than in a temple or synagogue. And it is that background that Jesus grew up. Perhaps it was Mary who taught him the spirit of the law that Jesus said he came to fulfill.
“And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” “(Verses 46 – 55)
I have over the years speculated as to whether Mary spoke these word, or some writer of the gospel of Luke placed them in her mouth. Mary’s actions in accepting this role in life, giving birth far from home, and raising Jesus say much more about her than just these words.
“And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son.” (Verses 56 – 57)
Elizabeth also had a vital role, raising the herald of Jesus’ ministry. Does it occur to you, beloved reader, how it must have weighed and tested these women’s heart to raise a very beloved child, and then release that child to the Divine’s purpose? What faith, devotion, and love for/of the Divine?
“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;” (Romans 12:9-16b)