The Solemnity of the Annunciation
Isaiah 7:10-14, 8:10; Psalm 40; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38
“A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to Jesus, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!’’ (Luke 11:27-28).
The Lord said all this during his time of public ministry and some might suspect that he’s playing down the role of his mother in his life. I feel that he might be doing something quite the opposite by bringing another very important aspect to our attention – her role as a disciple. The feast we celebrate today celebrates the discipleship of Mary. We often see her mainly as a mother figure but there’s much more to her than that – her ‘yes’ to God is greatly celebrated and rightly so for it provides a model for discipleship for us all.
Have we ever considered what would have happened if Mary said ‘No’ to the Angel Gabriel? After all, what she was asked to do was quite preposterous and not something that an ordinary person might even consider. Would she have said ‘yes’ immediately? The short episode in the gospel does not do justice to the depth of thought, prayer and reflection Mary must have gone through to respond to the the Angel Gabriel. It seems like the whole process took 2-3 minutes (or less, depending on how fast we read) but I feel it must have taken much longer. She must have mulled over it for a long time as the choice would have troubled her. I imagine her taking days or even weeks to pray and consider the choice before giving her answer. The choice thus has the weight of her prayer and reflection in it, making it even more significant.
We realise that discipleship requires our consent. God never forces us to follow a particular path set for us as we need to make a conscious choice to do so. We don’t live lives like cogs in a machine or are like pieces of wood floating down a river. Even prophecies like the one we heard in Isaiah do not predestine us to a particular life without our consent.We have a will that God requires us to exercise through our choices and decisions in life. We hear the word of God and respond, obey it as the Lord mentioned. That’s how we fulfil our lives and that’s how we become ‘blessed’ though we, like Mary, have to go through struggles in making these choices.
Mary responded with the famous words, ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to your word.’ While it sounds somewhat submissive and servile, the strength of character that must have been present to say this shines through. Discipleship requires a firm commitment to the mission that we’re given. This is the obedience the Lord talks about and occurs as we choose to follow the word of God that we hear. And discipleship is about giving one’s all. There’s a joke about a chicken and a pig arguing about who sacrifices more for the farmer’s breakfast. The chicken complains about the difficulty and discomfort in laying eggs everyday for the farmer’s scrambled eggs. The pig simply replies, ‘And what do you think happens when the farmer wants bacon?’ We’re not called to be smoked and cured but we are called to give our all in obedience to the call of the Lord. That’s the message of the second reading – not to sacrifice externals but to give ourselves to the Lord in obedience.
We meet our own annunciation experiences daily, weekly, monthly. We go through the confusion and difficulties that Mary went through and we know that even as we revere her as our Blessed Mother, we also look to her strength of will as the model for our own discipleship. We all yearn to say yes. Can we?