The astounding, salvific revelations to Mary about the identity of her Son deserve to be the subject of homilies on this Feast of the Annunciation. What Gabriel makes known to Mary becomes the patrimony of the Gospel reader; with these revelations he can understand, as he could not simply from the public life of Jesus, who this Jesus is. The reader carries with him the profound knowledge given him by no less an authority than Heaven itself.
But scholars have come around to seeing more in Luke’s story than revelations from God to Mary. The usual way of presenting revelation, at least as the Old Testament presents it, does not include what is the ending of Luke’s Gospel. The very end of the story is no longer dealing with revelation; it recounts the obedience of Mary to her Lord. In the light of what is ’abnormal’ for a revelation story, scholars see in Luke’s presentation two different emphases. Certainly, the identity of Jesus, which Heaven alone knows, is preeminent. But also he stresses the response of Mary. Thus, the story is not only a call to deeper assurance about the Jesus in whom the reader already believes, but it is also a plea that the reader respond to the call of God for a life dedicated to Him as He thinks best.
Mary said, "Yes" to her God without knowing what her love for God would entail. Indeed, it is hard to find anywhere in the Gospels a moment when Mary understands it all. Certainly, her pondering over the message of the angel to the shepherds indicates that the revelation about Jesus which she had earlier received was something to get adjusted to in the light of the revelation that says Jesus will be Savior, who is Christ and Lord. This new information given to Mary is no help later in solving the problem of where to find the lost 12-year-old Jesus in Jerusalem. Indeed, Jesus is on the verge of criticism of Mary and Joseph, because they did not know where to find him; that is, they did not know the implications of the earliest revelation that he is Son of God. We hear no more of Mary in Luke, but find her together with the 120 who wait in prayer for the Holy Spirit of Pentecost. From what has been given us, the obedience of Mary (not unlike that of Jesus) was total if not with full understanding. All she could do is live her life as mother and wife and learn, step by step, and probably with no final understanding, of the mystery which was given to her and to which she pledged a whole-hearted giving.
Deservedly, the Feast of the Annunciation is a feast of profound revelation about God’s choice to become human out of love for us. But it is also a feast to recall the rightful response to that Self-giving with a self-giving of each of us after the example of Mary. Luke would like us to think about both the gift of self which is at the heart of this Feast.
John Kilgallen, SJ