At the outset of Luke’s Gospel, both Elizabeth and Mary become pregnant—Elizabeth with John and Mary with Jesus. When the two women meet, not only do they rejoice together, but even John leaps for joy in his mother’s womb. The reaction of John in utero underscores the magnitude of the Messiah’s arrival, but it also foreshadows Jesus’ own teaching about leaping for joy even under persecution. In this way, Luke connects the joy of following Jesus with the reality of being reviled by others for such loyalty. The Lukan language in these cases alerts readers to challenges they will face, but also reminds them of the joy of Jesus in the midst of hardship.
In describing Elizabeth’s meeting with Mary, the Gospel states, “When Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped (σκιρτάω; skirtáo) in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you (εὐλογημένη σὺ; eulogeméne sù) among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…. For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped (σκιρτάω; skirtáo) for joy” (Lk 1:41-42, 44). In this show of joy, John identifies Jesus as the Messiah even before birth, which presages the Baptist’s preparation for Yeshua’s ministry as an adult.
This “leaping” language appears again in Luke’s presentation of the Beatitudes, and echoes Elizabeth’s declaration to Mary. Jesus states, “Blessed are you (μακάριοί ἐστε; makárioí este) when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil for the sake of the Son of Man. Rejoice (χαίρετε; chaírete) in that day and leap (σκιρτάω; skirtáo), for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Lk 6:22-23). Here, Yeshua encourages his followers to “leap” in the same way that John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb. The difference in the context of Jesus’ sermon, however, is that “leaping” for joy should be done even in the face of adversity. Yet, reading Luke’s earlier references to John’s “leaping” alongside this one reminds the reader of the reason for such earthly exclusion: the joyful birth of Jesus and the salvation that comes with it.