Luke 1:26-38
A God Who Beholds
by Rev. Jerry Pokorsky

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, "Hail, favored one!  The Lord is with you."  But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"  And the angel said to her in reply, "The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.  And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God."  Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word."  Then the angel departed from her.

It doesn’t take much for a child to master the delicate art of teasing siblings: “Mom, he’s looking at me.” According to script, a mother usually dismisses the complaint — the hapless “victim” is just “cranky” with an “overactive imagination.” But the ensuing snickering by the puerile provocateur is as inevitable as it is unwise. With no time for squabbling children, a busy mom is quick to bark, “Stop it.” The episode escalates with a lie, “Well, she started it” leading to more fuss — all because the personal space of a child was violated by a naughty brother’s gawk. We like our privacy.

As we get older, in some respects we become even more private, and our sacred private space enlarges. We especially guard the privacy of our souls and — without harmful repression and psychological denial — it’s healthy to do so. Our sins multiply with age, and with a responsive conscience we develop a healthy sense of shame, increasing a reasonable demand for personal privacy. With the passing of years, we have a greater appreciation for what moralists call “natural secrets,” long-forgiven sins that can be justly labeled, “none of your business.” That’s what the seal of confession is all about.

With the ascendancy of widespread acceptance of “sex, drugs and rock and roll,” it has become sporting to catch public figures in violation of one of the Ten Commandments. The “gotcha” moment is used not only to label the offender a hypocrite but to invalidate the moral authority of the Ten Commandments themselves. Years ago, a prominent public figure — a Catholic — was asked if ever he smoked marijuana as a young adult. He responded, “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you, I’d tell my priest.” What an elegant way of saying, “None of your business, bub.” The recognition of “natural secrets” is the church’s way of acknowledging the objective beauty of God’s law and allowing us to retain our dignity and reputation when we fail.

But some claims for privacy go well beyond the protection of natural secrets. The increasingly common phrase, “I will not be judged” is an attempt to deflect attention, not from the behavior itself, but from the necessity of making moral judgments. Somehow we have developed an inalienable cultural right to sin boldly and publicly (usually the sexual sins) without granting anyone — including God — the right to measure behavior against an objective moral code. “Stop looking at me” is tweaked to read, “Look at me, but don’t you dare judge the morality of my behavior.” We like to think that we’ve grown up, but too often we merely disguise our childish ways with clever arguments.

It must be said, however, the phenomenon of “looking at me” can indeed be a terrible violation of human dignity. There can be rash judgments (not enough information to make a correct judgment) and uncharitable use of correct judgments (e.g., gossip). Every capital sin can be preceded by a sinful gaze. There are prideful looks, avaricious preoccupations, slothful wasting of time in front of the television and lustful stares. King David’s lustful gawk as he looked upon Bathsheba bathing led not only to adultery, but to the murder of her lawful husband.

In contrast, to “behold” someone has broader implications than merely “looking” at him. When we “behold,” we not only take in the big picture but also we contemplate details, not merely with curiosity, but with wonder. We usually reserve the word for relatively extraordinary experiences. There is something sacred and solemn in the act of “beholding.” We behold God’s magnificent handiwork in creation, such as the Grand Canyon or splendid mountain ranges and expansive oceans, as well as the great works of art, science and industry, the handiwork of men.

In the Bible, the exalted word "behold" appears a surprising number of times. From the cross, Christ lovingly directs His mother to behold her son, John, and for John to behold his mother, Mary. God beholds His creation with love because it is His handwork. He beholds every detail, from the top of every mountain to the recesses under the sea. “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31).

We, too, are God’s handiwork, and all God’s judgments are made in love and for our everlasting benefit. Indeed, He beholds us with divine judgment: “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” (Rev 16:7). But above all He beholds us with love for purposes of healing, restoration and redemption. “Turn to me (behold me) and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name” (Ps 119:132).

In the Gospel, after Gabriel reveals to Mary that she will bear a son and His name will be Jesus, Mary in faith unreservedly opens her heart in His sight. She responds, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done according to thy word.” And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. By her example of a complete self-surrender in faith, Mary confirms that God will do great things for us if we do not fear His loving gaze or His personal plan for our salvation.

It is praiseworthy and holy to desire God’s gaze. He beholds us, and, if we desire peace of soul, we are beholden to Him.

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