Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mary's Commitment

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending December 7, 2008

Scripture Text: Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Luke 1:46-55
(46) And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, (47) and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, (48) for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; (49) for the Mighty One has done great things for me,And holy is his name. (50) His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. (51)He has shown strength with his arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. (52) He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; (53) he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. (54)He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, (55) according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

As we approach this Advent season, I am glad we can take a look at this important and interesting passage from the Book of Luke. In his Gospel, as well as in his second letter to Theophilus (The Book of Acts), Luke differs from the others in the way he portrays women. This passage is often called "The Magnificent," from the first word of the Latin translation. There are fifteen discernible quotations from the Old Testament in this poem, showing Mary's insight and knowledge of the Old Testament writings. Also note that this all takes place in the presence of her relative, Elizabeth, who will soon bear a son called John, whom we will come to know as "John the Baptist," or John the Baptizer. In Luke's Gospel, Luke writes not only about women, but also on the needs of the poor, and other disenfranchised individuals. I would like to look at these verses and see what we can glean.

The poem begins in verse 46, with Mary's gratification that God has chosen her, a poor but devout young woman, to bear the Messiah. When Mary says, "My soul magnifies the Lord," it is rather profound. The Greek word translated as "soul" in this verse has a complicated meaning. In Hebrew thought, the soul was not a separate entity that left the body at death. The Hebrew's considered body, soul and spirit all parts of human nature. They were all parts of a unified, whole person. Mary uses "soul," here, to mean the depths of her feelings and emotions. She expresses an idea similar to that of the author of Psalm 103:1, when he said, "Bless the Lord, o my soul, and all that is within me, bless His Holy name."

In verse 47, the second line compliments the first, when you add, "my spirit rejoices in God my Savior" to, "my soul magnifies the Lord." The poem expresses how fully Mary praises God. The Ancient Greek use of, "savior," implies protection and deliverance. In Greco-Roman society, the term was used to describe Gods and political leaders who provided safety and material comfort. In Hebrew, this word was often used to describe God's rescue and deliverance of Israel, as in Isaiah 43:3 and Psalm 34:3-6, where there are many of the same themes we find in Luke 46-47. Certainly, the way Mary uses the term in Luke, indicates God's sovereignty, protection, providence, and care. In verse 48, similar to Luke 6:20-22, Luke highlights one of the important themes of his Gospel, the idea that those who are poor, outcast, or downtrodden are blessed. In Luke's understanding, Mary was chosen by God, not in spite of her lowliness, but because of it. When Mary calls herself lowly, she does not mean that she is inwardly humble, she refers instead, to her low social standing.

Mary's role of bearing the Christ Child would affect all of subsequent human history. Mary would be a blessing to all generations to come. In verse 49, Mary, having used "Lord" and "Savior" to describe God, uses a third title, "The Mighty One." This term speaks of God's power and strength. (The Greek word "mighty," comes from the same root from which we derive the English word dynamite.) "Mighty," refers to God's ability to act and influence events. The use of the word "holy" carries its original meaning, which referred to something that was set apart, worthy of dedication. To call God's name "holy" is to speak of the reverence and respect due to God.

The Methodist are sometimes called a "holiness" denomination, since we believe in being set apart for God and in being dedicated to God and his teachings. In Mary's words, God's name is to be set apart for special treatment.

Verse 50 is a reminder that God's mercy is dependable. God is consistent, showing mercy through time, "from generation to generation." It is God's mercy that balances his power and might in the previous verse. God is both powerful and merciful. Fearing God is an act of respect, reverence, and awe.

Verse 51 gives a different picture, one of a muscular God who can scatter the proud. The proud includes the arrogant and those that think of God as an equal or a lesser, or as a myth, at best.

Verse 52 is more specific. God judges corrupt political leaders (as well as corrupt church leaders). He can bring low the mighty and raise up the lowly.

Verse 53 shows the contrasts and tensions that come from a "Holy God." The challenge is for those that have, to share with those that are without. God can bless whom He wishes, and He can withhold His blessing if He chooses. None of us have a claim to His riches, we are only promised His presence (Emmanuel).

Verses 54-55 connect God's act in Mary's pregnancy with Israel's history. God promised the patriarchs that Israel would be an important people and that they would be God's special instrument. God had been present throughout Israel's history, always sending leaders and prophets and teachers to guide His people. Now, through Mary, He was about to become one of us so that he could be a better priest, prophet, teacher and savior.

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