For the second day in a row, we hear proclaimed in the Gospel the account of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, after the angel tells Mary that Elizabeth is with child. Yesterday I commented on Elizabeth’s declaration of Mary as the “Mother of My Lord.” In contrast, what struck me as I sat again with the passage was the beauty and simplicity of the encounter between these two women.
This is the only passage I can think of in the Gospels that records an encounter between two women (which is perhaps not surprising). When I close my eyes and visualize the months that Mary spent with Elizabeth (we are told, although not in the lines we hear in today’s Gospel, that Mary remained with Elizabeth for three months), what I see is, one sense, nothing extraordinary, but in another, something very special.
I see an older woman, who has been through so much more in her long life, providing counsel and emotional support to the younger woman, her young cousin. Elizabeth listening to Mary’s fears, responding to her questions, reassuring her when she needed it. I see the younger woman, eager to provide assistance to the older woman, as the effects of her pregnancy on an older body make getting around and doing chores more difficult. Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, becoming for a time handmaid to her older cousin.
No hint here of Elizabeth being jealous that she, the elder, was only asked to play second fiddle, birthing John the Baptist while Mary was given the role of Mother of God. No hint here of Mary feeling like she should be sitting in honor somewhere rather than making the long journey to be with her cousin. Instead, two women, lovingly and generously giving each other what the other needs.
Two women opening their hearts to the needs of the other and being willing to accept care and love of the other. It is a beautiful vision…and a worthy model for all of us, men and women.