Thursday, December 11, 2008

Elizabeth's Commitment

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending December 14, 2008

Scripture Text: Luke 1:39-45 (NRSV)

Luke 1:39-45
(39) In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, (40)where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. (41)When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (42)and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. (43)And why has this happened to me that the mother of my Lord comes to me? (44)For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. (45)And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

This lesson, like so many others, needs to be placed in historical context. For more than 500 years the people of Israel and Judea had lived in slavery or under a very oppressive ruler. There was little hope and their life was, for the most part, mundane and humbling. People went about their life, but there was little joy in the daily living. Luke puts a historical marker in when he references "In the days of King Herod of Judea." Herod had been appointed by Rome in 40 BC and he pleased Rome by being a very oppressive ruler of the Jews. He tried to keep the Jews happy by rebuilding Solomon's Temple, but he also had to extract the tax from those same people in order to keep Rome happy.

Years earlier the Prophet Zephaniah had written in his prophecy of 3:12-13; “For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord -- the remnant of Israel; they shall do no wrong and utter no lies". God had indeed left a remnant of lowly, humble servants; among them were Mary, her cousin Elizabeth and Elizabeth's husband, Zachariah. Luke tells us both Elizabeth and Zachariah were decedents of Abijah, who was a descendant of Aaron, and therefore of the priestly line.

This couple took the commitment to God and their responsibility to continue the priestly duties very seriously. Because of this we can assume, since this was Mary's cousin, that Jesus could also claim the priestly line as well as the Kingly line from David. Jesus would qualify for both priest and king.

I think it is important to remember that Zachariah was doing the Lord's work when he was confronted by the angel Gabriel, and was told of this special child that was growing in Elizabeth's womb. Zachariah was so shocked and because of his lack of faith, in believing Gabriel, he was struck dumb and unable to speak until after the birth of John. Even though Gabriel had said John would be filled with the spirit while still in the womb,imagine Elizabeth's surprise when he leaps inside of her at the appearance of Mary and the fetus of Jesus. No wonder Elizabeth, shouted "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” when Mary entered her home.

It's important to note that it is Elizabeth that pronounces the blessing on Mary. Mary was not on the same social or economic level as Elizabeth and Zachariah. Mary was lowlier than her cousin Elizabeth, yet Elizabeth pronounces a blessing on her. It reminds me of Abraham and Melchizedek when they met in the King's Valley in Genesis 14 and Abraham receives the blessing of Melchizedek and offers a tithe to him. Melchizedek knew Abraham was called by the "God most high."

Luke does not tell us why Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and share with her the visit of Gabriel. We can only assume because Elizabeth and Zachariah had also received a visit by this same angel and because Elizabeth and Zachariah were of the Levitical line she felt close to them, and knew she could share this heavenly news and not be ridiculed. She would in fact receive the very blessing Elizabeth gave her. It is amazing what happens when everyone involved are being obedient to God's call on their life. Mary receives the blessing and Elizabeth is blessed by giving birth to the one that would "make straight the path".

This lesson along with last week's lesson is about commitment. The question for us is also about commitment. How committed are we? Are we willing to seek out those than can help us make sense of an abrupt change in plans? Are we willing to put conventional thought aside and believe God has a plan for us? God has given us a commandment "Go and tell." as well as "Go and share.

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