Blessed are the self-sufficient, for they will never need help from God, or anyone else. Blessed are those who have no problems, for they will avoid pain and discomfort. Blessed are the assertive, for they will usually get what they want. Blessed are those who don’t want to be too good, for they will avoid moral dilemmas. Blessed are those who know their rights, for they will usually get what they want. Blessed are the cynical, for they know how life really works. Blessed are the competitive, for they will win out more often. Blessed are those who follow the crowd, for they will avoid unpopularity and blame.
Who is really blessed in this life? The list above – the ‘anti-beatitudes’ – might sound like a fairly blunt summary of modern culture: but to be honest it could have been written at most times in history. Life is full of winners and losers – and it’s best, on the whole, to be one of the winners.
But what if God sees it differently? In today’s famous passage, as Mary bursts into song, we see another dynamic at work. Maybe it’s not the ‘winners’ who prevail after all. God’s intervention will reverse the natural order of things. The humble are lifted up and the rulers are brought low (v52); the hungry are filled and the rich sent away empty (v53). God’s mercy extends to those who fear him (v50), but the proud are scattered in their inmost thoughts (v51).
The kingdom of Christ is the great reversal – the world’s values are turned upside down, ‘success’ is redefined, and the marginalised are suddenly at the heart of the story.
And God achieves this, as Mary recognises, not through a birth to a queen in a palace, but to an obscure young mother living in an unfashionable town. It starts how it intends to go on.
Thirty years later, someone else stood on the side of a hill and declared: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the hungry, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, the persecuted….’ Or to put it another way: blessed are the losers in this world, for they are the winners in the kingdom of God.
This is great news to all of us who have ever wished we were more than we are. Who’ve failed, or fell down, or felt low. Who wished we were louder, or richer, or funnier, or more popular, or more clever. God is for you – yes, you. This God is not interested in status or self-assurance. This God lifts up the humble, feeds the hungry and showers his mercy and love on all who know they haven’t got it all together – as Brennan Manning beautifully put it: ‘weak, unsteady disciples, whose cheese is falling off their cracker.’ People like us.
Today, give thanks and claim afresh the love of this God – it’s for people like us that Jesus came.