Where Deep Discipleship Meets Deep Distress

  • Ven. John Hassan
  • December 23, 2021

12/14/2021 The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey


Mary, the mother of God, models the deep discipleship that you and I are called to demonstrate, in word and deed, to a culture in deep distress.  

Bishop J.C. Ryle observed of the Song of Mary, The Magnificat:

Next to the Lord’s Prayer, perhaps, few passages of Scripture are better known than this.  Wherever the Church of England Prayer-book is used, this hymn forms part of the evening service.  And we need not wonder that the compilers of that Prayer-book gave it so prominent a place. No words can express more aptly the praise for redeeming mercy which ought to form part of the public worship of every branch of Christ’s Church.”[1]

Like Mary, we need to be a different kind of people committed to live the life of Jesus Christ in his way.  Only the call to deeper discipleship can match the deeper distress in our culture.

Fittingly, Mary’s song reflects the deep distress in the culture of her day: the grief of God’s chosen servant, Israel, now under Roman occupation; the poverty and hunger of the people of the land; and oppression by those in places of position and influence within the culture of her day: “the proud in the imagination of their hearts, and the mighty from their seats.” These are far-away echoes of the same distress we find in our own culture.  

We are increasingly shaped by a post-modern worldview that asserts that it is impossible to have one, overarching story that explains and unifies reality. In this worldview, lust for power always leads to the oppression of the weak by the strong; therefore, the basic human problem is not lack of knowledge or truth but oppression. The resulting solution is to overthrow those who are abusing power and elevate those who lack it.  

Instead, Mary reminds us that God is very much in the picture!  We need not fall into either the trap of liberation theology that is shaped more by Marx and Critical Theory than God’s word, nor into the mere spiritualization of real poverty, hunger, and injustice.  As Darrell Bock observes in his commentary on Luke, the spirit of Mary’s Song is reflected in other New Testament texts (1 Cor. 1:25-31; James 2:5), which underline the fact that “Often it is those in need who are the most spiritually sensitive to God and who are gifted with faith by him.”  God promises them that despite their current deprivations, they will experience great reward in Him and his Kingdom.[2] In proclaiming the promise and arrival of God’s Kingdom, where what God wants done is done, Mary not only praises God for the fulfillment of his salvation plan through her, but she also models the deep discipleship that we need to meet the deep distress in our own day.

Mary models deep humility.

She who was chosen of God to the highest honor of being the mother of the Messiah and God incarnate speaks of her own “low estate” and acknowledges her need for a savior.  This downward direction of humility is the same that Jesus himself embraced as Paul proclaims in Philippians 2:5-11.  Mary embodies the ancient Biblical discipleship principle:  The lower you go, the higher you grow.

Mary models deep thankfulness.

Mary’s thankfulness is lively.  It stands out from the very beginning of her Song: “My soul magnifies the Lord,” “My spirit rejoices in God my savior,” “All generations shall call me blessed,” “Great things have been done for me.”  Mary invites us to walk in her steps and cultivate a spirit of thankfulness. “Let us rise from our beds every morning with a deep conviction that we are debtors, and that every day we have more mercies than we deserve,” writes Bishop Ryle.[3]  Such a thankful spirit frames and empowers the Good News we share with a hurting world.

Mary models deep knowledge of God’s word and his ways.

Moved by the Holy Spirit to break forth in praise, Mary chooses the language of the scriptures richly stored in her mind and heart.  She speaks not only in the language of the Psalms, but her own Song echoes the Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) who once barren, by God’s mercy, gave birth to the prophet Samuel. 

But Mary also has a deep knowledge of God’s ways.  She speaks of God as one whose “mercy is on them that fear him,” who “scatters the proud…and puts down the mighty…and sends the rich empty away,” and who “exalts those of low degree and fills the hungry with good things.” By treasuring God’s word in her heart, and by paying close attention to the ways God works in the lives of those he loves including an entire nation, Mary invites us to expect the same in our own context. 

Mary models deep trust in God’s promises.

Mary ends her Song of praise by declaring that “God has blessed Israel in remembrance of his mercy,” and that he has done “as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and his seed forever.”  She laid hold of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 22:18: “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”  Our faith leans on the promises of God, and our trust deepens as we lay hold of those promises.  As Bishop Ryle observes, the promises of God are nothing less than the manna we eat and the water we drink through the wilderness of this life.  Mary shows us how to treasure these promises as she often did in her heart.

Deep humility, thankfulness, knowledge of God’s word and his ways, and trust in God’s promises.  Aren’t these the qualities we need to extend the transforming love of Jesus Christ to our culture?  In Mary and her Song, we see deep discipleship meeting deep distress with hope and joy prevailing.  Mary is the model follower of Jesus Christ for us and for such a time as this. 

[1] Ryle, J.C. Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, Volume Two, Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977) pp. 34-39

[2] Bock, Darrell L.  Luke: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1994) pp. 46-47

[3] Ryle at 36-37

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