Luke 1:39-56 – The Magnificat. [Read the passage]
I have three questions for us today. The first is: what does this tell us about Mary? In my protestant church upbringing, there was great backlash against venerating Mary and the usual emphasis was that she was just an ordinary person, no different than us, to the point that we almost thought less of her. But I think that in picking her, God was saying that there was something special about her and that makes her worthy of our honour. And without praying to her or elevating her to godlike status, we can honour her for who she truly was and what God saw in her.
In this passage, we have Mary’s reaction to being given possibly the greatest honour in the history of the world. Really. In sitting with this passage, here is what I see.
Mary goes quickly to visit Elizabeth. At this point, Mary probably did not feel pregnant but Elizabeth was the sign the angel gave her. She goes immediately to check, which I think is a sign of faith. And God honours that in giving Elizabeth a word of confirmation the instant Mary walks through the door. Then Mary’s joy overflows because it really is true and Elizabeth is the safest possible person to share it with.
In picturing Mary, I imagine a young woman with dark hair and bright eyes. She is courageous, yet innocent and slightly shy. She is overwhelmed by the honour of God picking her. She can’t see any reason why he would but she is so glad that he did. I’m struck by her humility and settled contentedness in who she was and whose she was because she receives this honour without any grasping or groveling about not being worthy. She is simply awed that from now on all generations will call her blessed! You can hear her pure joy as she talks about how good God is. That is a woman worthy of praise.
My second question is what does this tell us about God? Try this on for size: Jesus is the only person in the history of the world who got to pick his parents, and he picked a peasant girl and her tradesman fiancé. And then look at what Mary says again. (Read vs 51-53) Do you see the emphasis on God lifting up the poor? This is more than just charity, this is God honouring the poor.
Our culture, our world, honours the rich and fears the poor. And even though we have the poor as one of our pillars here at Freshwind, we are not immune to that tendency. Our family has been in financial difficulty for nearly two years and I am not immune! But the most prejudiced person is the one who claims not to be prejudiced. “I’m not a racist but…” is always followed by a racist statement. And the people who are the least prejudiced are the ones who are most aware of their prejudiced tendencies. So let’s dig a little in our own hearts this morning and see where we can better line up with God’s heart.
First off, find Jesus and take inventory with him. What are your current knee jerk reactions to poverty and wealth? Is there anything there that Jesus would like to shine his light on?
I recently read a group of reports on a 2013 study by Dr. Paul Piff of the University of California, Berkeley, where they did a series of over 30 tests on the effects of wealth and poverty in order to examine the problem of economic inequality. What they found was very interesting. Across the board, wealth was correlated to dishonesty, self-centeredness, greed, cheating and stealing, while poverty was associated with generosity, honesty, compassion and willingness to help others.
Anyone having a brain cramp about the homeless camp and increase in petty crime in the area? Me too, this isn’t an easy issue. Wealth can be a reward from God. Laziness can lead to poverty. But hard work can also get you nowhere and sometimes the laziest are those at the top.
Yet I have seen the patterns Dr. Piff observed. I have seen the rich grow more and more concerned about money and less and less concerned about people, be they employees, tenants or random people on the street. The saying “money changes people” is not without merit. And I have seen tremendous generosity among the poor. New teachers are much more willing to share resources than those who have been around for a while. I’ve seen people receive food from a Christmas hamper or the food bank and turn around and pack boxes for others they know who are in worse situations.
I think Jesus saw these patterns too. Let’s take a quick jump through some gospel mentions of rich and poor.
Luke 4, when Jesus starts his public ministry, this is his announcement:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
Luke 12, a man asks Jesus to tell his brother to divide the inheritance with him. Jesus replies with,
“Beware and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his posessions. 16 And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. 17 And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ 18 Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ 21 So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
And a few verses later:
33 “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Luke 14, Jesus was invited to lunch at the home of a Pharasee. While there he healed a man from dropsy and told several parables. He had this to say to his host:
“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. 13 But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
In Matthew 19 we have Jesus’ conversation with the rich young ruler.
16 And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; 19 Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
23 And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” 26 And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
In the explanation of the parable of the seeds in Mark 4, Jesus says
18 And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, 19 but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.
Mark 1238 In His teaching He was saying: “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, 39 and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets, 40 who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.”
Luke 16 14Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.
Mark 12 41 And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. 43 Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; 44 for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.”
James 2 sums it up nicely.
2 My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you say to the poor man, “You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives? 5 Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? 6 But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? 7 Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?
8 If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors
13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
Back to psychology.
To me, the most interesting of Dr. Piff’s studies was a rigged game of Monopoly. By coin toss, one person was chosen as the wealthy player. They started with $2000, collected $200 on passing go and got to roll both dice, giving them the chance to roll doubles and get another turn. The designated poor person started with $1000, collected $100 on passing go and only rolled one die. There was no way the wealthy player could lose.
In the course of the game, the characteristic patterns of rich and poor behaviour emerged. At the end of the game, consistently the wealthy player attributed their success to their own effort and skill in the game. Despite knowing that the game was rigged and that they got to be the wealthy player by winning a coin toss, they still believed that they deserved to win. That’s important, I think. Greed and all the rest come with thinking you deserve what you have because of your own skill and effort, forgetting the advantages you have had.
But remember that the players were chosen at random, meaning that real life wealthy people and real life poor people ended up on both sides of the table. To me this brings hope because it means that when we are aware of our poverty, those positive characteristics like generosity and compassion start coming out. Maybe that’s what Jesus was getting at when he said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.
So can we examine ourselves a little more? Invite Jesus to come with you because there is no condemnation in Jesus. Where do you think that you deserve what you have because of your own skill and effort, forgetting the advantages you were handed that got you there in the first place? Where are you lacking in generosity or compassion because you have forgotten or never known what it is to be without or to need help? Where are you very aware of your need for God and able to see it spilling out in generosity and compassion? How are you already poor in spirit and loving your neighbour as yourself?
Coming back around to our passage today, my point is that God honours the poor, and to be like him we need to also. To God there is something very precious in people who rely on him for their basic needs. God chose Mary as his mother. Jesus held up the poor widow as an example of generosity. 2000 years later we are still talking about these peasant women.
So as we head in to Christmas, my last question is: how can we honour the poor? Hear me clearly. I don’t mean how can we do something charitable, because depending on our attitude that can just as easily be dishonouring. I mean how can we and how do we show that we hold the poor in high esteem, the way God did when he chose Mary?