Reading 1: 2 Samuel 7:1 –5, 8b –12, 14a, 16
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 89:2-3, 4-5, 27, 29
Reading 2: Romans 16:25-27
Gospel: Luke 1:26-38
I remember as a pre-teen when I heard today’s Gospel and recognized with absolute horror what was being asked of Mary. I had not long been taught the mechanics of baby-making. That the Holy Spirit could descend upon me and make me pregnant precisely because God had found favor with me did not at all seem a good thing. Here was a young girl about to be married. If she had found favor with God, she obviously was a good girl. And if I knew anything about being a “good” girl, I knew it was to not get pregnant before you were married. Depending on your particular location, sometimes the Gospel doesn’t sound like good news.
How might a subaltern reading of today’s Scriptures open up an appreciation of those different locations? “Subaltern” refers to those populations who are marginalized and without access to power. The term is used by postcolonial scholars to acknowledge the agency and voice of those disempowered by the dominant authority. A young, pregnant, unmarried Jewish girl in Roman-occupied, first-century Palestine would surely fit that category.
At first blush, our first reading resists a subaltern interpretation. Here is the rich and powerful King David settled in his palace and now desiring to build a temple for God that will house the ark of the covenant. (The task will be given to his son, Solomon, 1 Kgs 5:19.) Rather than David building God’s house, God turns the tables. God will build up the house of David — a dynasty on whom God’s favor will rest forever.
But it is only by way of the Gospel that the story of God’s eternal covenant with David becomes good news to those without access to power. The evangelist Luke describes the annunciation to Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, of the House of David. The angel Gabriel announces that Mary has found favor with God, though we are not told what she has done to achieve this honor. The promise God made to David will be brought to fruition in Mary’s child. He will be given the throne of David and will rule forever. But listen to how Mary interprets this royal announcement through the lens of her own social and political setting. When she visits Elizabeth, Mary announces:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever” (Luke 1:46-55).
This will be no ordinary king. The child of Mary will disperse the arrogant, throw down rulers, and lift the lowly. The hungry will be fed, the rich sent away. Our bewildered maiden startled by the news of an angel has found her voice.
Reading from the perspective of the vulnerable and voiceless affords a new avenue of insight. Mary’s Magnificat is a tour de force in a woman finding her voice, prophetically announcing the rules have changed, and asserting that divine mercy is offered to all, but especially to the subaltern. Now that is good news!
Sr. Laurie Brink, OP
Professor of New Testament Studies