And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.”
It is doubtful that Mary ever lived so well as she did in the three months she stayed with Elizabeth, the wife of a Temple priest. Mary came from the poor peasant class of Galilee that under Roman domination and corrupt King Herod had spiraled downward from being small landholders, to tenant farmers, to day laborers.
Young Mary was betrothed to a carpenter, a builder (Greek: tekton), who probably owned no land and lived on a daily wage. We know that when Joseph and Mary presented baby Jesus in the Temple they came as poor people. They offered two turtledoves, a sacrifice allowed for the poor who were unable to offer a more expensive lamb (Leviticus 12:8; Luke 2:24).
In Mary’s Song she expresses awe that God has “looked with favor” on her “lowliness”. The word Mary uses for “lowliness” is the Greek word tapeinosis, which means she lives in a state of humiliation, a nobody, socially, economically, and culturally. Mary’s word tapeinosis denotes powerlessness, abasement, and insignificance. The larger world looked down on this “lowliness” as a slavish, humiliating state of existence.
Mary well understands that she is insignificant in other peoples’ eyes, but is undisturbed in her lowliness and vulnerability. Mary knows from pondering Scripture that God actually favors the broken and lowly: “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Mary is sure that God has a future for those who have no future.
Martin Luther wrote of God’s favor for the despised and lowly:
God is the God of the humble and miserable, the afflicted, the oppressed, the desperate, and of those who have been brought down to nothing at all. And it is the nature of God to exalt the humble, to feed the hungry, to enlighten the blind, to comfort the miserable, and afflicted, to justify sinners, to give life to the dead, and to save those who are desperate and damned (Lectures on Galatians).
Imagine for a moment Mary preparing the evening meal and talking with young Jesus about not seeing people as others see them. Imagine their discussion about seeing people as the heavenly Father sees them. Imagine Jesus later calling lowly, humble men to be His disciples. Imagine listening to Jesus as He calls the world to learn humility from Him: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
From His cradle to His cross Jesus lived a life of humility and tapeinosis. In “Jesus’ humiliation (tapeinosis) justice was denied him” (Acts 8:33). As the very Son of God, He took “the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, he humbled himself (tapeioo, the verb from of tapeinosis) and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8).
But that is so like God, isn’t it, to pour out His life for the world! And it is so like God, that when He needed a mother for His child, He looked for the lowliest and poorest of young women. The King of Heaven will become one with us, making Himself dependent on Mary for everything. He will be dependent on Mary’s blood supply and what she eats and drinks. He will be pushed helplessly through her birth canal, struggle for a breath, and cling to her breast in absolute dependence for life.
Mary is so young, but she knows that people ought to “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time” (I Peter 5:6). Mary has discovered the great secret: God does His best work through those who are powerless as the world defines power.
- Take a few moments to ponder the words of the prophet Jeremiah:
Thus says the Lord: “Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight”, says the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
- Are there some things that you have thought might disqualify you to serve God, that in God’s mind actually qualify you? If so, what are they?