In terms of Luke's plot, this meeting expands Luke's characterization and serves as a crucial pivot in the infancy narrative. Though the mothers of John and Jesus meet, the account is portrayed as a meeting of the two children, since John reacts to the meeting as Elizabeth makes clear. In fact, John's reaction anticipates and mirrors the forerunner role that he will have in Luke 3. Much in the passage parallels Genesis 25:22-26, though there are some major differences. In Genesis there is internal tension as Jacob and Esau struggle for supremacy in the womb. Here there is a total absence of tension: John leaped for joy (vv. 41, 44) at the presence of Jesus' mother, who bears Jesus in her womb.
John's ministry starts very early; he is a forerunner even as he responds in Elizabeth's womb (vv. 14-15). This next note of fulfillment of the angelic promise comes from one filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. The fact that Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit as she reports the response indicates how Luke views her response: she expresses the mind of God. This sign sets the mood for the passage. The basic response to the arrival of Jesus onto the scene of history should be joy.
Elizabeth is exemplary in her response. She is the "amazed saint." Her attitude is summarized in the question "Why am I so favored?" Here is humble amazement at being able to participate directly in God's plan and see him at work (2 Sam 6:9; 24:21). All who have a role in God's plan should share this wonder.
Elizabeth recognizes the unique blessedness of Mary (blessed are you among women) because of the child she bears (blessed is the child you will bear). The remark is rhetorical and should not be read as if Mary is the most blessed of all women. It means she is "very pleased" (compare Judg 5:24; Song 1:8). The attitude of Elizabeth is representative of what Luke desires in any believer. What a joy to share in the events associated with Jesus. What a joy to share life with him.
Elizabeth also reveals a second exemplary attribute, one that also is found in Mary. While reporting the leaping of John in her womb, she expresses a beatitude for Mary's faith: "Blessed is she who has believed." Here is the essence of response to God, to trust his word to be true and live in light of that belief. To be blessed is to be happy because God has touched one's life. Such divine benefit rains down on those who trust him and his promises. Blessing emerges from God's ability to bring his promises to completion, but to share the benefits, we must be confident that God does what he says. The first sign of such faith in Mary was her willingness to let God use her (v. 38). The second was her immediate (hurried) visit to Elizabeth, who herself served as a sign that God keeps his word and can give life (vv. 36, 39).
Theophilus and readers like him should not doubt, but rejoice and be assured that God keeps his promises. Trust and joy are two vital aspects of a successful walk with God. Elizabeth's joy is shared by Mary, who will utter a hymn of praise to God for his gracious work on her behalf. Mary's psalm also comes from the heart of a grateful believer.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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