In anticipation of Thursday evening’s prayer meditation, I’m contemplating the untold story of Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary, the two who became miraculously pregnant after being forewarned by the same angel, five months apart. One woman was old and so barren; the other young and so unmarried. And I ask: Am I the only one to wonder what the neighbors said about all of this?
Luke tells the story with the barest of details. By all accounts, the neighbors didn’t say much at all. The way Luke tells the story, it looks as if Mary was on the run and Elizabeth was in hiding. And both women appeared to be doing their darned best to keep their story under wraps.
No one knows the age of either. We only know Mary was a virgin. And twice Luke tells us that Elizabeth was “getting on in years.” Elizabeth must have been really old since the usual eloquent Luke feels the need to repeat himself to ensure we don’t miss this important detail. And maybe it’s because I too am “getting on in years” and past the age of child-bearing that I have a special interest in the details of Elizabeth’s story.
Luke tells us that Elizabeth is full of joy to have finally conceived. This woman has waited all her long life to become a mother. And rather than making the rounds at all the neighbor’s houses and sharing her good news with all her oldest and dearest friends — and I do mean OLD friends — Elizabeth goes into seclusion. For five long months she sits and waits. Was Elizabeth afraid to move or speak for fear of miscarriage? Was the local gossip mill all atwitter about dear old Elizabeth finally getting pregnant? If Luke knew, he didn’t bother to say.
We do know that six months later, a barely pregnant Virgin Mary shows up on Elizabeth’s doorstep. And Mary is welcomed by Elizabeth with open arms and heady words. The two women bless one another with their words and their presence.
Mary affirms Elizabeth and Elizabeth affirms Mary. And don’t you know that in their mutual support of one another, that they both felt better about their being in the family way, even if it came about during an indecent and inconvenient time of their lives? It’s so much easier to talk to someone who has walked or is walking in your same shoes.
Mary and Elizabeth had such a fine time together, that Luke tells us that Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three entire months. And though Luke doesn’t say, I can’t imagine that Mary left Elizabeth until that bouncy healthy baby boy was delivered safe and full of sound.
There’s no way to really know all the details I’d like to know. But one’s things for certain: if a gossip had written the story, I bet we’d know all the pertinent details and then some. And be all atwitter for their telling.
Because in two thousand years, people haven’t really changed that much. Then and now, gossip and judgment of others spreads like wildfire until it burns itself out. Or until a new story comes along to tantalize our interest. It won’t be long before Tiger Woods will be out of the woodshed.
Focusing on others and their untold stories is so much easier than focusing on our own. And I cringe at judgment, whenever and wherever I hear it. I always want folks to play nice, to remember that we’re all human, that no one is good but God alone. At least if we choose to believe what Jesus said.
And rather than bite my tongue, I find myself defending the guilty for being all too human. And as I judge the judges, I wonder where and when all the judging stops? Who cares what the neighbors think? Lord, help me to bite my tongue and just sit and listen.
Perhaps Luke was right to take the higher road in telling his story, to keep the good news from being tarnished by so much idle twitter.