The Holy Family and true ownership of things

The Holy Family and true ownership of things

We recently saw here how the Lord’s Prayer showed the Lord’s proud attachment to his Jewish roots. We did this with the hope that any and all anti-Semitic prejudices and jokes be seen for the unchristian slurs they are. Today we look at where he got this: his mother. When greeted by Gabriel the angel on the day that changed her life, Mary burst into Jewish praise of the God of Israel. Luke (1, 46-55) narrates Old Testament allusions that make up her surprising prayer, called the Magnificat, Latin for the first word of “My soul proclaims (or magnifies) the greatness of the Lord,” the God of Mary and Jesus.

All of about 15, Mary knew her origins. The non-biblical Gospel of James says her parents were Joachim and Anna, and they must have taught her well. Her prayer invokes a Hebrew heroine found in our Scriptures. Hannah and her husband Elkanah were an older couple unable to conceive until God granted the birth of Samuel, responsible for the accession of David as king in 1,000 B.C. In her joy Hannah exclaims, “My heart exults in the Lord. … The bows of the mighty are broken, while the tottering gird on strength. …” It is the familiar reversal of fortune whereby God raises up the lowly but puts down the mighty.

Some Christians feel taken aback when they hear Mary pray like a revolutionary: God “has shown might with his arm; he has confused the proud in their inmost thoughts. He has deposed the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly to high places. The hungry he has given every good thing, while the rich he has sent empty away.”

Isn’t this the rank redistributionist thinking we Americans abhor, with Big Government taxing the rich and giving their private property to the poor who did nothing to deserve it? Is this the Blessed Mother? Does she advocate Marxism?

This was first said in bucolic Nazareth, where scholars estimate there were perhaps 20 hovels, a town so insignificant that there was a derogatory saying about it. When Jesus was said to have come from there, they quoted it: can anything good come from Nazareth? The poor of God, the anawim, were known to the Holy Family, if only because of their membership among them. Whatever happened to the gold, frankincense and myrrh of Bethlehem, it was long gone by now. Jesus claimed that the poor in spirit would inherit the kingdom of heaven. His point, gotten from his mother, was that poverty did not disqualify one from human dignity, as the aristocrats of their time asserted. Jesus in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man consigns the two to very differing places in the afterlife: Lazarus is taken to the bosom of Abraham while the unnamed rich man writhes in hellfire, denied the chance of returning to warn his brothers headed the same way.

If all this sounds foreign to us, it was just as foreign to Jesus’ immediate listeners. Even Jesus’ apostles were scandalized at the parable making the rich as less than beloved of God (“Lord, then who can be saved?”), the very point Jesus was trying to make with them. John Calvin, one of the great Reformers of Protestantism, stated that riches are a sign of God’s predestination that the wealthy person was saved. So the hard working, sweat and strain Protestant work ethic evolved, guaranteeing the rich salvation while the poor were consigned to perdition, in his scheme of things. Martin Luther looked with scorn at such a reckoning, saying that “good works” would not bring or indicate salvation. Calvin’s spin on Protestantism is the governing kind here in America.

Mary and Jesus wanted us to throw ourselves on the mercy of God, from whom we could never pretend to merit anything, much less salvation itself. This is being poor in spirit, relying on God with childlike dependence, acknowledging that all we have comes as gift. In monasteries we have the great example of monks living the poverty they chose as an evangelical counsel. Living as brothers, they share community goods and contribute their work for the good of all. That is why we receive those fliers in the mail at Christmas advertising Trappist fruitcake or even liquors. One religious order even asks us if we would like a handmade carved wooden coffin.

The Holy Family inspires such monks and us about true ownership of things.