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Luke 1:46-55 – Mary’s Prophecy (the Magnificat)

Summary

Mary praises God, characterizing God as one who cares for the lowly and frustrates the intentions of the powerful.

Analysis

Mary's extended statement of praise (often called the Magnificat, the first word of the Latin translation of her statement) comes in response to her relative Elizabeth's Spirit-inspired words in 1:41-45, which confirm what the angel Gabriel promised Mary in 1:26-35. As with the other two "canticles" in Luke 1-2 (the Benedictus and the Nunc dimittis), the words of the Magnificat come from numerous passages in the Old Testament. The specific form and themes of Mary's praise closely resemble those in Hannah's prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, which comes after the birth of that woman's son, the Prophet Samuel.

The Magnificat does not speak directly about Jesus; rather, it is a description of God. It moves at a rapid pace, progressing through a series of strong, decisive verbs that characterize God's actions throughout Israel's history. Mary speaks about a God who reverses things, who is capable of overturning human authority and structures. Her statement begins by speaking about God's recent actions on her behalf (vv. 47-49) and then turns its attention to God's activity on behalf of and against others (vv. 50-55). Mary is announcing that her story, God's choice of blessing her to bear God's Son, is a part of the ongoing drama of God's activity in the world. This casts Mary as a prophet, one who boldly interprets her experience in light of God and God's history.

Luke 1:46-55

Mary’s Song of Praise

46 And Mary* said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
47   and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
48 for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

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10 February 2011

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