by Rev. Elizabeth Rawlings
As a woman and a survivor of sexual harassment and assault, living in the era of #metoo, where almost daily survivors like myself are triggered by new accusations of assault *or* some man's hot take on how women and victims/survivors should feel about sexual harassment or assault, I am reading this in a very, very different way this year. I wonder how many others will read this text differently. How many will hear the story of a young, unmarried woman is just hanging out and some stranger walks up to her and says, "Hey! Don't freak out, but the most powerful being ever really likes you and so you're gonna have his baby!" To which she replies, "Um, no? Not possible. I've never had intercourse." "See, the holy spirit is going to come upon you, and the most high is going to overshadow you and then you'll get pregnant and give birth to, well, God." HOW DO YOU SAY NO TO THAT?!?!?!
There's a wee bit of a power imbalance!
And, honestly, I don't know what to do with this.
Do I just talk about how Luke wasn't *actually* there and so it likely wasn't like this?
Do I just ignore that there is a very real possibility multiple people in my congregation are hearing it this way, some of them survivors of sexual violence? Or that it hits me this way because I am a survivor?
Would I read this the same way if the image of God as a man wasn't so deeply engraved in my mind?
Until this year, I hadn't read it this way. It's been making me deeply uncomfortable. Then I read an excellent blog about it (and I can't remember who wrote it, I tried to Google it, but if anyone knows what I am talking about please LMK so I can give the author credit). In the process of writing this (and trying to find the author I first read), I learned that I am not alone in wondering about this.
Add to that the feeling people struggling with infertility or peri-natal loss get this time of year when we talk about miracle pregnancies that are impossible except by the command of God, and this day (season) kind of sucks for a whole lot of people.
And, I know, I am supposed to think about how *blessed* Mary was. How *obedient* she was. How perfect and pure and undefiled. All of the things that set up purity culture and the Virgin/Whore complex so prevalent in our society.
If I read Luke 1:46b - 55, without 26-38, I would think Mary had prayed to be pregnant, or maybe prayed the people be delivered from oppression and, upon finding out her child would do this, she was able to celebrate. Is the beginning of Mary's story missing? The middle? The end?
If we dig into the legends of Mary's parentage, we find a theory that she was chosen for this role before her birth. Was she raised knowing she would do this? Raised to see this as an honor and a blessing? Raised believing that the messiah would come and he would turn the world upside down and she was going to be a vessel for that?
When we read scripture, we are always going to be missing part of the story. We are going to hear and see the parts that the author (or authors) of the book want us to see. And maybe it didn't occur to Luke to be like, "It's cool y'all, Mary was down from the get-go," because Luke assumes she would be, or because he knows parts of the story we don't.
We are bound to read scripture through our own lens, we are bound to fill in the blanks with our own experience. This is also dangerous. We can do a whole lot of harm when we lay our own experience over the text and use that as interpretation especially when we are unaware we are doing this. We can also do a lot of harm if we totally ignore what is happening in the world these days and the way scripture is landing in the hearts of those listening.
As a Lutheran, the lens through which I read scripture is always Jesus, always grace. It is through Jesus that we know God. And through Jesus we know that God is not coercive, is not violent, does not abuse or harass. Through Jesus we know a God who came (and continues to arrive) to disrupt power structures that oppress and to lift up the lowly -- just as Mary sings in the Magnificat.
Through this lens, the only story that makes sense is the story that Luke left something out. That Mary did indeed pray for this, and this was an answer to her prayers. That Mary was prepared for this and this is something she always knew would happen. That when that angel appeared, her thoughts were not as my thoughts would be (which would be hell no I am a child and I am not having a baby what is wrong with you go away), but her thought was yes. Yes. This is what I want. I want to be a part of the overturning of the world. I want to be a part of a future in which the meek, the poor, the hungry will be blessed and the powerful will have nothing.
And therein lies our hope. Our hope is tied into Mary's hope. That God would break into the world through her. That God would live in her very human body, that God would come out in blood and mucus, screaming and wailing, that she would nourish God with her breast, hold him in his pain and tears, and raise him to defeat death, to defeat hate, to claim victory over that which destroys. That God would one day return to make all things new.
At least, that's what I am clinging to today.
This is the Revised Common Lectionary sermonizing archive.