Blessed Among Women

Luke 1:39-45

I have a confession – I watched some of the Oscars show last weekend. But before the actual Oscars started, there was the “Red Carpet” show. Each of the most famous people was pulled aside for the cameras so that all of America could critique each female’s gown and jewels. The interviewer would say, “So tell me who you are wearing?” To which the women would say some name of a designer and whatever company loaned her jewels for the evening. Maybe you get to have the dress for free if you advertise for them. I recognized very few of the designer names. But all of it made me uncomfortable; it was so shallow. These great actors were there because of their artistic work but America was invited to tweet critiques of their clothes! I am sorry, but I think America cares about more than that and shouldn’t we have some respect for their work? Are there no social rules of reverence at that event? Jennifer Lawrence, a KY actor, earned my respect by the way she replied to a question about her process of getting ready for the Oscars. She said, “I took a shower, put on my dress and put on some make-up.” She was there to win best Actress and was not going to lower herself to ridiculous questions.

And then the awards show started. It made the shallow red carpet show appear reverent.  Seth MacFarlane made joke after joke at the expense of someone else – and mostly women. His jokes reminded me that women are still discriminated against. It reminded me that we still make less than men in every single job and career even when we are more educated and qualified. Seth said to women everywhere that we don’t matter except to look at and then only when we are thin and sexy.

Seth MacFarlane made a joke at the expense of the youngest nominee EVER for an Oscar. Evidently no female is too young for Seth MacFarlane to disgrace. He made a joke at the expense of singer Adele because of her weight. He sang an entire song about boobs. He joked about actresses who lost weight due to the flu saying they looked good. He said that it does not matter when we can’t understand women who have accents – if they look good. He joked that one actress had been an exotic dancer and he even made a joke about domestic violence. His introductions of women over the course of the night were all about how they looked: “Please welcome the lovely,” “the beautiful.” —

It is 2013, the 50th anniversary of book The Feminine Mystic which sparked the women’s movement of the 1960’s and Seth MacFarlane can’t make a joke without insulting women? “Blessed are YOU among women” will never be said about Seth MacFarlane.  —

I have never been on the red carpet but I have been in the presence of a few famous people. When our children were young, my husband worked for the Governor of KY.  That job brought with it many receptions, dinners and even some balls with men and women in the highest political offices in our state. John-Mark even had audience with some people in the highest political offices in our nation, including the President. At events with the dignitaries, I had to pay attention to the social norms so that I would make a faux pas. With John-Mark’s guidance, I used proper titles when speaking with the dignitaries, and I tried to show deference with my body language and words.

Outside of the Oscars, every culture has social norms and first century Palestine was no exception. Women were not to approach men outside of their family, young adults were to defer to their elders, children were not respected,  and low income people were to acknowledge the superiority of anyone with more money and power.

Elizabeth was someone to be respected. She was the daughter and wife of a priest. She was an older woman of some prominence. Mary, on the other hand, was young and ordinary. Outside of servants and children, there was no one in society who would be required to show respect to Mary.

Now Luke was careful with his words. No passage, indeed no word should be overlooked. Paul includes everything for a reason.

Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands.”

She was in a hurry, maybe because she wanted to know if her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant like the angel said. The highlands are ranges of hills, the southern portion includes the Judean Hills, on which Jerusalem is built. These are steep, rocky hills covered with trees and wildflowers.

Mary entered Zechariah’s home...” It was not considered Zechariah and Elizabeth’s home because women could not own property – it was Zechariah’s home. So we immediately see that social customs are being honored. Mary knows the power structure and her place in it; we can be sure that she gave Elizabeth the respect that was due her.

“…and greeted Elizabeth.”We can imagine, in the traditional Hebrew greeting, Mary bowing with the palms of her hands together, saying, “Shalom Aleikhem,” “Peace to you.” —But this was no ordinary greeting of two relatives; this was the voice of the Holy Spirit. And then come the blessings from two people who were NOT in the blessing business.

Blessings were given by priests. Any blessing, in this house particularly, should have come from a priest. Priests were the ones who were to bless and priests were exclusively male. Lay men and women, whether they were young or old, received blessings. Even the daughters of priests, even the wives of priests did not give blessings and certainly blessings did not come from teenage girls. But on this visit, it was through the greeting of Mary that blessings came. Under the Spirits inspiration, Elizabeth prophetically proclaims that the younger, ordinary Mary, in fact, surpasses her. Elizabeth defied social custom and even called Mary, “the mother of my Lord.”

Without being told, Elizabeth already knows what readers just found out. —Mary has been specially chosen by God to bear a child that Elizabeth identified as her Lord.

Kyrios, “Lord” has already been used many times in this chapter and each time, as a title for God:

Verse 6 – “They were blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments; Verse 9 – the Lord’s sanctuary; Verse 11 – An angel of the Lord; Verse  15 – he will be great in the Lord’s eyes; Verse 16 – the Lord their God; Verse 25 – This is the Lord’s doing – you get the picture.

Kyrios is so prominent in the Gospel of Luke, there have been articles written about it and even an entire book has been published on this word as used in the Gospel of Luke. It is called, Early Narrative Christology: The Lord in the Gospel of Luke.

Kyrios, Lord God is working and moving. Social conventions no longer apply when the Lord’s presence is acknowledged. Elizabeth, with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, turns the social table, showing respect to Mary and blessing her above all women and blessing the fruit of her womb.

Mary, with the help of Kyrios in her womb blessed Elizabeth and John by filling them with the Holy Spirit. And then Elizabeth blessed Mary and her baby. Poor Zechariah missed all of the blessing action!

Isn’t it interesting that Elizabeth did not say, “Blessed are you among people?” This would have been a true statement. But instead, she said, “Blessed are you among women.”Did Elizabeth think only women would be blessed by Mary because, of course, women could not bless men? —

Was it because women had been burdened under Eve’s curse in the Garden of Eden? Elizabeth did use the word “fruit of your womb” that could help us remember the curse of the “forbidden fruit.” The fruit of Mary’s womb would forgive the sin of the fruit of Eve.

Or was it that women were second-class citizens and Elizabeth understood what this situation would mean for women. Her young cousin, Mary was the mother of Kyrios – the mother of God! This was big – Elizabeth was shouting by this point, “Blessed are you among women!” Women would receive the blessing of spiritual liberation that would have social and political implications for centuries to come. “Blessed are you among women!”

And so I ask, “have we blessed her?” Women have come a long way and have blessed Mary doing so. In most countries, we are no longer considered property, we can vote and own land and gain wealth. Women hold prominent offices, can be ordained in many denominations and can go into armed combat. But yet Seth MacFarland and others like him continue to “put attractive women in a pretty box to look at” while discarding the rest of women and women allow it.

Fred Craddock is a Disciple Bible Scholar and has been named as one of the greatest preachers of our time. One sermon that I heard him preach years ago was titled, “I miss Mary.” Through his amazing preaching style, Fred Craddock, lead us through Christian History where basically Protestants ditched Mary in order to NOT seem Catholic. If the Catholic Church honors Mary, we will do the opposite.

And haven’t we done a good job of not being Catholic? We only bring Mary out at Christmas time to sit, bathed in light, in a barn, looking down on her infant. And we Protestants and have missed out. Mary, a young, ordinary girl from no import, was the mother of Kyrios – she was the mother of GOD!

And Mary did not wear a fancy designer dress or diamonds from Tiffany’s. She was not gorgeous and no one sang about her boobs. Mary should be remembered by the church as a liberator, of women and of men, and for that reason, she should be studied and adored.

I missed out not having Mary as I grew up, but I am now blessed by her now, every time I read and study her and I hope that I bless her through my life and my words that hopefully build up and not degrade.

In the section after our passage today Mary responds to Elizabeth’s words. Mary says, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” She sings a revolutionary song where the proud and mighty are brought down and rich are sent away.

Mary imagines and proclaims that through Kyrios, everything would be turned upside down and women and men would be free.

May our lives be a blessing to Mary and to her son, Jesus the Christ.