The Lowly are Israel

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.
Luke 1:51-55

The Magnificat is not an abstract sociological statement. Mary was not singing about powerless or poor people in general. She was singing about what God was doing for Israel, which in its current state was poor and powerless.

In the child growing miraculously within Mary’s womb, God was remembering his covenants and fulfilling his promises to Abraham and his descendants. Faithful Israel was lowly and the hungry. The pagan empires which oppressed Israel throughout most of its history were proud, powerful and rich. In the messiah, God will turn the tables and restore Israel to is promised place in the world.

Insofar as Mary’s song applies to Christians today, it is because we have been grafted into Israel through Christ.

The early Christians who also lived under Rome’s powerful thumb would have recognized themselves in Mary’s song. Those of us who live in the remains of old Christendom, however, may not always recognize our own powerlessness in the face of the dominant culture, how it shapes our minds and seduces our hearts. We may not recognize our soul’s hunger for true spiritual food as we gorge on what the world has to offer. We don’t see how we need the Lord’s strong hand to deliver us from the proud and the powerful. That’s for somebody else.

And if the church does not seem poor and powerless to you today, it is perhaps because you are only thinking about the part of the church that is most visible in your part of the world. Look across the globe and you will see that Christians are murdered by mobs and hunted by terrorists. They are imprisoned, tortured and executed by the state. Their churches are burned and their religious artifacts destroyed. In some parts of the world, Christ’s enemies are effectively committing genocide against ancient Christian populations. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are among the lowly of whom Mary sings, the ones who will see God’s promises to Abraham fulfilled in Jesus.

I am reading a lot today about the importance of living in solidarity with persecuted and oppressed minorities. That sounds like a good thing. My first duty as a Christian in this regard is to live in solidarity with my oppressed brothers and sisters in the Lord. Through many of Paul’s letters, we read of his concern for the beleaguered Christians in Judea, and his campaign to raise funds for their relief. Paul’s demonstration of global Christian solidarity sets the standard for all the faithful. Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one.

Hold on, brothers and sisters. And thank you for your faithful witness. God has shown the strength of his arm. 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.