“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with
good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
I have a friend, a pastor to the homeless, who frequently reminds his ‘parishioners’ how very blessed they are. “You are blessed”, he says, “because unlike most people, you know you have to totally depend on God”. My friend’s insight reminds me of Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the first of Jesus’ beatitudes: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God” (Matthew 5:3, The Message).
My pastor friend knows the blessedness of totally relying on God. He knows that being at the end of your rope is a difficult place, but a very good place. And I, as a pastor and chaplain, have seen how it is often in difficult straits that we become the most spiritually sensitive to God.
Mary is one of a class of people whom the Old Testament calls the anawim, living precariously as the end of their rope. The Hebrew word anawim means literally “those who are bowed down” or “bent over”. It is a word picture of being destitute. In Old Testament times the anawim were the homeless, landless, widow, orphan, and alien, without any means of support. Over time the word anawim took on a spiritual meaning describing the faithful remnant that humbly acknowledge total dependence on God. Jesus will speak about the “poor in spirit” who are blessed in their reliance on God (Matthew 5:3). The Old Testament is filled with promise for the anawim. Consider but a few examples:
For the needy shall not be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor (anawim) perish for ever (Psalm 9:18).
But the meek (anawim) shall inherit the land, and delight in abundant prosperity (Psalm 37:11).
The Lord lifts up the downtrodden (anawim); he casts the wicked to the ground (Psalm 147:6).
But with righteousness he (Messiah) shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek (anawim) of the earth (Isaiah 11:4).
Mary was among the lowly anawim who lived by their faith in God. Mary’s hope and prayer is now a Baby growing within her: “he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty”.
In exile in Egypt, and then in their little home in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph raised Jesus in the spirit of the anawim. Jesus grew up, left home; lived reliantly on His Abba, and preached humility and lowliness of heart to any who would listen. His first recorded sermon was intended for the anawim:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Luke 4:18-19 reciting Isaiah 61:1-2).
Jesus was first welcomed into the world by the anawim. He lived among the anawim, respecting them, loving them, caring for them, feeding them.
- Have you ever been at “the end of your rope”? Describe what it was like, and what you might have learned.
- Nineteenth century American evangelist D. L. Moody said, “Christ sends none away empty but those who are full of themselves”. What do you think Moody meant by this?
- Ponder Jesus’ warning to the “lukewarm” Laodicean Christians: “For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).