Elizabeth a Curse?

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In Luke 1:25 we read Elizabeth’s words,  “25 ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.'” But what favour?  She is pregnant.  So what disgrace?  She had been barren.

Deuteronomy 7:12-14 paints a picture for us. “12 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your ancestors. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and olive oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land he swore to your ancestors to give you.14 You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless . . . .” Elizabeth’s childlessness, rightly or wrongly, would have been seen by her contemporaries of her or Zechariah’s sin.

As Zechariah was a priest, of good reputation (he had not been barred from his temple functions), then in many’s minds the fault must have been Elizabeth’s.  This in people’s minds would be the issue of unfaithfulness/adultery.  Numbers 5 : 20f reads, “ But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”— 21 here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. 22 May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries.” 

Remember the Middle East in the 1st Century was obsessed with the ideas of shame and honour.  In fact, they believed that honour was a limited commodity like gold or silver. If you had it, someone else didn’t.  Shame likewise could diminish the honour someone held, making more available for you.  So quick judgement of Elizabeth by her peers would be in keeping with her culture.

In addition to the perceived sin, and shame versus honour considerations, Elizabeth’s barrenness had a practical aspect as well.   Children were security for the future. There were no pensions or retirement plans.  It was your children that took care of you in your old age.  No one else would!

So even on a personal level, Elizabeth would have “felt cursed” by the lack of children. Her pregnancy with John was a blessing on several levels.  She had a carer for her dotage. Zechariah had an heir. People’s mutterings about sin in the family were proven for naught.

This is a wonderful little passage.  Elizabeth is moved from a state of “disgrace” to “favour.” Her relative sinlessness (for all people are sinners), is shown to her fellows. Her future is for the time being secured.  And in the end, a great prophet enters the world through her.

As a side point, let us be quick to recognise favour in others, and slow to shower disgrace.

Padre

 

 

 

 

 

Picking Winners

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When it comes to picking friends and influencing people, Jesus on the face of it was a little unconventional.  When He chose His disciples He picked 4 (perhaps 6) fishermen, known for their outspoken, not always politically correct or sensitive utterances. He also picked a tax-collector, Matthew (always appreciated by the public), and a political activist, Simon.  He chose no rabbis, rich men or celebrities.   He spent time with other tax collectors (Zacchaeus), and reputed prostitutes (Mary Madeline).  Yet, this group of unlikely spokes people changed the world.  James, the fisherman was martyred, and Peter imprisoned. They were loyal and though not well educated or influential, proved that Jesus saw with the eyes of God what potential people held, not just what the world sees.

Do we do the same?  We who are chosen, have been called not because “who we are,” but because “what we can become.”

Padre

Paul in Malta

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Acts 18 records:

“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta.The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.

On Malta superstition and God’s witness are in contrast.  The Maltese seem to appreciate the plight of the castaways, and Paul and his companions are shown great kindness.  This is very understandable of an island people whose livelihood was derived from the sea, and who knew too well its hazards.

The event which seems to momentarily sour this kindness is Paul’s snakebite. Their superstition immediately goes into play – “The man must be a criminal.” They seem to see Paul as fated for destruction (shipwreck and snakebite), the just rewards of a “murderer.” Are we any better in our modern world?  Do we not hear people say that individual misfortunes are, if not deserved, at least brought about by some failing in the victim?  “They are lazy,” “Their lifestyle is bad,” They take too many unsafe risks.”

Yet, Paul’s misfortune is not because of unrighteousness.  In fact it plays out as a blessing for Publius’ family.  The Maltese see the reversal of their assumptions about Paul, as the snake has no effect on him.  Here again, their superstition jumps in.  It isn’t enough to merely assume he is an innocent man, or even a righteous man. No, he must be a god. Paul while not (at least in the text) refuting this, goes on to heal Publius’ father.  But clearly not as a god, but as a servant of God.  Paul prays! He asks God to do the healing, the miracle is God’s not Paul’s.  There is a lot to learn in that humility.

What lessons do we have then?  Let us avoid being judgmental of others’ misfortune, and let us humbly give assistance to those suffering as servants of God.  Let the glory be His.

Padre