Restoring the Oppressed
“The Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” - Isaiah 61:1
When Mary realized what the angel Gabriel was trying to tell her (after the shock of the idea of a miraculous pregnancy started to wear off), all she could think about was her own unworthiness.
It is important to realize that Mary knew what oppression was. She was a poor girl around the age of fourteen years old. She was at the very low end of the social ladder, from the small backcountry town of Nazareth, and lived in a time when the Romans occupied Israel. News of a pregnancy outside of wedlock would have brought disgrace on her family, and might even have threatened her life if she were accused of having an affair with a married man. This is part of why she was so “greatly troubled” by the message of Gabriel (Lk. 1:29).
We are not told exactly when or how Mary came up with the song in Luke 1:46-55 (did she compose it or was it a familiar tune?), but the words of the song have an inherent beauty, even in translation, and have been famously put to music as “the Magnificat.”
Mary knew what oppression was, but it is also clear that she had an understanding of God’s mercy. Mary’s song is a direct response to the good news of Christ’s coming to earth that draws on all sorts of Old Testament themes. It echoes the song of Hannah (1 Sam. 2), a woman who was also blessed with the gift of a child. It also talks about the promises made to Abraham, showing that Mary had some idea of the significance of her infant child: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Lk. 1:54-55).
Old Testament believers could do no more than ask for relief from oppression (as Psalm 80 does, discussed on Dec. 3). Mary likewise could not have possibly foreseen all that the kind of man her son would grow up to be.
Today we can appreciate how Christ’s coming into the world shows that he identifies with our oppression. The Son of God did not just enter the world as a human being, though that would have been miraculous enough. He was not born into a rich and influential family, but to an unmarried peasant girl in a small town no one had ever heard of. Throughout his ministry he had a special focus for those oppressed by disease, violence, and isolation.
No man or woman was, is, or will ever be too destitute for Jesus to take notice of them.