Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF
Claretian Publications, Macau
THE OCTAVE DAY OF CHRISTMAS SOLEMNITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD – YEAR A
Today’s Gospel is a continuation of the passage read during the Midnight Mass. The shepherds appear again beside the manger of Jesus. Following the news received from heaven, they go to Bethlehem and find Joseph, Mary, and the baby in a manger. One notes that they do not find anything extraordinary. They see only a baby with his father and his mother. Nevertheless, from that weak being, needing help and protection, they recognize the Savior. They do not need extraordinary signs; they do not verify miracles and prodigies. The shepherds represent all the poor, the excluded that, almost by instinct, acknowledge the Messiah from heaven in the baby of Bethlehem. In that nativity scene, we see the shepherds simply observing—amazed in ecstasy—the marvelous work that God has done in their favor. Then they announced to others their joy and all were astonished at what they heard (v. 18).
In the first chapters of his Gospel, Luke often reveals the marvel and the immense joy of the persons who felt involved in the plan of God. Elizabeth, having discovered herself pregnant, repeats to all: “This for me is the Lord’s doing” (Lk 1:25). Simeon and prophetess Anna bless God who has granted them to see the salvation prepared for all the people (Lk 2:30-38); Mary and Joseph are also amazed and astonished (Lk 2:33,38). All of them have eyes and heart of a baby that accompanies each gesture of the father with a glance. He remains enraptured by his gesture and smiles. He smiles because in all that the father does he catches a sign of his love. “For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these—Jesus says one day—and whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it” (Mk 10:14-15).
Luke’s gospel presents Mary as our sister who fulfilled a journey of faith, similar to ours. This Mary is not the object of our devotions wrapped in a cloud of privileges that in some cases made her admired or envied but not loved. The focus here is on faith and admiration as the plan of God was progressively getting revealed. “Mary treasured all these words, and pondered them in her heart” when she heard how the shepherds were informed of the birth of Jesus. Mary “gathered together all the facts,” bound them and captured the meaning and contemplated the realization of God’s plan.
Mary did not have a complete picture of the mission she had undertaken. She was progressively growing into that realization. She marvels at what Simeon said about the child. She is almost taken by surprise (Lk 2:33). She was amazed before God’s works, as were the apostles and all the people (Lk 9:43-45). She does not understand the words of her Son who chose to commit himself to the Father’s affairs (Lk 2:50) as the Twelve had difficulty in understanding the words of the Teacher: “They could make nothing of this; the meaning of these words remained a mystery to them, and they did not understand what he said” (Lk 18:34). Though Mary did not understand, she observed, meditated, reflected, and only after Easter (not before), did she come to understand everything; she would clearly see the meaning of what was unfolding through her mission.
Luke presents her for the last time at the beginning of the book of the Acts of the Apostles. He puts her in her place among the community of believers: The apostles together gave themselves to constant prayer. “With them were some women and also Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (Acts 1:14). She was blessed because she believed (Lk 1:45).
Today’s Gospel concludes with the report on the circumcision. With this rite, Jesus officially enters to be part of the people of Israel. But this is not the principal reason for Luke to recall this fact. He is interested in another detail, the name given to the child, a name that was not chosen by the parents but was indicated directly from heaven. Keeping in mind this cultural context of Israel, we are able to understand the importance that Luke attributes to the name given to the child. He is called Jesus, which means “the Lord saves.” Matthew explains: he was called such because he will save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).
When we enter into a relationship with a person, we learn the name of the person. When God enters into dialogue with us, he indicates his name and reveals his identity. Choosing the name of his Son, God said who he is— “He who saves.” He who does nothing but saves. In the Gospels, this name is repeated 566 times, almost to remind us that God’s images that are incompatible with this name must be deleted. Now we understand the reason why in the Old Testament God did not allow his name to be pronounced, because it is only in Jesus that he would have told us who he was.
In Luke’s Gospel, it is interesting to note that those who called Jesus by name are not the just or the perfect, but only those who are marginalized, those who are at the mercy of the forces of evil. They are the possessed (Lk 4:34), the lepers: “Jesus, teacher, have mercy on us” (Lk 17:13), the blind: “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me” (Lk 18:38), and the criminal who dies on the cross beside him: “Jesus, remember me when you enter into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). Peter would remind the religious leaders of his people: “No other name in fact under heaven is given to people, through whom they are saved” (Acts 4:12).
(Indebted to Fr. Armellini SCJ for the textual analysis. Image: firstname.lastname@example.org)