Thursday, May 31, 2007

Leapin' Levites

"Shalom aleichem."

That is, "Peace be with you." The traditional greeting of Hebrew culture, it is an expression which Christ used with much significance throughout His ministry, and has in turn become part of our liturgical celebration.

Since it was tradition to offer this greeting upon entering another's home, it is likely that these were the words which Mary uttered upon entering the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah. It is at these words that John the Baptist went leaping in Elizabeth's womb.

"Shalom." The Peace of God. Every near-Eastern culture has some expression of rough equivalence. From Hindu Upanishads to the Koran to the Talmud, it seems that God's peace is in a sense the highest goal of faith. Indeed, in the Gospels, after rising from the tomb, Christ appears to His apostles and before anything else offers them Shalom. He came to bring to us - to be for us - God's peace.

Mary's journey to Elizabeth, which we celebrate today, was no mere perfunctory visit. At the Annunciation, Mary learns of Elizabeth's conception from the angel Gabriel after asking how she herself would conceive as a virgin. We must not think that Mary doubted the Word of God for even a moment; she does not "make haste" to the hill country in order to verify the miracle. She trusts from the beginning, and gives her fiat without hesitation. So, why, then, her urgent errand to the town of Judah?

Mary is impelled by the Holy Spirit to journey to Elizabeth. It is not a mere spontaneous visit for girl-talk and baby showers. Mary is on a mission from God: she goes bearing God's peace. Just as the Ark of the Covenant ensured the prosperity, strength in battle, and peace of the Hebrew tribes in the Old Testament, so Mary brings this assurance to Christ's prenatal precurser, John the Baptist. Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant; and John, an heir to the Levitical priesthood through his father Zechariah, "dances" in his mother's womb as David danced before the Ark (Luke uses the same Greek verb as in the Septuagint passage of Samuel). A priest by birth, here identified with the king of Israel, John would eventually fulfill the role of "prophet of the Most High." He represents the entire old testament shadows of priesthood, prophetic patriarchy, and kingship: and here, he - and the Old Testament people with him - dances in the Peace of the true Priest, Prophet and King.

It is of great significant that John, who represents here the Old Testament people, himself the penultimate testimony of God's fidelity, leaps at the sound of Mary's greeting. Immediately following this interchange, Mary offers her great prayer, the Magnificat. It is the expression of her mission: she states in word what has just been demonstrated in action. She has been ordained to offer God's peace by giving the world God's Son. It is her word that brings the New Testament into continuity with the Old, that meets the Messianic fulfillment to the prophetic prefigurement, that sets the Most High upon the earthly path prepared by all His prophets.

Just as Mary's Shalom momentously initiates John the Baptist's ministry and begins the heralding of God's promise fulfilled, so does her greeting reach our ears and spring us into action. "Do whatever He tells you," she bids us through the ages, and continues for every generation to magnify the Lord and make manifest His promise of eternal peace. The feast of the Visitation provides us with a moment to renew our commitment to following Mary's instructive example and always listening for her voice to set us on the road to peace.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us.


Post a Comment

<< Home