Confluence. Luke’s narrative style is on display as he deftly moves from the “annunciation” concerning John the Baptist to the one concerning the salvation of all humanity. There is a confluence of temporal and chronological markers, and the reappearance of Gabriel. The “sixth month” recalls v.24, and seems to imply that Elizabeth has only now come out of seclusion. This prepares for the sharing of the news of her pregnancy in v.36 and her subsequent welcome of Mary (vv.39–45). Yet geographically and socio-religiously we move away from the center (Jerusalem and the Temple) to the margins of the nations (Nazareth in Galilee). Gabriel, God’s messenger, is the connector, pointing to the God’s Word active in the world.
The Favored and Troubled Virgin. “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be .” Within a few short verses we learn that Mary is “favored” and “troubled.”
The words of greeting echo the distant words of Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel: “Let your servant find favor in your sight” (1 Sam 1:18 NRSV; a more literal rendering in this case than our Catholic NAB translation). The words also parallel assurances of power and favor given to the judges of Israel: “The LORD is with you” (Judges 6:12 NAB). Matthew conveys the same assurance that the birth of Jesus meant the promise of God’s redeeming love by means of the name Emmanuel, “God is with us” (Matt 1:23). Despite these words of hope and promise, Mary was greatly troubled.
Mary “pondered what sort of greeting this might be,” that is, knowing all greetings are a precursor to what follows, she wondered what was to follow. Recall that in the tradition of the Levites, angels showed up when a priest has made a corrupt offering in order to slay the offending priest. Imagine Zechariah’s concern when Gabriel appears. Could Mary have been concerned about marriage related appearance of angels? While perhaps a bit of a stretch, you do not often get to reference the Book of Tobit. Tobit, a book accepted by Catholics only, tells of a jealous angel who appeared on a bride’s wedding night each time she married and killed her bridegroom. Against the background of this popular story, the fear of a betrothed girl at the appearance of an angel is all the more understandable. Could it be that she thought an evil spirit was threatening to prevent her marriage?
Although Mary was not yet married, she was betrothed. According to ancient customs, the marriage would have been arranged by her father. She would live at home for a year after her betrothal. Then the groom would come to take her to his home, and the wedding celebration would last for an entire week. Legally, the marriage was sealed after the engagement. Thus, if Joseph had died before the wedding, Mary would have been considered a widow. [See the note on v.27 regarding parthenos, virgin].
Mother of the King of Kings
30 Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33 and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
In four short verses, the whole of plan of salvation is outlined. God’s promise to King David given through the prophet Nathan, spelled out in 2 Sam 7:11–16, is to come to fulfillment in the child that Mary will carry, give birth, and become mother. Yet, what one hears depends upon the presumptions with which one listens. It would have been difficult to hear vv.32–33 and not surmise the pending restoration of the Davidic monarchy. The logic of the angel’s presentation is simple: Mary will conceive, bear, and name the child; God will give him the throne of David; as a consequence, the promised son (and his heirs?) will reign forever, etc. In other words, the partnership of human and divine previously lost through sin, will be restored.
Gabriel’s announcement thus creates a complex of expectations related to Jesus’ mission to “rule over the house of Jacob forever.” Luke’s language contains nationalistic, socio-political reverberations. When this is matched with similar material in the birth narrative, it is difficult to imagine that the anticipated redemption will be anything but a nationalistic restoration of Israel. Other possibilities are not yet excluded, however, and it behooves the reader to continue to listen to the narrative; how will Luke resolve the narrative needs introduced with these strong chords of eschatological anticipation?
According to the angel’s words, Jesus will be “Son of the Most High,” a designation synonymous with “Son of God” (see the parallel—vv.32, 35). What “Son of God” connotes in the context of this Lukan scene must be discussed in light of v 35. At this point, it is worth mentioning that Luke otherwise associates Jesus’ kingship/messiahship and sonship (cf. 4:41; 22:29, 67–70; Acts 9:20–22).
Luke 1:26 sixth month: using this phrase here and in v.36, Luke connects the two birth announcement scenes. Gabriel: “Gabriel” This Hebrew name means “God’s strong man,” “man of God,” or “God is my warrior.” This is God’s messenger angel (cf. 1:26; Dan. 8:16; 9:21). There are only two angels named in the Bible: (1) Gabriel, who is God’s messenger angel to Daniel, Zacharias, and Mary, and (2) Michael, who is the national archangel (cf. Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7). a city in Galilee called Nazareth” Galilee was known as a Gentile area although many Jews lived there (apparently a community from the royal tribe of Judah lived in Nazareth). The name Nazareth itself may be related to the Messianic title “Branch” (nezer, cf. Isa. 11:1; Matt. 2:23).
Luke 1:27 a virgin betrothed: Much as been made of the Isaiah alma – translated into Greek as parthenos – referring to any young unmarried women without reference to sexual experience. Little notice is given to the vigorous defense of the virginity from the beginning days of Christianity – pointing to a clear understanding of the identity of Jesus as “Son of God.” Betrothed: refers to a binding agreement recognized in Jewish tradition that describes the period before common living, but already affording the moniker “wife” to the woman.
Luke 1:28 Hail! favored one: There is no English translation that will capture the alliteration chaire kecharitōmenē. The word chaire, while literally meaning “rejoice, be glad” is part of a Greek greeting formula that was common in St. Luke’s time – and hence “welcome” [EDNT 3:451]. The word kecharitōmenē comes from the root charitoō which means to “bestow favor upon” or “bless.” [EDNT 3:461]. In our verse the verb is perfect (action already completed), passive (Mary was the recipient of the blessing), and nominative (describing Mary). It is the tradition of our “Hail Mary” that this is translated “full of grace.” That comes from the vulgate gratia plena – seemingly, a marginal translation on linguistics grounds.
Another view: Many translations read the initial word as a common greeting rather than as an invitation to rejoice. and this is possible. However, apart from the use of the word in openings to letters intended for Greek audiences in Acts 15:23; 23:26, Luke uses the Semitic term “peace” as a formula for greeting. This suggests that this greeting fills in further the picture of rejoicing that will pervade the Third Gospel (e.g., 1:14, 47, 58; 2:10). Moreover, his greeting is reminiscent of Zeph 3:14–15; Zech 9:9; Joel 2:21, where the formula is found: rejoice! + address + reference to the divine action or attitude to which joy is the proper response. “Favored one,” then, functions as a name for Mary, designating her as the object of divine benefaction. This reality is accented and clarified by its repetition in v 30, then celebrated (with rejoicing!—v 47) by Mary in v 48.
Luke 1:33 house of Jacob: This is a somewhat archaic designation for Israel (e.g. Gen 46:27, Exod 19:3, Isa 8:17) perhaps pointing to what was intended from the foundation of the world.
Photo credit: “The Annunciation” by Daniel Bonnell