For December 22, 2011 (Luke 1:46-56)
By Fr. Randy Flores, SVD
[thanks to K. L. Gamban for editing]
Her name is Leah.
She is Mary’s thirty-sixth great grandmother. “All women,” Leah says at the birth of Israel’s child, “will call me blessed” (Genesis 30:13). “All generations,” says Mary on the eve of the birth of Israel’s greatest child, “will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).
Leah’s life, though not well known, is interesting; and not without connection to the Christmas story.
The eldest of the two of Laban’s daughters, Leah is the less beautiful, the less known and the less loved. While her sister Rachel is described in excessive words—“beautiful in form and beautiful in appearance” (in Hebrew yepat toar wipat mareh), Leah has “eyes without luster”—only one word in Hebrew (rakkot). Leah has poor eyesight, the Rabbis would explain, because of too much weeping.
In the story of the two sisters in Genesis 29-30, we are explicitly told that “Jacob loved Rachel.” (29:17). He does not mind serving Laban’s household for Rachel for a total of fourteen years (29:30). He has to be deceived by Laban to marry Leah to fulfill the local custom of marrying the older daughter first. In contrast, Leah learns to love her husband even if he does not love her and keeps ignoring her.
The text says that “when the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he “opened her womb” (29:31). The Lord blesses her with children. Two of her children would become the key figures of salvation history—Levi, the ancestor that begins the priestly tradition of Israel; and Judah, the thirty-sixth great grandfather of Jesus.
Underneath the Song of Mary (the Gospel reading) are beautiful stories of our salvation that finds its climax in Jesus’ birth. It is a “mosaic of Old Testament quotations and allusions interpreting the coming of Jesus” as one commentary puts it. The song is found within the Visitation story (Luke 1:39-56) – when Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth who was pregnant. When we examine the narrative carefully however, we realize it is not the action of Mary’s visitation that is being emphasized.We do not even know the reason why Mary visited Elizabeth. The evangelist Luke does not give us more information, except that she traveled “in haste.” Mary stayed at the home of Elizabeth for three months, but we do not have more information about what she did there, except the fact that Mary sang this hymn — what we now call the Magnificat.
This should give us a hint at how important the Song of Mary is, and how the evangelist invites the readers to slow down and take time to reflect on it (especially as we prepare for Christmas). Let us take our cue from the women of the Magnificat—Leah, Hannah (first reading) Elizabeth and of course, Mary—how they “magnified” God in their lives and experienced the joy of God’s love.
To help us a little more for this reflection, let us cite some lines from the homily of Venerable Bede on the Magnificat:
When we devote all our thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, we proclaim God’s greatness. Our observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows that we have God’s power and greatness always at heart. Our spirit rejoices in God our savior and delights in the mere recollection of our creator who gives us hope for eternal salvation.What is note-worthy in the homily of this great monk (commonly known to us as San Beda) is his emphasis on both praise and service as in themselves a proclamation of God’s greatness. But it is not enough to have one without the other. Unfortunately, there are many people who get stuck in the service part. They serve in their parishes or communities and become so busy with all their church work, that they sometimes forget the praise part. In all their busyness and efficiency, they sometimes fail to recognize God’s hand in everything that they do and accomplish.
As we render service to others in our day-to-day lives – whether through our work in church, in service to our families, or even in our offices – we must always remember that it is God who is to be magnified and not our own egos. Let us not allow ourselves to fall into the trap of self-glorification. The sure-fire way of avoiding this is by always recognizing that God is greater than who are and by magnifying Him in our lives, like what the Magnificat women did.
With Christmas Day just around the corner, there is no better time to begin this habit of giving praise and glory to God for His greatness and faithfulness! "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16, NIV) – this fulfillment of God’s promise is a truly a season to rejoice!