3rd Monday of Lent
Solemnity of the Annunciation
Is 7:10-14; 8:10; Heb 10:4-10; Lk 1:26-38
When I was growing up, my dad, for a month or so during the summer, would run a grain cleaner that would go around to the different farms and ranches in our county and take some of their crop that they had set aside and turn it into seed for the next year. This seed cleaner was mounted on a truck that we would drive from place to place to the homes of the members of the co-op.
When I was about ten, I remember being at a prosperous dairy farm near Tulare, California. The owner’s son was a year or two younger than me and was showing me around their dairy and being very friendly. I remember coming to a big stainless steel tank that collected and chilled the milk before it was pumped into a truck each day. He grabbed a stainless steel mug like the ones in our refectory and drew some milk out of a spigot and handed it to me. It tasted so good, and was so cold and refreshing on a hot summer day.
Tagging along with us had been the son of one of the lowly employees. He didn’t say much; John did all the talking. Now, in hindsight, I notice more of the contrast between them. His parents were probably immigrants from Portugal and living in a house provided by John’s family. His dad was probably getting the minimum wage. John could pretty much get any toy he wanted. This boy had very inexpensive toys.
As he was tagging along with us he was playing with a simple toy – it might have just been a small colored rope that you could tie in different knots and formations. You could tell he was quite absorbed in it and enjoying it. Then at one point John took it away from him. John was envious of the toy and of how much pleasure the poor kid was getting from it. He took it because he could. The Portuguese kid knew there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn’t complain to his parents because his dad didn’t want to lose his job and housing. What I saw being played out was an age-old dilemma of the power differential between the landowner and the servant or serf or tenant farmer. One has all the power; the other has none.
I was left in an awkward position. John had befriended me and had been an excellent host. But my heart went out to the poor kid. An obvious injustice had just been done. This part of the story is a little fuzzy in my mind, but I think I told John it wasn’t right, and he gave it back with a chagrined look on his face.
The main image I wanted to paint was the situation of someone with more than his fair share of power running rough-shod over someone with no power. We can all think of our own examples. A friend has two Schnauzer dogs. The alpha male will take the bone or toy away from the more submissive one. But that’s not the way God acts, even though he totally could.
In today’s feast we see the exquisite respect and thoughtfulness with which he treats us humans. The contrast between the Father and Mary was so extreme! He, the Creator of this vast universe – she, a poor, insignificant child of no more than 16 years of age. He could have come barging in and declared, “Look here, kid. I’m going to use your body as a surrogate mother for my son that I’m sending into the world to fix it. There’s nothing you can do about it, so you might as well get used to the idea.” But he didn’t. Instead, he tells her his proposal and waits for her consent. He has such wonderful regard for our free will. Sometimes power is made that much more impressive when it isn’t used. God always treats us as persons and won’t violate our dignity.
And Mary’s response wasn’t given lightly or hastily. For any of us, giving God a blank check is scary. We know it’s going to cost us and take us to situations we’d rather not be in. She couldn’t see the hardships of the flight into Egypt or that Friday on Golgatha, but she could intuit them. No matter. The Asker was worth the generous response. “May it be done to me according to your word.”
What played out in that modest dwelling in Nazareth 2,000 years ago continues to play out in our own lives every day in lesser forms. God continues to desire to partner with us to accomplish his work. He has great graces he is waiting to share with us. But he won’t proceed without our free consent. He’s not a bully, making sure you feel his power. He won’t force his will on us, even though he loves us so much and it kills him to see us taking the wrong road that is harmful to us. In his tenderness, he even comes to us as a beggar. On the cross we saw what extremes God is willing to go to in order to gain our free consent and our true happiness.
His plan is so much better than ours. Let us acquiesce.