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. —Luke 1:51-53 (The entire Magnificat is Luke 1:46-55).
Anyone who sees Mary as meek, mild, and submissive hasn’t read today’s scripture passage from Luke or the prophets whom Mary echoes here. When she visited her relative Elizabeth after the angel Gabriel came to her, Mary spoke the verses we now call the Magnificat. Like the great prophets in the Old Testament, Mary proclaims that God is a God of reversals who will lift up the lowly, fill the hungry with good things, scatter the proud, and bring the powerful down from their thrones. Like those prophets, “Mary was not only full of grace but full of political opinions,” writes Bill Cleary.
Mary knew first hand what it was to be lowly but still elevated by God. Historians and biblical scholars generally agree that Mary was probably born in tiny Nazareth, population 1,600. She lived in an occupied state under the violent reign of Herod the Great, who was backed by the brutal Roman military. She was an illiterate peasant. She and Joseph owed triple taxes: to Rome, Herod, and the Temple. Like women in many developing countries today, Mary would have spent up to ten hours a day hauling water, gathering firewood, cooking, and washing. She married at about 13 years old. She suffered poverty and oppression and ultimately the execution of her son.
With a strong mother who endured all that, it’s no wonder that Jesus arrived at adulthood and immediately proclaimed that he had come to let the oppressed go free, release the captives, and bring good news to the poor. He didn’t form those opinions out of nowhere. He heard them from his mother, his first teacher. Mary, in turn, had taken them to heart from their family’s holy book, our Old Testament. She was a prophet in a long line of prophets.
For Reflection: Does considering Mary as one of the Hebrew prophets help you appreciate her in a new way? Does thinking about her experience of poverty and oppression help you to see her in a new light? How so?