Blessed – joy, hope, anticipation, expectation, new life, congratulations as an existence is coming into being.
This joyful interaction between Elizabeth and Mary sets the scene for Jesus life and in many ways is an interaction that is played out all of the world all the time.
I asked myself this week, “Is there the fruit of any womb that is not blessed?” Or maybe to ask the opposite question, “Is there any child that has been brought into existence that is cursed?”
Though I might want to answer ‘yes that the fruit of every womb is blessed’ I realised as a reflected on this that there are times, far too many times that a pregnancy is unwanted. In some cases pregnancy feels unsafe and insecure and may have been the product of poor decisions or even violence. In these cases the mother often feels far from blessed – they feel burdened and afraid. Yet the fruit of the womb, the innocent child within – are they still not blessed.
And what does the blessing look like as a life unfolds?
I wrestled with these paradoxes and was drawn back to Jesus own life and the fact that this birth story was probably added by Matthew to help us understand who Jesus was and what God was doing in and through him.
The scene for Jesus life is set with these words: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb”
Blessed is Jesus who we find in a garden praying in chapter 26 of Matthew’s gospel. His closest friends Peter, James and John were asked to watch him but keep drifting off into sleep. Jesus prayer is filled with angst and echoes the isolation and fear he is feeling “let this cup pass from me” but if it cannot “let your will be done”.
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb” who as he prays Judas gathers a crowd to come and betray and arrest Jesus and to take him away. A friend, a follower, becomes his betrayer.
At any moment do we think that God has stopped blessing Jesus? The answer feels like it should be yes, the answer is difficult and raises the question within us, “why is there such a paradox that this one who is meant to be blessed suffers betrayal?”
And we read into Chapter 26 of Matthew and see the temple authorities handing Jesus on to Pilate and demanding that he be put to death. We see the machinations of the politicians and the leaders and those who hold power and we see how someone can get caught up in these machinations.
Jesus appears powerless against the weight and way of those who hold authority in the systems of his time. And Pilate interviews Jesus and makes a choice to let the crowd decided.
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb” when the crowd yells in preference for a common criminal rather than Jesus. His people, possible some of which heard him teach or saw him heal or waved palm branches as he entered Jerusalem call for his downfall.
What does it feel like to be blessed? Surely not to be left high and dry by those who are meant to love you.
And Jesus, we are told is handed over to the soldiers, and Pilate the politician washes his hands and refuses to take responsibility for what is about to occur – he claims his innocence. But are any innocent who let the innocent suffer?
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb” who is mocked and tortured by soldiers; who is dehumanised and degraded. Any dignity that was once held by this man is stripped away as his clothes are taken from him and as he is led away to be crucified.
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb” who will be hung on a tree. According to Leviticus anyone hung on a tree is cursed by God. This sad and sorry and brutal picture unfolds before us and Elizabeth’s expectant cry on seeing Mary must have seemed so distant for Jesus mother now: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb” – who hangs discarded and despised on the cross breathing his last moments – crying to the God who thinks has now forsaken him. How is the fruit of this womb blessed as he breathes his last and dies such an ignoble death?
And the world shakes and darkness falls and the last words spoken in Matthew by the cross are the paradox that Jesus has been living. The Roman soldiers says in wonder, “Truly, this man was God’s son!” “Blessed is the fruit of your womb”
In Chapter 28 we are told that days later Mary Magdalene and the other Mary go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body. But the body is gone and an angel appears before them tells them that Jesus is no longer there for he has been raised. Go and tell the disciples. Go and tell the world. Go and tell that Jesus has been raised. “Blessed is the fruit of your womb”
And the women encounter Jesus on their way and the paradox and the miracle and the mystery overflow as they tell the disciples and the disciples gather and Jesus appears before them for one last moment, for one last time and he says to them:
“Go into all the world, make disciples, baptize and teach them everything I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always.”
What should we as Jesus’ followers teach? The gospels are full of stories. Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners, he spoke women, he consorted with Samaritans, he challenged the authorities, he cast out demons, he healed the lepers, he drew in followers, he lived, he died and he rose again.
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb” what hope this life gives to us for at no point should there be any sense that Jesus was not blessed by God. God’s blessing was not restricted in any moment in which Jesus was. Whether he was disappointed by sleeping friends, betrayed by his friend, made powerless by authorities, judge by a rampant mob, mocked and cajoled by soldiers, or even in the abject moment of death, when he felt deserted by God’s presence. Jesus was blessed throughout because God was in him and God was with him and God’s love never left him and this is God’s love for us as well.
“Blessed is the fruit of every womb” – blessed are you who came from your mothers’ wombs and blessed am I. Blessed are our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and for every generation that has been before and is to come. This is our hope that through the Holy Spirit our lives are joined to his life, to Jesus life, and whatever our momentary experience might be God will not desert us.
Blessed be you who are poor in spirit, blessed are you who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful and the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted and the reviled.
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb”
This is the love of God declared in that moment of joyful anticipation between Elizabeth and Mary. They do not know the story that will unfold but the conviction must be that the blessing never leaves. And, more than that, that this blessing of Jesus, who is "the blessed fruit of this womb", is God’s life lived alongside ours. It is a reminder of God’s presence with us and it is our hope that our sufferings and death are not the final word but the blessing and promise of new life will overcome all our sorrows.
“Blessed is the fruit of your womb” “Blessed is the fruit of every womb”