Commentary on the Gospel of

George Butterfield - Formerly of Creighton University's School of Law Library


When I read today’s readings, my initial reaction is - isn’t it just like God to be this way?

Hannah wanted a baby so badly. Once, when she was at the temple, she was so distraught and prayed so intently that Eli, the high priest, thought she was drunk and told her to get off the sauce. She promised God that, if she ever had a son, she would dedicate him to the Lord. She was so humble and lowly that no one in society would have thought much of her. Yet, she became the mother of perhaps the greatest prophet to come out of Israel.

The psalm for today is unique in that it isn’t taken from the Book of Psalms; it is the prayer of Hannah from the book of First Samuel, chapter 2. There are two categories of people. First there is the group described as the mighty, well-fed, mother of many, rich, the nobles. The world thinks of them as the blessed ones. Then there is a second group which is made up of the tottering, hungry, barren, poor, and needy. They have obviously been cursed by God. But Hannah doesn’t see it that way. God has stood the world on its head. He exalts the second group, the lowly, and casts down the mighty. Perhaps this is why some scholars believe that Luke got the words attributed to Mary from the words of Hannah. I tend to think that Hannah and Mary were cut from the same cloth. Mary had probably heard the words of Hannah and embraced many of them as her own.

The words of Mary’s Magnificat are some of the most widely read words in all of sacred scripture. The Canticle of Mary, as it is called in the Liturgy of the Hours, is read during every Evening Prayer (Vespers) throughout the world. John 3:16 appears at a sporting event on occasion but the Magnificat is read everywhere, every day. The words are so like Luke, so like the God whom Luke proclaims in his Gospel. God scatters the proud, casts down the mighty, and sends the rich away hungry. He looks upon his lowly servant, lifts up the lowly, and fills the hungry with good things.

This teaching permeates Luke’s Gospel. The Lord of the universe, Creator of heaven and earth, is born in a stable and laid in a manger. He’s visited by shepherds and foreigners. And he works through the crazy man out in the desert, John the Baptist. I love Luke 3:1ff. Luke mentions that God did something in the 15th year of the Roman emperor, and then continues to list all of the important people of the day - Pontius Pilate, the tetrarchs, and the high priests. He sent the word of God - not to any of those important people - but to John the son of Zechariah in the desert. That is a God thing! God doesn’t judge the world like we do. I love the words of Cardinal George when asked where he was looking during the introduction of the newly elected Pope Benedict XVI. He said, “I was gazing over toward the Circus Maximus, toward the Palatine Hill where the Roman Emperors once resided and reigned and looked down upon the persecution of Christians, and I thought, ‘Where are their successors? Where is the successor of Caesar Augustus? Where is the successor of Marcus Aurelius? And finally, who cares? But if you want to see the successor of Peter, he is right next to me, smiling and waving at the crowds.”

That, my brothers and sisters, is a God thing.


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