Solemnity of the Anunciation

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
. . .
It is the solemnity of the Anunciation. So I went to Mass, and the readings for today have come to me not through my own reading and reflection, but in the context of the liturgy, and a homily. Part of me thinks it’s cheating to begin from someone else’s comments on the readings, and yet it is impossible not to do so.
‘What if Mary had said no?’ The priest reported the question; he didn’t pose it. In fact, he suggested that the speculation about what might have been rested on a mistake about who God is and how God acts. “God doesn’t need a plan B.” True enough. And after Mass, my husband had an exchange with the priest that was about Mary’s will and whether or not it was possible to for her to say no. Turns out the answer to that one depends on how you define words like ‘possible’ and ‘necessary’, though in the end I think they agreed.
The thing is, though, that “no one is ever told what might have been.” This is neither St Thomas Aquinas nor St Augustine, the two thinkers involved in the discussion about Mary’s will. It’s CS Lewis, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy has just asked Aslan a ‘what if’ question. His answer has stayed with me for years, as I have stumbled along trying, and often not trying hard enough, to be a Christian. However often and however badly I fail in my endeavor, ‘what if’ questions after the fact are never fruitful.

God doesn’t need a plan B. In eternity, there is no ‘might have been’ but an everlasting ‘is’, in which everything is in the present tense. From that point of view, wisdom can be seen as arranging all things delightfully, as it says in Wisdom 8: 1. From that point of view, all the crash-and-burn experiences of my life find their way into the tapestry of ‘all things’– arranged delightfully, worked together for the good (Romans 8: 28), having been wrought, however incomprehensibly, in God (John 3: 21).

So the invitatory psalm (Ps 94 [95]) invites us each day anew to ‘listen to his voice’ and to ‘harden not [our] hearts’. It is today that matters, today that affords me the opportunity to do God’s will. That is, more or less, what Aslan says next: anyone can find out what will happen. Let my ears and my heart be open, and my will freely to conform itself to his: and let it be done to me according to His word.

Friday of the second week in Lent

Judah said to his brothers, “What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother and our own flesh. His brothers agreed. They sold Joseph to the Ishamaelites for twenty pieces of sliver.
                                                                        Genesis 37
 Abba John (the Dwarf) said, “Who sold Joseph?” A brother replied, “It was his brethren.” The old man said to him, “No, it was his humility which sold him, because he could have said, ‘I am their brother’ and have objected, but because he kept silence, he sold himself by his humility. It is also his humility which set him up as chief in Egypt.”
*       *       *
We know that Ruben’s plan to go back and rescue Joseph is foiled by Judah’s suggestion. What we cannot see at this point is how God’s purpose is brought to fulfillment in Joseph by this very action; Israel is saved (again) by a bit of treachery. The question might also be asked (therefore), “How was Israel preserved through the great drought?” By Joseph’s humility, perhaps.
Joseph’s “humility,” as Abba John calls it, flies in the face of contemporary attitudes about the self. We are not taught to allow such things to happen to us. Rather, we tend to learn to stand up for ourselves and, hopefully, for others; we are trained to advocate and agitate, to protest. Protesting is precisely what Joseph did notdo. We don’t hear his thought, either. We know about his dreams; we know how dearly his father loved him. We know what Joseph’s brothers thought about him; we know nothing (at this point) of what Joesph thought about them. Did he expect foul play? Why didn’t he protest? Was he worried they would kill him? The author of Genesis does not let us into Joseph’s inner life at all during these events.

Turns out it is a good thing Joseph didn’t protest. The whole history of Israel would have unfolded differently if he had. Joseph’s story (so far) sets us a question: how willing are we to let go of our plans and even our freedom when that’s what God calls us to do?