The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
The Right Reverend Cathleen Bascom, Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas

 

 

 

The Magnificat: God Chooses to Use the Nobodies of the World

How do you relate to Mary the mother of Jesus? Yesterday was her feast day and to honor that, we make our hymn of praise this day the Magnificat Mary’s song. For some of us, Mary may seem captured by the Christmas story, she is bound to that moment in time the expectant or new mother. For some of us, her youthful, motherly figure portrayed in stained-glass, or stone, or rituals may make her seem other and far off…unattainable.

Interestingly, for early believers, Mary was seen as very down to earth, extremely human. She was salt-of-the earth, she was a nobody.

We turn on the classical radio station in the midst of ethereal music that permeates our tough exteriors and touches an inner core of response. We can’t understand the words—they’re in Latin, as it turns out—but there is no doubt that the melodies, instruments, and voices are communicating spirituality at its best.

The music stops as the announcer tells us that we have been listening to the Magnificat by di Lassus (who wrote the one I heard most recently) or Frescobaldi or Vivaldi or Palestrina or Mozart or Berlioz or Pinkham or, if we’re really lucky, Johann Sebastian Bach. There is now single passage of Scripture more frequently set to music. But there is nothing charming in the song that the alleged dutiful peasant girl sings a bit later, a musical prayer we call “The Magnificat,” because in Jerome’s Latin version the first words are Magnificat anima mea Dominum, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”

Be that as it may, Mary, who has little choice, accepts the word of the angel that in her womb the Messianic hope will come to fruition in just nine months’ time. Her son, son of a nobody, will be the “Son of the Most High,” of whose “kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33). Wow!…

But God is not beholden to human estimates of worth. It is a peasant girl, one of no account, whom God raises up, so that henceforth all generations will call her blessed (cf. Luke 1:48). Mary can hardly believe it: “God who is mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49)—for me, Mary What’s-her-name from the wrong side of the tracks, the one with no education, no coming-out party, no executive position in the corporate structure of a multinational corporation, the one who is the object of a lot of sly talk and gossip (“Impregnated by the Holy Ghost indeed! A likely story…”). If this is the way God operates, all bets are off. Our assessments of who is important must be put on hold.
(from Robert McAfee Brown’s Unexpected News, p. 74-78)

Mary is very much like you and me! When we look closely at the Magnificat the content has two main thrusts: first, Mary thanks God for choosing to use her a nobody! (lowly servant= poverty, simple, one who suffers.) God has decided – nonetheless – to bring the good news of God’s love in the messiah through her! Secondly, Mary infers and sings about how God will use all the nobodies!!!

The deep truth of the Magnificat is this: on our own, we are all poor, all nobodies.

And yet, with God, all of us are favored and rich. Anglicanism’s great historian of the 7th c. The venerable Bede interprets what is occurring in Mary and the birth of Jesus: Through all the time of this transitory age, the just and merciful creator is willing to oppose the proud and give grace to the humble…

God himself appeared in visible form among human beings, so that they might be capable of seeing God.

Beginning next week, every Monday over the lunch hour, bishop and staff spiritual communion, ‘old saints for new days’ (describe) as I have been in the St. Mary chapel preparing, moved by all of the icons and images of Mary, various races and ethnicities, the hues of her skin, her postures…make her very human.

We are poor and humble, and like Mary, God wants to reveal God’s loving self as given to us in the risen Jesus through us, a bunch of nobodies! May our souls, like our sister/mother Mary, magnify the lord.