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The Annunciation: Mary "Kept" and "Pondered"

by Brant Pitre October 25, 2019 0 Comments


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So let’s read together from Luke 2:16–21. It says this:

And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The first thing that might strike you about this particular Gospel is it seems a bit of a strange choice for the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God. For example, you might expect that on the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, we would pick the passage about the actual birth of Christ, or we might pick the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel comes and tells Mary she’s going to be the mother of the Son of the Most High; or you might even think that the Church would pick the Visitation, when Elizabeth says to Mary, “who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). So why does the Church pick this passage—Mary’s reaction to the message of the shepherds? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First, you might have noticed that at the end of the passage it says “at the end of eight days he was circumcised and given the name Jesus” (Luke 2:21). So the first reason that this passage is on this particular day, is that January 1st is the eighth day after the birth of Christ. It is the octave, so to speak, within the season of Christmas and, in fact, in earlier times, before the Second Vatican Council, January 1st was actually the Feast of the Circumcision and the Naming of Jesus. It was after Vatican II that Pope Paul VI transferred the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God— which used to be in October—to January 1st. So what you’re seeing here is kind of a remnant of the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, but also an indication of the significance of this being the eighth day. So we’re celebrating her motherhood on the day that Jesus was circumcised, during the Octave of Christmas. So that is the reason this passage is chosen.

There are some other things going on here as well. You’ll notice that it begins with the message of the shepherds to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:16–18). And so if you’ll go back to the Gospel of Luke 2:11, what was that message? Well, Luke said that the shepherds heard the message of the angel, who said, “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” That was the word that was given to the shepherds and then which the shepherds then gave to Mary and Joseph: that this child was a savior, that he was the Christ—the Messiah, and that he wasn’t just the Christ, he was the Lord, the kyrios—which was one of the names for God in the Old Testament. So he is not just the Messiah, he is the divine Messiah, he is the divine Son of God, he’s the Savior of the world. So the message of the shepherds is being brought to Mary and Joseph, and Mary has a very special function in this particular passage. It’s one of two times in Luke’s Gospel where Luke tells us what was going on interiorly within Mary. So when she hears the shepherd’s words of Christ, about the child being the Christ, the Savior, the Lord, it says that she “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Now what is interesting about that—to use a little Greek for just a second—there are two key Greek words here. First it says that Mary kept these things. The Greek word syntēréō literally means to “treasure up” (Luke 2:19). It is from the idea of putting money into a treasury. So she’s taking the words of the shepherd and she’s treasuring them up in her heart, she is storing them up inside of her interiorly, in her heart and in her mind. And then second, it says that she was pondering them in her heart. The Greek word here is symbállō, which literally means to “throw together” or to “piece together” (Luke 2:19). So it’s an interesting expression because it kind of gives the connotation of Mary tossing these things around, pondering them, ruminating on them, turning over and over and piecing together the various parts of the mystery that is being revealed to her, of who her son really is, of who this little baby in the manger really is. Which, by the way, it is interesting if you think about it because this is a reading from the Gospel of Luke. Where would Luke have gotten information about what the Virgin Mary pondered in her heart? This is the kind of thing that suggests to some scholars that Luke’s infancy account is actually based on the testimony of Mary herself, that it goes back to eyewitness testimony to the event—which Luke tells you at the beginning of the Gospel in Luke 1:1–4: he says this Gospel is based on the testimony of “eyewitnesses from the beginning” (Luke 1:2). Well who was the eyewitness from the beginning par excellence? It was Mary. And you might say, “well, that seems a little far-fetched,” but it’s important remember that in the Book of Acts 18 and 19, we know that Luke, who was the companion of Paul, spent three years in the city of Ephesus—between 54 and 57 AD—which is where the Blessed Virgin Mary went to live after the death and resurrection of Christ. We know that from the ancient Church Fathers, from history outside the New Testament. Anyway, just a side note there.

What is important though is that on the feast of Mary, Mother of God, we kind of get a window into Mary’s soul, a window into Mary’s heart, and a window into her mind, as she’s pondering, reflecting and tossing about this great mystery of the birth of her son, the birth of the Christ child, the birth of the Savior.

And after the shepherds returned, they glorify God for all that they had heard and seen. And then it says that on the day Jesus was circumcised, on this eighth day, it wasn’t just the day he was circumcised, it was the day that they gave him the name, the name Jesus. In ancient Judaism, again, you didn’t name the child before they were born, you didn’t do a reveal on Facebook, a gender reveal or a name reveal, you would wait. The child would not have the formal name until it was given to them at their circumcision on the eighth day after birth. So that’s what happening here, and there they gave him the name Jesus when he is circumcised.

That’s very important too because the name Jesus goes back to the Hebrew name Joshua or Yehoshua or Yeshua—you can get different forms of it—and that Hebrew name Yeshua means, “the Lord saves” (cf. Mt 1:21). So it’s a revelation of the giving of the name of Jesus and it is also the revelation of his identity and his mission. Who is he? He is the Lord. What has he come to do? He has come to save, he’s the Savior of the world. And that’s the mystery that Mary is pondering as the mother of the Savior, as the mother of the Christ, as the mother of the Lord.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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