In the midst of oppression, Mary proclaims that God’s reign will transform the world through the way of Love.
Vicar Matta Ghaly, CSJC.
The feast of Mary, Mother of Our Lord
Text: Luke 1:46-55
My beloved friends in Christ, Grace and peace to you on this blessed feast day of Mary, mother of our Lord, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
In today’s gospel reading, we listen to a canticle sung by Mary, a poor, vulnerable and young Galilean woman living in first-century occupied Palestine, living under the brutal and humiliating tyranny of Roman rule. Mary lived in a divided nation, a nation in crisis with quarreling political parties and unholy allegiances, violent revolts and bloody massacres. The majority of her people lived in unbearable poverty; most resources were plundered by the rich, funding palaces and military expeditions while they lived in destitution. A whole people condemned to oppression, they were waiting and waiting for that one their ancestors spoke of, to come and snatch them from the grip of a death-dealing world.
Mary too was witnessing, with an eye of mercy, the pain of her nation, waiting and praying for the promised savior of Israel. From among all her people, God chose her to birth the Messiah, the Son of God, whose coming in the flesh commenced the long-awaited kingdom of God.
In Mary, God defies so much of our “impossible” to make a new world possible through Christ.
Earlier in the chapter from which we read, Mary visits Elizabeth who is pregnant with John, the forerunner of Christ. We can perhaps see the image of two pregnant women filled with the Holy Spirit, in love with God, full of awe and gratitude for God’s grace, standing together, rubbing each other’s hands, blessing one another, and remembering the kind of love that transformed their life through the impossible.
So in this moment of awe and intimacy, Mary sings this canticle to set the stage for the entire gospel of Luke, testifying to God’s love and redemptive work in the world. In the midst of so much turmoil and injustice, this young woman – a 14 year old single mother – stands with a full belly and prophetically sings that the world is about to turn – not with the rise of a new political party, or a violent uprising or a coup d’état, no – she sings of the world turning with the power of God’s love, a love that looks favorably on the lowly rather than the mighty, a love that admires humility rather than pride, a love that overthrows the powerful of this world to lift up the oppressed, a love that fills the hungry and thirsty, and sends away empty the secure, self-relying and wealthy, a love not dependent on transactions or an exchange of favors but that gives abundantly of one’s self and one’s possessions, a love that from generation to generation, pours loving-kindness and overflowing mercy, a love that turns the world upside down and makes a way out of no-way for those who have no other way but love, a co-suffering and healing love that is incarnate in the child Mary gives birth to, our beloved savior Jesus Christ.
God has seen our humiliation, God has heard our sighs, God is present in our tears, and God now reigns – Mary sings – and God’s reign reaches with love into our reality, into our very hearts, to till the soil of our being with grace, and transform the world with the call of a living and working faith, a call to return to God’s heart with our bodies, with our minds and with our souls.
What might be the impact of such a love, one might ask?
Friends, the author of Luke understands that the socio-economic, political and cultural realities of a people are inseparable from their spiritual reality and the condition of their heart. As Jesus himself says in the gospel of Luke “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” And so through love, God deeply enters with a transformative grace into the heart of our blessed mother Mary to transform who she is, how she walks and what she does in the world. And her faithful love in response to God – her love for her own child – makes known the Way of a divine kingdom; a kingdom in which the last will be first, and the first will be last; a kingdom in which the undesired find home and belonging, and the powerful are displaced; a kingdom that is good news to the poor, release for the captives, freedom for the oppressed and healing for those whose backs were bent by despair and despondency.
God’s reign does not perpetuate the violence and might of Rome to establish yet another brutal but fragile kingdom. It does not use force or shame as a way out of complicity. Instead, God reigns through love; God reigns in the resiliency of forgiveness, patience and long-suffering. God reigns when we love our neighbors and enemies alike, when we name and confess our sin and prejudice, and ask for absolution and forgiveness, when we seek to be in right relationship, when aggression and violence are met with an offer of peace, when our anxieties are surrendered and like children, we trust that we are loved enough to be fed, to be dressed better than the lilies of the field.
God reigns when an Israelite and a gentile are both equally heard and healed, God reigns when a chief tax-collector like Zacchaeus gives away half of his possession to the poor and is saved, God reigns when more than five thousand are fed with just five loaves of bread and two fish.
In all of these instances throughout the gospel of Luke, God enters the heart with a love so genuine; an invitation to belong so potent, that it transforms an individual’s whole being and drives them to act out of faith according to grace. It’s a love so contagious; it magnifies, multiples, and causes the world to turn with justice, mercy and loving-kindness.
And in as much as this canticle reveals to us the immensity of God’s love, it testifies to Mary’s profound love for God, an intimate and vast love that says yes when the Word is proclaimed, that trusts the holy Spirit is at work, that responds with “Here I am… let it be with me according to your word,” especially in the face of the impossible.
Truly, as Elizabeth proclaims; “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” And blessed are we when we follow in her path and believe God’s promise.
Given Mary’s weakness and powerlessness before the grandiose power of an empire, this canticle of liberating love would be deemed foolishness to a culture of dominance, greed and power, for in the eyes of such a culture, this kind of love is meaningless and produces no change in our reality. It’s a culture that expects a Mary to choose between violence and despair.
Yet here we are friends, the Church of God, one generation after another, boldly singing with Mary a canticle of faith and hope in God’s reign, unashamedly proclaiming the foolishness of the Way of Love, trusting that God will overthrow whatever power of this world that deceives, consumes, destroys and leaves us unfulfilled, without real meaning or purpose. Through the wisdom of our Mother Mary, in the model of her co-suffering love with the world, we are being called as accomplices for the kingdom of God – with our hearts, with our hands and feet, with our all for the sake of Love.
If you wish to dream into reality a different world, remember first that you been made a child of the most high, and you belong to God’s family by which this Way of Love – the gospel – is made known and put into practice. Find in your heart a tender closeness and intimacy with God, water it and nurture it with your siblings in Christ. If you can’t find it, then fervently ask Christ to show you the way, for he passionately desires you as his own beloved.
Trust that God is constantly reaching out to you, calling you to enter deeper into the mystery of Love with unceasing prayer, through the means of grace – the sacraments, in watchfulness over what enters your heart and resides in it, and by pure love and service towards neighbor and enemy alike. Like Mother Mary, your sacred love affair with God will become contagious; it will change you, transform those around you, and surely send you as good news for many who are hungry for love and for bread – to God be the glory forever and ever. Amen