The word “gospel” is derived from the old English and Germanic roots meaning “good spiel” – a pleasing message. I wonder though, is it really, and if so for whom? Will the Gospel be a pleasing message for everyone?
Magnificat II – mixed textile, 20×33 in © by the artist, Linda Witte Henke
The passage from Luke 1:46-55 is called The Magnificat – a name taken from the first word in the Latin translation of the passage. Also known as “Mary’s Song”, this text relates Mary’s response when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, who though advanced in age has been blessed to conceive a son who will be John the Baptist. Upon greeting Mary at the door, Elizabeth feels the unborn child John leap in her belly, and exclaims “”Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:42-44) Sheer Joy! Here is Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-55):
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor 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 forever.”
Mary’s song echoes that of Hannah, wife of Elkanah, who though she had been barren was blessed by The Lord who answered her prayer and enabled her to conceive and bear a son. Hannah had pledged to God that she would dedicate her child to him if only God would make a way for her to conceive and bear a son. Here is her prayer at his dedication in 1 Samuel 2:1-11:
1 Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. 2 “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. 3 Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 4 The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. 5 Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. 6 The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. 8 He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. 9 “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. 10 The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.” 11 Then Elkanah went home to Ramah, while the boy remained to minister to the Lord, in the presence of the priest Eli.
Both women sing songs of joy, exalting and worshipping God for the mercy and grace shown them. But their interest is not selfish. They understand their own experiences as representative of a larger truth – that God chooses in favor of the poor. The Lord raises up and brings down. These things do not simply happen on their own in the natural course of events. They are part of how God works in the world.
This begs the question: Is the Gospel good news for everyone?