In a post last year, I illustrated how from the account of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem as king, one can, through the free association of ideas gained from the lectionary readings, understand the relationship of that event to his subsequent suffering and death. The exercise actually helped me do two things: prepare the homily for Passion Sunday and give a bible lesson on Matthew’s account on Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. And ever since that time, I have been incorporating the same exercise in our cell group meetings. In fact, my pilot BEC cell group members found the process so helpful that there isn’t a bible session with them where I don’t ask: “Which events or passages in the Bible remind you of this idea?”
The Feast of the Annunciation
Today is the feast of the Annunciation and I found the readings (click on the above image for a bigger view) to be rich in resonances that I allowed my mind free rein to gather in all the scriptural passages echoed in those readings for contemplating the mystery. Augustine compared the work of the memory to a researcher who seeks information from a card catalogue. A key word or an idea is linked to another such that when one is able to retrieve the right idea, all others that are linked to it are drawn along with it. Modern psychologists call this “association of ideas”: a particular fragrance can trigger a memory that one has associated with it and vice versa. The same also works for the mysteries of the faith and scriptural passages. The elements of the faith are so connected with one another that the acceptance of one mystery of the faith (e.g. Jesus both God and man) helps one understand another (e.g. Mary is theotokos). The Church calls this the “analogia fidei“. The readings for the feast of the Annunciation have connections fixed by the liturgy and by two thousand years of Church teaching. And the kind of links that one can find attached to the readings can go different ways depending on whether one would look at them from a “Christmassy” perspective (the Incarnation as a key) or from a Lenten one (with emphasis on obedience and listening to God). I chose the second possibility.
The Readings: Isaiah and Luke
The Old Testament reading from Isaiah 7:10-14 (the prophecy about the Immanuel) is closely linked to Luke’s account of the Annunciation to Mary (Luke 1:26-38). The prophecy about the virgin who will conceive a son whose name will be God-with-us points to the mystery of the Incarnation and the Virgin Mary’s role in it. This relationship takes on a special coloring during Advent where the typological sense is formulated along the lines of the continuing Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity in the life of the Church. During Lent, however, where the emphasis is on the carrying of the cross and the closer following of the Lord, the Isaianic prophecy becomes an emphasis on faith (King Ahab putting his trust on the Lord rather than being afraid of hostile forces) and Mary’s “fiat”, her commitment to constantly make her life-direction agree with God’s desire. This cuaresmatic nuance is emphasized by the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 10:4-10.
The reading from Hebrews
Hebrews 10:4-10 is an exegesis of Psalm 39(40)7-9 explaining how Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (the body he immolated) makes animal sacrifices superfluous. The once-and-for-all sacrifice of Jesus the High Priest was an act of obedience that was more pleasing to God than the blood of goats and rams (v.5.10). The text is composed so as to dramatize the pre-existent Christ’s presentation of Himself as the one who will carry out the will of God: “Behold, I have come — as is written in a scroll of a book about me — to do your will, O my God”. And he will fulfill God’s desire with the body that was prepared for him.
This “dramatic-literary presentation” of the pre-existent Christ stepping forward to carry out God’s plan of salvation in a body, when read alongside Luke’s account of the Annunciation, readily gives the suggestion that the “body prepared” is the one in the womb of Mary, whose obedience to God’s word is in syntony with that of her Son. The “descent” of the pre-existent Christ implied in the once-and-for-all sacrifice that is fulfilled by the offering of his body (v. 10) on the cross reminds one of the hymn in Philippians 2:6-11. Here, “from equality with God” (v.6), Jesus “descends” by emptying himself (v.7), taking on the “form” of a human being who was obedient as a slave even to the point of death (v.8). Thus, from the event of the Annunciation, one is led to the cross. From there, one can go on to different directions. For example, one can look at Mary and see how she confirmed her “fiat” daily by being mother to her Son from his birth up to his death on the cross. The image of the Mater Dolorosa and her seven sorrows is the Annunciation carried out to its consequences. Mary at the foot of the cross is her “fiat” joined with that of her Son. I however chose to follow the line given in the letter to the Hebrews with the key idea “body”. It led me to a recent Gospel reading, John 2:13-22 (Sunday III, Lent B).
The reading about the Cleansing of the Temple
There are two elements in the gospel selection from John that resonates well with the selection from Hebrews: the quotation from Psalm 69:9, “Zeal for your house consumes me” (v.17) and the evangelist’s commentary on Jesus’ words about the Temple (v. 21). The event of the cleansing of the Temple in John is presented as part of gospel’s “replacement” thematic that sees Jesus taking the place of the institutions of Israel. The disciples who witness Jesus’ behavior in the temple were reminded of the psalm bespeaking of a man who suffers persecution because of his fidelity to the God’s will. The “house of God” in this psalm refers to all that matters to God (see vv. 8-12): it covers not only the Temple (if Psalm 69 expresses a sentiment coming from the time of Jeremiah) and the acts of piety it stood for. Finally, the spirit of the psalm quotation extends to verse 21 in the allussion to the destruction of Jesus’ body on the cross. Thus, the Johanine selection like the one from Hebrews speaks of Christ’s body on the cross offered up in the spirit of obedience. From here, it is easy to draw connections to passages like that Rom. 12:1 ff and 1 Peter 2:5ff for the moral consequences of the reading.
Conclusion: The Annunciation and the Cross
The readings for the Feast of the Annunciation read in the spirit of Lent allow us an understandng of Mary’s fiat as something that she confirmed by her daily life. The Christian, because of the vows made on the day of baptismal consecration, has become like Mary. He/she has become a participant in an ongoing project called “the Incarnation” whereby God continues to make himself contemporaneous to every man and woman through the Body of Christ, the Church. And like Mary, the Christian will also have to confirm the baptismal “fiat” daily, up to the cross, where obedience to God’s will becomes a sacrifice pleasing to God.
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