Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, recorded only in Luke’s Gospel, is a masterpiece of narrative writing. By focusing on the expressions of joy at Mary’s arrival, Luke took an everyday encounter and turned it into a study of contemplation.
‘Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’ (Lk 1:45)
How has grace come to you in everyday events?
What practices help you cultivate awareness of
When has joy revealed God’s presence to you?
Luke wrote his Gospel in part to teach his readers how to pray and passed on some of the most beautiful prayers of the early church. Some of these endure today in the church’s liturgy. Mary’s great prayer that we call the Magnificat, for example, which appears in the passage that immediately follows this Sunday’s Gospel reading, is prayed every day as part of the church’s evening prayer.
In addition to these words of praise, Luke hoped to teach his audience internal dispositions of prayer. Luke recounts that Jesus withdrew regularly into the wilderness to pray (for example, Lk 5:16), and that it was on one of these wilderness retreats that he taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer (Lk 11:2-4). Luke also highlighted the spiritual exercise that today we call “discernment.” Mary encountered grace when she “kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51). The disciples at Emmaus recognized their encounter with the risen Christ only after they came to trust their hearts, which had been burning within them (Lk 24:32). Teaching Christians to cultivate similar awareness of grace was among Luke’s goals.
It is one thing to find such grace in dramatic events; it is quite another to catch sight of God in the everyday. In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, a poor traveler arrives, and an unborn baby stirs in the womb as his mother greets the traveler with joy. This account contains little drama, but in Luke’s recounting, grace saturates the scene. Luke wrote to remind his audience never to stop seeking the divine presence. Even the simplest moment has in it a world-changing significance for anyone who is ready to find the work of God.
“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Luke never explains how Elizabeth recognized the grace before her. She cries out with sudden insight like Moses’ sister Miriam and the other prophetic women of the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps Elizabeth knew that any moment of joy provided a matrix for grace. As she looked into the depths of the joy she felt at Mary’s presence, she recognized in it the presence of God.
Luke’s emphasis on prayer and his ability to find God in overlooked places suggests a lifelong habit of attention to daily gifts of grace. More than any other New Testament writer, Luke draws his readers to Christ’s three arrivals among humanity. The first arrival was the nativity, the second occurs daily among his disciples in the Spirit, and the final appearance will usher in the end of time. It is that second, daily, arrival that Luke highlights in this Gospel passage. Encountering Christ in this way was the fruit of Luke’s own prayer.
Luke shows us how to be just as attentive. In her joy, Elizabeth recognized the world’s redemption. Just so, we must seek the latent grace in every encounter. Thus recognizing God at work, we will learn to find the infinite potential of every joy.