Mercy and Promise

“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham, and to his descendants forever.” -Luke 1:54-55

Read Luke 1:46-56

When I asked one of my teenage daughters to reflect on this poem of Mary (likely a teenager herself), she replied: “It’s about leveling it all out, but not in the sense of making a compromise.” Because God’s mercy (v. 50) includes justice, the inversions this text speaks of can’t merely mean meeting in the middle. God’s actions described here—showing strength, scattering the proud, bringing down and lifting up, filling up and sending away empty—speak of a differently ordered world, a world ordered by God’s mercy and justice.

When I reflect on this poem (perhaps because I’m middle-aged instead of teen-aged), I’m struck by how these actions are attributed to God’s “remembrance” (v. 54) of his mercy and his promise. It’s God’s faithfulness and goodness—it’s who God is—that grounds this kind of action by God in the world. Mary understands what God is doing through her as part of this longer story of God’s presence and action in the world, the story of God’s call to Abraham and covenant with “his servant Israel” (v. 54). She asserts these actions of just mercy have already happened: God has shown, scattered, brought down and lifted up. God has already acted in this way in Israel’s history. Mary’s poem insists God continues to make this just mercy concretely present in the world through the “great things” (v. 49) that will come from the child Mary bears. The child himself is the incarnate presence of this just mercy.

O God, help us to, like Mary, remember your faithfulness and your promise. May we recognize and join your actions of just mercy in our world today through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Laura Schmidt Roberts, Ph.D., Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies, Fresno Pacific University