Mary generalizes her praise: God's mercy extends to those who fear him. This description is important in setting the context of the hymn's statements. It is the righteous, those who look and turn to God, who are the objects of his blessing. Though the blessings of verses 50-53 come to those in need, they are not a carte blanche offer to all the poor and hungry, but only to those who look to God for care. God's mercy shows his "loyal love" or hesed. Such love is faithful as well as gracious (Ps 103:2-6, 8-11, 13, 17). Loyal love is the hymn's basic theme, and God's treatment of Mary is but one example. His divine loyalty requires his action on behalf of the beloved. Those who stand in opposition will face God's power and authority to bring down.
So God will deal with the proud. His arm will be raised against them (Deut 4:34; Ps 44:3; 89:13; 118:15). The promise of God's judgment here recalls the exodus, when God exercised his power in total judgment (Ex 6:1, 6; Deut 3:24; 7:19). Whatever earthly authority exists, it is nothing before the mighty, decisive exercise of divine authority. He has brought down rulers (Ps 68:1; 89:10) but has lifted up the humble (1 Sam 2:7; Ps 147:6). He has filled the hungry with good things (1 Sam 2:5; Ps 107:9; 146:7) but has sent the rich away empty (1 Sam 2:5; Job 15:29; Jer 17:11). Here is God working on behalf of the pious downtrodden, a group the Old Testament called the 'anauim (Ps 9:11-12, 17-20; 10:1-4; 12:1-5; 18:25-29).
These verses express the traditional Jewish hope of vindication in the face of oppression at the hands of foreign, pagan rulers (1:71-75 is similar; in Judaism, see Psalms of Solomon 17—18). Mary's remarks are often misinterpreted in two directions. Some see them solely as a reference to God's defense of all the poor, all the hungry. A whole theology of liberation is built around such a reading of these verses and others like them. This ignores the spiritual dimension present throughout the hymn, not to mention the national character of the hope expressed in verses 54-55. On the other hand, some want to dilute the references to the poor and hungry altogether and speak only of the poor and hungry in spirit. This also undercuts the passage's force. The spirit of this text is reflected in other New Testament texts (1 Cor 1:25-31; Jas 2:5). Often it is those in need who are the most spiritually sensitive to God and who are gifted with faith by him. God promises them that despite their current deprivation, they will experience great reward in the future.
Luke raises a theme here that he will return to again and again: God's desire to minister to the poor. Luke will stress a ministry of social concern for those in need and warn those who are wealthy not to hoard what God has given to them (6:20-26; 7:22-23; 12:13-21; 14:12-14; 16:14-29). He warns about a reversal of roles in the judgment for those who do not hear this admonition.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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