Thomas Griffin 12/8/20
The angel Gabriel continues the message to Mary that she will become the Mother of God. Mary is told that the Lord is truly with her and that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son. Mary asks “how” this can be the case. She does not doubt that it can happen but she desires to know by what means it will occur.
Gabriel gives a very simple answer: “The power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Lk 1: 35). The word for “overshadow” would have reminded a Jewish reader of the cloud that led the Israelites and Moses through the desert. Which is also the same word used when the cloud covers the meeting tent where Moses and God speak face-to-face. Whatever moment from the Old Testament this overshadowing is referring to it is clear that God is heavily upon and within Mary. The cloud in Exodus denotes not just the intimacy of God being with his people, but it also is meant to show the true strength of Yahweh. When the cloud is on top of the people, leading them through the desert the people know that God is with them because the cloud is huge. The Israelites know not to enter the tent when Moses and God are speaking because the cloud completely covers and encapsulates the tent. Being “overshadowed” means that God is uniquely and tremendously present over that person, thing, or area.
The strength and presence of God is seen in the fact that his presence casts a shadow or a visible mark over where he is. So it is with Mary. God will be so strongly present with her that she will be completely entrenched by the Most High. This is the reality of her soul for the entirety of her life (since the moment of her conception – Immaculate Conception), but at the conception of Jesus it is brought to another level. Being overshadowed is the key.
One weekend I spent the day in the city with some friends. We were able to catch a talk, grab a drink and have a nice dinner. It was a very relaxing day that was well needed. I remember an odd trait from the day though. It was extremely sunny in NYC that afternoon. We walked to all of the destinations we had but we were constantly covering our eyes trying to look up at the buildings or figure out what street we were on. I specifically remember making a turn down one block and we were finally free from the piercing rays of the sun. What hit me the most was not just the text that I could finally see, but the tremendous shadow that the building to our right was casting on the rest of the city.
The sun was not able to reach us or anything on this part of the street because of the angle that the rays hit the building. This mammoth of a shadow stretched from the sidewalk, to the crosswalk, into the street, up the next sidewalk, and across two or three buildings. The light from the sun was strong and prevented us from seeing, however, the building got in the way and everything in its shadow was engulfed by its protection.
The shadow changed things for those within it. Shadows transform reality from what they previously were because they reach out into the world. That’s what the Most High does over Mary. He reaches out, engulfs her with a shadow, and changes everything because of it.
Thomas Griffin teaches Apologetics in the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island and lives with his wife and son. He received a master’s degree in theology and is currently a master’s candidate in philosophy. He writes for several Catholic media outlets.
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