Saturday, December 14, 2013

Radical Christianity in Pope Francis and the Song of Mary

"If you think of the mother of Jesus as a sweet, submissive figure, take a closer look at the words this teen-aged Palestinian woman sang when the angel tells her she would be the mother of God: '… he has scattered the proud … brought down the powerful … lifted up the lowly … filled the hungry with good things … sent the rich away empty.'  This divine command links Torah and the Gospels. It is the command that Jesus explicitly asks of those who follow his way."(1)

Reflecting on the Magnificat or Song of Mary, a reading from the first chapter of Luke's gospel that's also offered as Canticle 15 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in the Episcopal Church, I thought of Pope Francis and the well-deserved acclaim he has been receiving for the fresh air he is bringing in to his church.

Francis, who was named TIME magazine's Person of the Year last week, has been winning praise from most (and horror from right-wingers in and out of the Roman Catholic church) for his seeming disdain for the doctrinaire, conservative culture wars that many in his church have fought, in favor of a call for gentler, kinder service to the world's poor, weak and vulnerable.

Not only is he echoing the prophetic voices of liberation theology, rooted in his own South America, but in a very real way he is reaching back to the radical teaching of the early church and, many would say, of Jesus himself ... and for the Torah tradition in which the historical Rabbi Jesus stood.

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(1) From the weekly "Illuminations, Thoughts on Sunday's Lectionary Readings" that I've been writing weekly for St. Thomas and St. Matthew's Episcopal churches in Louisville for the past year or so. They're available for free use by any who wish, although I request that credit be given in printed or online material.