Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Newsletter meditation

Mother Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, the Magnificat, is an amazing gospel proclamation. It praises God’s saving power and describes that power at work on behalf of the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, the humble – and at the expense of the rich, the powerful, the wealthy, the arrogant.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor
on the lowliness of his servant.
. . . .
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.
. . . .
The Greek word for “lowliness”, above, is one of the words used to translate the Hebrew term “ani” and “anawim” (plural), a word for the lowly, humble, oppressed, poor, miserable. And, Mary is drawing upon this powerful theme in the Hebrew Scripture of God bringing salvation for the lowly, delivering the oppressed, giving judgment for the poor, and seeing – using an intensive form of repeating the verb – our distress.
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people” (Exodus 3.7).
“You deliver a humble people” (Psalm 18.27).
“I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me” (Psalm 40.17).
“Maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute” (Psalm 82.3).
“But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit” (Isaiah 66.2).
We experience misery and pain – that’s being human. And we experience the joy of salvation, the gift of God’s presence and comfort, the surprising reversal of fortunes. That’s grace. But we must not put Mary’s song on the purely spiritual level. These themes in Scripture are for concrete experiences of abject poverty and total destitution, and are most often found tied to Israel’s historical experiences of slavery in Egypt and exile in Babylon. It was in that moment of total loss that Israel’s faithful discovered that they were loved and cared for in the worst of circumstances, that they were, like Mary, “favored” (Luke 1.28, 30).

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