Monday, May 31, 2010

The Feast of the Visitation

(Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Luke 1:39-56)

Forty years ago two Peace Corps volunteers went on an expedition upriver in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. They wanted to meet the area’s native Iban people who lived with extended families in longhouses. Ibans at one point in history had been notorious headhunters but became pacified long before the Peace Corps volunteers arrived. Many converted to Christianity. The volunteers were advised to take gifts of canned food to the people who often ate little beyond a daily ration of rice. They were also told that they could expect hospitality. As it turned out, they were more than graciously received, but the Ibans would not accept the food for their own use. Rather they served it to their guests whom they seemed delighted to host so that their children might know some foreigners.

The meeting of the Peace Corps volunteers with the Ibans mirrors in a way Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. Mary is poor as she implies with the words, “He has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” Yet the lack of material wealth is not a curse for her because she possesses God’s blessing. We should see Mary as representing the faithful poor or anawim of Israel who long awaited the Messiah. Now he has arrived and Mary, his mother, is the first to feel the excitement of his presence. Knowing that he is there fills Mary and Elizabeth with a joy that the treasures of Egypt could not provide. He is going to bring justice to the people, freedom to the oppressed, health to sick. The fidelity of the thousands like these two women is vindicated.

The promise of the Messiah has been fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus, especially in his paschal victory. Now stirred by that triumph, Christians eagerly await his return in glory. Like the Ibans of Sarawak, we show kindness to neighbors and make every effort possible for the development of our children. We know that God will bless us when he comes again. Indeed, He blesses us continually with graces that far exceed the luxuries that money can buy.