A Thought for the Annunciation

annunciationRecently, I read the Scythe Trilogy by Neal Shusterman. (For Girardians: Shusterman has shown much insight into mimetic desire and scapegoating in his many young adult novels.) This trilogy envisions a future where a massive computer called The Thunderhead runs the world: coordinating work, managing the healing of sick and injured people, everything except for one thing. Since people no longer die of natural causes, the population is lessened somewhat by the institution of Scythes who randomly kill people gently and without malice. This is called gleaning. The Scythes and the Thunderhead are separate and do not interact. What would a trilogy like this have to do with the Annunciation of Our Lady?

Not surprisingly, the Scythes eventually attract enough corrupt members to threaten the institution. The Thunderhead cannot intervene directly and must use very careful workarounds to counter this corruption. There are two incidents I can share without seriously spoiling the main thrust of the plot. These incidents offer helpful analogies to the Annunciation.

In the first incident, the Thunderhead decides it must inhabit a human being for a brief time as a necessary step to properly completing a project. Accordingly, the Thunderhead possesses a human. Although this is just for a moment or two, it is traumatic for the human and also for that person’s lover who shares the pain. This incident makes it quite clear that the Incarnation of the Son, the Logos, could not be accomplished by force and be a salvific event for humanity.

In the second incident, a woman, a very ordinary woman, but one who has done well in a pressure situation, receives plans for a highly ambitious project designed by the Thunderhead. This plan will go through only if this woman, representing humanity, gives assent to the project, which se does. The project then goes forward with momentous results. Here we have a strong analogy to the Annunciation. Only by way of a genuine free choice by a human being does the Incarnation of the Son, the Logos occur.

Mary’s fiat, her agreement to the angel, changed the world. The ordinary woman in the Scythe Trilogy and Mary, another ordinary woman in a pivotal situation, show us that, ordinary people like you and me never know how crucial each “yes” to God can be. But God knows.

The Throne of David – Part One

MaryWhen the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to conceive and bear a son, the angel said that her son “will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk. 32–33) However, the prophet Nathan made this same promise to King David: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” (2 Sam. 7: 16) Likewise, Psalm 89 say that David’s “line shall continue forever, and his throne endure before me like the sun. It shall be established forever like the moon, an enduring witness in the skies.” (Ps. 89: 36–37)

But the throne of David’s house came to an abrupt end with the Babylonian conquest and exile. Right after echoing the promise to David, Psalm 89 went on to declare its falsity: “But now you have spurned and rejected him; you are full of wrath against your anointed. You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.” (Ps. 89: 38–39) According to the genealogy that opens Matthew’s Gospel, the line of David continued after the deportation to Babylon, but we know nothing about Salathiel and his descendants until we reach Joseph, the husband of Mary. Joseph was a carpenter, a worthwhile means of making a living, but carpenters are not usually considered royalty. The idea of a carpenter’s son ruling over the House of David forever was absurd. But that was hardly as absurd as God impregnating a young woman who was still a virgin.

From the moment of Jesus’ conception, then, we have the premonition that if the boy is going to grow up to become a king who rules forever, he is going to be a very different king than his ancestor David. He will be raised in a backwater of Galilee rather than in a palace. He will not have glossy magazines printing feature stories about him. His retinue will be a small group of men of humble origins, many of them fishers. The biggest and most crucial difference will be that David replaced Saul as king because he slew tens of thousands to Saul’s thousands, (1 Sam: 18: 7) but Jesus would not wield a sword. Neither did he compete for the kingship with anybody, whether within or without Israel while David competed both against the Philistines and his own king. Rather than running a military operation, he let the Roman military operation run him up against the cross. But this slain king still reigns forever. How can this be? The angel also told Mary that her son would be holy and “be called the son of God.” (Lk. 1: 35) Whereas David, descended from the house of Jesse in Bethlehem, rose up in the world, Jesus came down from heaven to a totally washed up royal house. That’s quite a come down! But after dying on the cross, Jesus was raised from the dead where he does rule forever. And yet we still fight with each other, trying to kill tens of thousands over/against the thousands killed by our competitors. We fight those in our defined out-groups while we struggle against those within our in-groups whose authority we resent. But Jesus reigns without competing and without resentment. As one who became one of us among humans, Jesus is with us, within our hearts just as much as he is at the right hand of his heavenly Abba. Are we willing to be subject to a king as low as this?

 

See also The Throne of David: Part Two