Happy Monday, my friends! Today we continue our series of drawing inspiration from some of the Gospel canticles and turn to the third section of the Magnificat. “God has shown the strength of God’s arm, God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. God has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly” (Luke 1:51-52). These lines continue to set up the situation of Jesus’ birth and life. Here is the glorious king and long-awaited messiah who the community expects to be a conquering ruler, but in fact will be born in the poorest of conditions and will preach a message of love and peace.
It's very tempting and very human to assume that God is on your side. We can interpret scripture and paint God into many corners. Pick just the right verses, arrange them in a certain pattern, ignore their social and historical context, and suddenly the Bible can simultaneously argue that up is down and down is up. In 1937, Stephen Vincent Benét wrote the short story “By the Waters of Babylon.” In the story, John, the son of a tribal priest, living in a post-apocalyptic society, travels to the “place of the gods,” where he discovers a statue of the god “ASHING.” With limited and distorted context for what he’s seeing and where he is and missing information, he views a statue of George Washington in New York City as a representation of a god.
Christians often suffer from similar problems when they study the Bible. For example, in Matthew 19:24, Jesus says, “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Many Christians have argued that this statement means that without God’s help no rich person can enter heaven because only God could make it possible for a camel to pass through the eye of a sewing needle. That interpretation is based on a context issue. The “eye of a needle” is a reference not to a sewing needle, but rather to a small door in the walls of large cities such as Jerusalem. A person could easily pass through this door, but a camel would need to be unloaded of people and cargo to even attempt to pass through the eye of a needle. Therefore, Jesus’ statement is that even once a rich person gives away their wealth, it may still be hard, but not impossible, for them to enter heaven.
What I find particularly interesting about the Magnificat is the phrase, “God has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.” The more work that I do pushing back against and opposing Christian nationalism in its many forms, the more I recognize that humility is a progressive virtue. I admit I used to think that humility was something only conservative people aspired to and frankly were at all good at manifesting. If you know me, you know how often I discuss what is and is not normative, speak about the issues produced by white supremacy, and how God and creation are Queer. I always assumed liberals were too heady and academic for humility. However, as supposed conservatives, neo-fascists, and Christian nationalists propagate stranger and stranger half-truths and outright lies—God does a great job of scattering them in their imaginations—humility and not becoming the ones who spread lies and vitriol becomes an important progressive value.
Is humility one of your virtues?