— The Lord’s Day —

Sunday Week IV

Pondering Jesus’ victorious Word

εὐαγγελίζω (euaggelizo)
“to announce the Good News of victory in battle”

“Mary set out (Ἀναστᾶσα, Anastasa)
and traveled (ἐπορεύθη, eporeuthe) to the hill country
in haste (μετὰ σπουδῆς, meta spoudes)
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.”

θεωρέω (theoreo)
(“to perceive, discover, ponder a deeper meaning”)

On Advent’s final Sunday, God’s Word takes us on a journey (click for directions) of close to 100 miles from the poverty of Nazareth to the arduous land of Ein Kerem, a small town slightly west of Jerusalem and home to Elizabeth and Zechariah (approximately 2 hours by car, perhaps as much as 2 weeks or more for Mary who is also, at this time, pregnant). Just prior to undertaking this journey, the young Galilean virgin had been visited by an Archangel (Gabriel), conversed with him and assented to becoming Mother of the “Son of God (Luke 1:35).” In what seems to be no time, Mary treks to meet her relative and to share with her about all the great things the Most High God is doing. Here, as in every Gospel episode where Mary is present, she acts as a teacher, forming the listener in what it means to be a disciple of her Son. These lessons of discipleship are found in a closer reading of the Sacred Text.

The English translation we listen to this Sunday has Mary ‘setting out’ and ‘traveling in haste.’ Fair enough — after all, Mary has to get from point A to point B, from Nazareth to Galilee. Yet throughout the Gospel that bears his name, the Evangelist Luke is the master of the journey motif. In the Lucan Text, many are involved in journeys and these are not simply non-descript movements from one town to another. All journeys in Luke are ripe with meaning and depth, with Jesus’ own journey to Jerusalem being the most prominent. In presenting these journeys, human locomotion is only one part of the equation. For example, “Mary set out (Ἀναστᾶσα, Anastasa).” ἀνίστημι (anistemi) is the root for many of the words translated into English as resurrection (many Christian Rites still refer to Jesus’ Resurrection as the Anastasis). Mary ‘setting out’ is far more than a nice thought, ‘Oh, let me go visit my relative.’ As a good number of people have questioned, of all the people that Mary no doubt ‘visited’ and talked to about the Gabriel’s visit, why does Luke record Mary’s visit to Elizabeth? Why doesn’t Luke record Mary’s ‘visit’ to her own mother? While many legitimate insights can surface, a point to consider here is the verb ἀνίστημι. As such, ἀνίστημι reminds the listener that the activity and work of ἀνίστημι belongs to God the Father. ἀνίστημι, in expressing the ‘lifting up to new life,’ is essentially an intervention and a transformation of life done by Another: God the Father. In the Person Jesus, the Anastasis will be His definitive triumph over sin and death and the very act that enables disciples of all ages to encounter Him and be lead in the Holy Spirit to a relationship with God our Father.

This point is further intensified as Mary “traveled (ἐπορεύθη, eporeuthe)” “in haste (μετὰ σπουδῆς, meta spoudes).” πορεύομαι (poreuomai) is properly translated as “to travel” or “to make a journey.” But not surprisingly, the verb also expresses a deeper meaning. In the Greek world, the verb πορεύομαι conveyed a sense of a ‘plan being put into motion,’ a type of unfolding. Far from being a spur-of-the-moment road trip south, Mary’s journey is part of a much larger plan, a plan whose complete details allude her at this point in her life. Her travel to Elizabeth’s house is a part, an important part, in the unfolding of a plan that already is in motion, eventually bringing healing and wholeness to humanity. Hence, in the person Mary, one ‘sees’ this intervening transformation (ἀνίστημι) already unfolding (πορεύομαι). But how? “In haste,” of course.

σπουδή (spoude) is translated here “haste.” “Haste” certainly expresses speed. Generally though in contemporary culture, “haste” can have a somewhat negative connotation. An action that is done “in haste,” can signal “hurried,” a ‘thoughtless, let me get this done in any way’ attitude that cares little for anything or anyone except mediocrity, thus the idiom “haste makes waste.” In antiquity, σπουδή described an action as “zealous,” “determined,” or “on-target.” Mary’s journey to Elizabeth is not a ‘haste makes waste’ trip. Mary’s journey is not a haphazard, mindless, serendipitous decision because she has nothing else better to do. No, the intervening transformation (ἀνίστημι) already unfolding (πορεύομαι) expresses a zealous plan (σπουδή) that eventually erupts in joy flowing into every nook and cranny of life.

As these final days of this preparatory Season draw to a close, there is still time to allow body, mind and heart to be attuned to the transforming intervention of the Incarnation. There is still time to permit body, mind and heart to see “the plan” already at work in life, especially in those dark and difficult moments of life. There is still time for body, mind and heart to cry out to the Holy Spirit for the Gift of Divine σπουδή: that zeal for Jesus and determined living for Him that pours His abundant joy into every aspect of our lives.