For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
After hearing Elizabeth’s blessing, Mary broke out into a song of joy. She cried out, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” But many stop at the opening line and fail to realize how subversive, even revolutionary, Mary’s song really was.
Remember, Mary was a thirteen-year-old peasant girl from a town of people who were on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. It was Herod and his supporters, along with the Romans and those of the upper class who were allied with them, who ruled the land.
Yet God chose Mary to give birth to the messianic king.
I think back to the wedding of Prince William and Princess Kate in the spring of 2011. Now, there was a princess of a respected family. But Mary? She was from Nazareth. She was a nobody. But she understood that this was God’s way. He chose as the mother of his Son a lowly peasant girl from a working-class family. Can you feel her utter amazement, her joy?
Mary’s psalm began to take on a revolutionary note when she sang, “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” As I read these words I think, “Yes, that is how God works. ‘He humbles the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” The proud had it coming. I immediately think of the tyrants in the Middle East who were overthrown in what was dubbed the Facebook Revolution in the spring of 2011.
The next two lines of Mary’s song always leave me feeling disturbed: “He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” It is one thing to speak of God humbling the proud, but sending the rich away empty? This begins to feel uncomfortable. Today, many would read this line to be suggesting a redistribution of wealth and might accuse Mary of the “s-word”: socialism.
Mary’s words should make us uncomfortable. They point to a concern God has for the poor, and a sense that the rich have received theirs already. Since the income of the average American puts us in the top five per-capita income in the world, most of us are “rich.” Here’s how I read these words in Mary’s song: They are a reminder of something Jesus said later: “To whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48). Jesus’ words are a reminder of the call upon Abraham, who was “blessed to be a blessing.”
To the degree that we earn our money unjustly, or hoard it without being willing to share, we do have reason to be anxious about the day when we give an account of our lives. But we have a choice. We can choose to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8). We have the obligation and the calling to be used by God to “fill the hungry with good things.” When we do these things, we need not fear being sent away empty.
Lord, help me to see how I might use the gifts you’ve given me to “do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly” with you. Amen.
Today's post is an excerpt from Walking the Road to Bethlehem.