But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. ~ Lk 1:29
One of the rhetorical techniques I learned about in divinity school has the fancy Latin name captatio benevolentiae, or the “winning of goodwill.” We might call this “buttering up” one’s audience. Gabriel uses it to good effect in the Annunciation, hailing Mary warmly as “favored one,” and assuring her, “the Lord is with you.” A peasant woman of no means or social standing, Mary reacts fearfully to this effusive greeting: Luke tells us she is greatly troubled, using a participle, dietarachthe, that derives from a verb meaning “to shake together, stir up.”
If Mary is stirred by Gabriel’s opening words, she is shaken to the core by the rest of his message. “How can this be?” she asks the angel. We, too, may be apprehensive about our ability to succeed at what God asks us to do. We, too, may struggle to understand what it all means. And we, too, may echo Mary’s anxious question as we pray, hoping that God will hear our worry and fortify us with calm confidence to do His will. Whether we recall Moses asking God, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” or Jeremiah insisting that he does not know how to speak, the Bible furnishes us with countless examples of servants of God whose initial query is, “How can this be?” So it was with Mary, so it is with us.
In prayer, we ask for the courage to accept the call, knowing that we will not go forward alone. For the Lord, as Gabriel said, is with us.
Lord God Immanuel, Take and receive all my worries, my doubts, and my fears, and let me hear your response when I call to you. Amen.