THE JESUS FAMILY
As we come close to the celebration of Christmas some of us will once again get to read, in the Gospel of Luke chapter 1, Mary’s praise to God for being told she will bear the Christ child. This “Magnificat”carries with it an amazing revelation into the irony of how God has dealt with human beings; and Mary personalizes it for herself. Her poem of praise is reminiscent of Hannah’s praise to God in 1 Samuel chapter 2 after the birth of her son Samuel, a child she earnestly sought from God after being humiliated in her barrenness. I am not sure if any of us can fully appreciate these passages if we have never been on the bottom looking up. One could attempt to spiritualize them and take application that in our sin we have all been on the bottom, all “losers” when it comes to righteousness. That is true of all us certainly, but there is more in these passages. Hannah and Mary are not speaking of deliverance from their sins. They are speaking of the emotional power of deficit, about being “not enough” in terms of social acceptability or even financial means, and therefore possessing a brokenness from feeling they are not good enough compared to others. God does something amazing for them, and certainly through Mary God has done something amazing for the whole world. Usually during the celebration of Christmas we move quickly from Mary’s feelings to the historical miracle of the incarnation and the birth of Jesus, but maybe we should linger for a moment on how Mary thinks. One reason I think we should meditate on her expression of praise, or her thinking, has to do with the children she will raise. Obviously some in Christendom don’t think Mary had any more children after Jesus and that she is forever a virgin. We in the Protestant tradition don’t hold to that idea. The reason I bring that up is that I find the comparison between the teachings of Jesus concerning the poor, and that of his brother James, along with their mother Mary very consistent. It seems to me to be a fairly radical perspective on economic justice and the sovereignty of God. Mary obviously believes God can change the facts on the ground for both hungry people and for rich people. He changes the realities of and for political rulers, and is mindful of the humble. Hannah believed that those who are proud because they are strong, the well fed, and the mother with many children who despises the barren woman all will get their comeuppance. The God she praises is able to lift up beggars to sit with princes, but He is also able to take wealth, and life, and military power away from others. Did this kind of thinking affect Jesus? I would imagine some might think that because Jesus is the Son of God he doesn’t need any nurturing or instructing from Mary. Jesus is the one who teaches, not the one who is taught. Certainly Jesus was teaching the elders at an early age, but the Bible does tell us he “grew in stature and in favor with God and man.” He learned obedience from the things he suffered. It doesn’t really matter to me how much we think Jesus needed to learn or not, the source of such revelation was the same, and that was from His Heavenly Father. The same Father who taught Mary when she sang His praise. I see a pattern in the Jesus family of a certain way of thinking about money, about the rich, about the poor, and about the people on the bottom. The self-understanding of Jesus is revealed when he reads from the scroll of Isaiah and said that on that day the prophecy was fulfilled in Him. Specifically that the Anointed One was going to preach the Gospel to the poor. This is his mission, it is his task, it is His priority. We realize that this good news was comprehensive not just as a happy message of love from God through Jesus, but as the work of Jesus in His redemption. God has favor on the poor because the world doesn’t. God’s favor on the poor doesn’t mean he hates the wealthy, in fact the Scripture tells us that when Jesus looked on the rich young ruler He loved him. What makes Jesus so radical, and even uncomfortable to all of us who let money be our idol, is that Jesus has no mercy on the grip of materialism. Compassion pours out of him for the suffering, but so does condemnation on those who seek to hold onto their wealth. The Gospel of Luke especially drips with the irony of the wealthy not having the edge when it comes to God and salvation. Then we come to the brother of Jesus, the writer of the book of James, and as we say where I come from, “James don’t play!” He tells us what good religion is, its about taking care of widows and orphans as well as watching our mouths and the morality of our lives. He very definitely tells us that God has “chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world” and he castigates those who insult the poor by preferring the rich who he describes as those who exploit “us.” His point here is to do away with favoritism, which is natural according to the book of Proverbs where it lets us know friends desert you when you are poor (nobody loves you when you’re down and out) but they like you when you have money. I see an application of this today in places where PCA churches are planted, where our favoritism passes by the neighborhoods of the poor so we can continue to plant churches among the middle class. I kind of like the idea that maybe in Mary’s kitchen there were times when Jesus and James talked about money, and poverty, and faith. Maybe during that discussion their cousin John (the Baptist) walked in and things really got going. These people were not simply idealistic and revolutionary prophets for a change in the economic or political system. Jesus is the Son of God, He is the one of whom Hannah spoke when she wrote of a God who makes poor and makes rich, who brings death and makes alive. Because Jesus is the sovereign God He has the right to call us on our divided hearts: We will either love money or we will love Him. He has the right to expose whether we give out of our surplus or whether we give all we have. He has the right to call us to faith, and sacrifice, and to make purses for ourselves that will never wear out. I think being in the Jesus family could make some of us feel pretty uncomfortable, but that is in fact the family we are now in, if we follow Christ. What a blessing to be in it.