Upside-down courtship. This week's scripture in our Luke study is Chapter 1, verses 26-38. This is the section that contains the "Annuciation", Gabriel's visit to Mary to fortell Jesus' birth. It contains Mary's subsequent visit to Elizabeth, where "the baby [John the Baptist] leaped in her [Elizabeth's] womb" when Mary enters her home. And it also contains "the Magnificat", Mary's song about what God has for her. Lots of good stuff here.
What struck me on my first (this time) reading was the "upside-down" courtship practices of the Jews during this period of time. I had cross-references to Matthew handy as I read this section. In Matthew we hear about Joseph's reaction to Mary becoming pregnant. My NIV notes at Matthew 1:18 describe the betrothal customs:
There were no sexual relations during a Jewish betrothal period, but it was a much more binding relationship than a modern engagement and could be broken only by divorce (see v. 19). In Dt 22:24 a betrothed woman is called a "wife," though the preceding verse speaks of her [Mary] as being "pledged to be married." Matthew uses the terms "husband" (v.19) and "wife" v. 24) of Joseph and Mary before they were married.
At least generally in our culture, engagement or even something less "binding" seems to license sexual relations. (Or maybe not much at all.) In Jesus' time, young men and women made a social, religious/legal commitment first, one that extended for some time, before the wedding authorized consummation. It is interesting to think about the implications for the relationship between the two young persons with each other individually and for the relationship between the two of them as a couple with their families and larger community that arose from such an upside-down approach.
With there apparently being so "few good men" out there, what pressure there must be for a young woman, once she thinks she has found one, to give herself up early, before much more than a whispered committment is in place. Is that pressure first cousin to the pressure Sarah felt when she finally gives up Abraham to her maid as she despaired for a child of her own? Here is faith really put to the test, I think.
Yes, I know; it's easy for me to say. But it's worth saying.