In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And Mary said, “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. 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. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
The Magnificat, as this passage from Luke’s gospel is known, has been cast musically and used liturgically throughout the centuries. Sometimes, however, its familiarity and iconic status has prevented people from recognizing how truly radical a proclamation it is. In these exclamatory words from the mouth of Mary, the upsetting of the entire economic and political order is forseen. Mary, drawing on the vision of the ancient prophets, and moved by the fact that God has selected her (a woman of “low degree”) as the agent of the approaching Kingdom, is lost in an exultant and unrestrained anthem of praise. In our current times, with such economic and political uncertainty, the Magnificat can be either frightening or promising, depending on one’s social placement and one’s faith perspective. Some questions to consider:
1. In the vision that Mary has, in which the standing order is overthrown, where would we find the church? Where, in particular, is Plymouth Church in this vision?
2. Liberation Theology speaks of God’s “preferential option for the poor.” What does this mean to you? Does it fit your image of God?
3. How do you feel when you read this passage? (Note that the question is not “What do you think?” but “how do you feel?) Frightened? Encouraged? Confused? Unsettled?