As someone who was young, poor, and illiterate, Mary was not among the affluent or at the center of power, but lived in a village in the backwaters of the Roman Empire. This is who God honors—the least, the marginalized, the vulnerable. This is where God locates God’s self.
If we need to reclaim anything in Mary’s story—if we can reclaim anything in a story that is not ours in the first place, but the story of a young, poor woman living in occupied territory long ago—if we can reclaim anything for Mary and for ourselves it is the freedom of her yes, the courage in her yes.
This idea of offering what it is we have in order to make the world a better place, is what it means to see the face of Christ in the face of our neighbor.
Of course it’s deeply a part of our human nature to be risk-averse. But security is not at the heart of the kingdom, Jesus says. To follow him sometimes entails taking a step outside of our comfort zones or risking life, resources, or reputation for what is right.
Many of our political leaders these days find themselves as empty-handed as the foolish bridesmaids and as stubborn as Amos’ people. They wait passively for God to sort out problems to which their actions and inactions have contributed. When tragedy strikes, they’re quick to offer “thoughts and prayers,” but slow to do anything constructive.
“Blessed” is also colored with those wonderful Hebrew Bible concepts of salvation and shalom—peace, wholeness, well-being. So you won’t get a list from Jesus on “9 Steps to Your Best Life Now” with these pronouncments. You will, however, get a sense for what life is like in the Commonwealth of God, in the coming reality of life lived under the Rule of God.
Another strength of this Reformation legacy is the notion of reform itself. There’s a Latin saying in church circles that expresses this; in English it’s “the church reformed, always reforming according to the Word of God.” We update our beliefs, in other words, with the help of the Spirit.
As much as we aspire to be God’s people of loving justice, we all have “Caesar in our pocket.” It’s a trap. The money in our 401ks; the carbon we burn; the racial, gender, sexual, abled privilege we rest upon; all of that has Caesar’s face stamped upon it. So what does one do? How do we express our allegiance to God? Give it back.
Because of how overwhelming the world can be right now, it’s so crucial that we re-center ourselves on true, lasting joy. We need a source of strength, we need some grounding to endure this journey. In that light, we turn to what the Apostle Paul, the Dalai Lama, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have to say on the subject.
There’s a lot of guidance for us in this Book about how to follow a different path, with the help and the grace of God’s Spirit. There are alternatives to the violent cycles of the world within it: forgiveness, compassion, telling the truth with integrity. They’re painfully slow and they take a lifetime to practice, but they’re the only way out.