“The strength of God’s arm” (Luke 1:49).
Many years ago when the church still had regular Benediction, a priest asked one of his altar boys to go into the sacristy walk-in safe where the sacred vessels were kept and bring out the monstrance. The boy thought the priest had said “monster,” and hesitated, so the priest went into the safe and returned with the tall cross-shaped stand with a small round window in the center for displaying the consecrated host during adoration. “This is the monstrance,” the priest said. “What do you suppose it’s for?” The boy looked at it and answered, “It looks like a magnifying glass.”
In today’s Gospel, Mary praises God for using her small life to magnify the divine purpose. Because this young girl in a small village in an obscure part of Palestine in a far corner of the Roman Empire in a distant time said "yes" to God, everything has been different. Her womb held our human future and divine destiny. Her song of praise in the presence of her elder cousin Elizabeth, also pregnant, is called the Magnificat. Luke borrowed much of it from the song of Hannah, mother of Samuel (Sam 2:1-8). But because neither reading is proclaimed on a Sunday in our Lectionary cycles, their powerful sentiments are rarely preached about. Perhaps this is by design, because both songs are the ferocious victory cries of women who ask for justice but have throughout history suffered discrimination, oppression, abuse, violence and poverty at the hands of the rich and powerful.
In her Magnificat, Mary praises God for bringing justice to the poor, to women and children, always the first casualties of war. This Mary departs the pious image of gentle passivity and quiet obedience promoted by patriarchy to cry out: “God scatters the proud in their conceit, casts down the mighty from their thrones … sends the rich away empty!” This Mary is overcome with joy that God is reversing the fortunes of rich and poor, the powerful and the little ones of history. She rolls up her sleeves and flexes her arms for the triumph of justice in the world.
The triumph of good over evil is the long narrative of history itself, made possible only because people know that evil is unsustainable where conscience and community are strong. The closer we come to real change, the fiercer the resistance is from those still blind and arrogant enough to oppose the common good. We need look no further than the debate over gun control in the United States to know the truth of one version of the African proverb: “Those that God brings down he first makes stupid.”