300: RED CHRISTIAN DOCUMENTS #7: THE MAGNIFICAT (GALILEE, ca. 4 B.C.E.)

Mary, the humble mother of Jesus, sang this song when she visited her cousin Elizabeth:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour
for he has regarded the lowly estate of his handmaiden
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away…
(Luke 1:46-53)

Commentary by Elsa Tamez (i)
“The Good News takes a very concrete form. The central message is this: the situation cannot continue as it is; impoverishment and exploitation are not God’s will; but now there is hope, resurrection, life, change. The reign of God, which is the reign of justice, is at hand.
We have often been told that the message contained in the Good News is that Christ came into the world to save us or free us from sin. But sin is identified with those actions that society considers immoral; drug taking, adultery, excessive drinking, and so on. Thus the gospel of life is reduced to a simple behavioural change.
But the Good News cannot be so reduced. After all, any non-Christian religion can propose that sort of moral teaching, which amounts to nothing but a set of patches designed to cover over the great sin that lies underneath: oppression at the national and international, the individual and collective levels.
The message of the good news is of the liberation of human beings from everything and everyone that keeps them enslaved. That is why the Good News brings joy and hope.
(In the Magnificat) Mary is speaking not of individuals undergoing moral change but of the restructuring of the order in which there are rich and poor, mighty and lowly.
The Good News that speaks of the liberation of the oppressed cannot be pleasing to the oppressors, who want to go on exploiting the poor. But the Good News is indeed good to those who want to change and to see a more just society.
For the most part, those who want to live in a society in which justice and peace  reign are those who suffer hunger, oppression, poverty. For this reason the Good News is directed especially to the poor. Jesus himself said so when he read from the book of Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord
Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.
(Luke 4:18-19,21)”

Commentary by Terence Eagleton (ii)
“At the beginning of his Gospel, the author conventionally known as Luke stages an almost certainly fictitious scene in which Mary, Jesus’s mother, encounters her cousin Elizabeth while pregnant with Jesus.
Luke puts into Mary’s mouth a song which the Catholic Church knows as the Magnificat, but which, so some biblical scholars suspect, may be a version or echo of a revolutionary Zealot chant.
This motif of revolutionary reversal is almost a cliché of Old Testament theology. Yahweh can be neither imaged nor given a name, but you shall know him for who he is when you see the poor being exalted and the rich dispossessed. The motif of a close link between the deepest suffering and the highest exaltation is a traditional one in Judaism, as it is in the Western lineage of tragedy. True power flows from powerlessness, a doctrine which Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection is meant to exemplify. The poor and exploited are a sign of failure of the governing powers, since they illustrate what misery those powers must wreak in order to secure their sway. In this sense, the dispossessed are negative images of the just society. They are, too, in the fact that that they have much less to lose than those who lord it over them, and so have a greater interest in working for such a transformation. Mary herself is a type of this revolutionary reversal, as an obscure young Galilean woman chosen for no particular reason to become the mother of God. At the very moment that she is being elevated in this way, God is humbling himself by taking on human flesh in her womb. In this sense, Luke sets Mary up as a sign of what the Old Testament calls the anawim and St Paul rather more racily refers to as the ‘shit of the earth’ – the useless, vulnerable and discarded in whom the approaching kingdom is most powerfully prefigured.Since they have little  to hope for from history, they are the purest signifiers of a justice and fulfillment beyond its threshold. “

Sources:
(i) Tamez, Elsa “Bible of the oppressed” Orbis books (1982) p.67-68
(ii) Eagleton, Terence “Terry Eagleton presents Jesus Christ The gospels” Verso Revolutions (2007) p.xix

Related Zingcreed Posts:
Two red jewesses
Structural ‘sin’
Liberation theology, dead or alive?
Jesus’s real political message
Red christian documents #6: Revolutionary Christianity, Tony Benn (UK 1979)

[299 indexed & linked t&c]

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