Before free shipping, seasonal tweets, bleats and burps, Mary sang.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1: 46ff)
She she saw that all the mean politics of her day was all done but the thud and dust. Ours, too. How could she keep from singing?
If you want to quibble, you might note that Mary and Joe had to run for their lives from one paranoid king only to see their kid killed by another who pandered to a religious mob. Still happens, technically.
Mary wasn’t singing about Herod’s fall, but something more amazing: all the proud fall, their parasitic enablers emptied. Hard to see this morning, with our .5% chuckling at the beach. But time moves quickly these highly connected days with nowhere for the despots to hide. Zuma, Putin, Trump, Mugabe, Duarte, Erogan; just waiting for the thud and dust. Some places still vote, even in these Polarized States. November 8th—315 days—won’t fulfill Mary’s song, but get us past Mr. Ryan and McConnell vacuity.
Herman Waetjen is a razor-sharp Biblical scholar with a heart un-hardened by eight decades of careful observation of the ways of power and money. He types like Mary sings:: “This is the world of the “old humanity” in which soul and body are divorced from each other. It is the world we were drawn into very soon after our birth, and we all continue to participate in it as we struggle with our own brokenness and alienation. In the face of all these crises that are dividing our society, generating greater economic inequality, denying climate change and undermining our Constitution, we are reminded by the Apostle Paul that we are also participants in God’s New Humanity and, therefore, we are “life-giving spirits.”
The old humanity is wobbling when they try to silence the most obvious things; when the scientists can’t say “evidence;” when the saints can’t speak of the poor. Out in the manger the shepherds, wise men, sheep and goats know the truth.
Even Forbes Magazine knows this, and they are sort of Pilot to Wall Street. Judy Stone described the news as the “most disturbing of the week,” which is saying something. She states what should not need stating in 2018—that you can’t make any sense when you outlaw reason or say anything that might offend the dumb and wealthy. This is literally pitiful, as the one being silenced is the agency responsible for fighting germs. The only advantage humans have against disease is our ability to talk to each other, figure out reality and work collaboratively. There is no one dumber than somebody dumb on purpose.
Herman types another verse for Mary: “The New Humanity that Jesus inaugurated embraces the paradoxical duality of soul and body in order to enter into a personal wholeness of freedom and integrity and, in turn, to relate this wholeness to every human being in the world. It is a journey that participates in the freedom of God and grows stage by stage to form us into life-giving spirits. It is a journey into the unknown possibilities of the unique potentiality that is embodied in each of us, and it unfolds as we follow the three injunctions that Jesus issued to the crippled human being in the Greek text of John 5:8 “Keep on rising (being resurrected), take up your mattress, and keep on walking.”
Like Mary, Herman’s gives away the punchline in the subtitle to his new book “Matthew’s Theology of Fulfillment, Its Universality and It’s Ethnicity (Bloomsbury): God’s New Israel as the Pioneer of God’s New Humanity.” (Order it here) He explains why it is so important to understand that Mary was a Jewish peasant singing in Aramaic, not Latin or Greek. The Roman elites believed in raw intimidating power, lining the highways with crosses to hold on to it. The Greeks trusted in the power of ideas and untethered mind. Both of them preferred Jesus as the Christ, competing up up and away. Neither could figure out what to do with Jesus, human among the poor, a young man worth killing for humming Mary’s tune.
The Jews knew about power and transcendence mostly because they lived under others’ power on occupied soil most of their existence. That’s why they argued with God. God argued back, annoyingly linking salvation to justice for the poor. The texts Jesus knew by heart were cries of lament and hope held fiercely against both pride and despair. Spirit, yes; of the ever-living and Just YHWH. Body, yes; of People as dust, sweat and soil made in the very image of the same YHWH. Not this; not that. Against the claims of power and ungrounded soul, the baby that Herod hunted called himself “the human one.”
Mary, Herman and Jesus weren’t making this stuff up from dreams, but the dirt and blood of time. There is an arrow from the first writings the Jews declared sacred toward a time when God’s justice will be fulfilled. Isaiah spoke in Jesus’ ear: “he shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Neither Jesus or Mary would have been surprised that “equity” would be banned by a future Herod, along with “vulnerable” and “science.” Mary sang because she knew Jesus would know better.
That child—much less the man–is almost impossible to see through the tinsel of the glitterati who moved his birthday to accommodate an Emperor. Constantine would have loved Cyber Monday where you don’t even need any other humans at all, especially that utterly human Jew weaned on radical music:
My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
So what do you do while you wait for the latest group of insufferable glamorati to collapse? Go heal somebody, that’s what.
Last night some of us gathered in hospital’s Davis Chapel to listen to the old texts and a version of Mary’s song sung by Martha Basset. Holy night and even holier day after.
This morning at 9:05 I opened the “safety huddle” with a dozen or so people from all across the medical center, as we do every single day. We come together charged in the arts and crafts of healing; all the arts and all the crafts: engineers, cooks, sweepers, surgeons and psychiatrists—even one of whatever I am. But mostly nurses mostly talking of care. We shared Moravian cookies while we went over the concerns, events and needs of the 613 people in beds. There was a long pause when we mentioned those who came in last night on suicide watch, who had lost the hope of another day.
Someday, saw Isiah, sang Mary, declared Jesus, walked Martin and, yes, stirs even us who taste and participate in the promised the new humanity. How can we keep from singing along?