“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”
I imagine little boy Jesus milking his family’s goat as Mary bakes barley bread in an oven that the villagers share. The bread, along with some lentils, goat cheese, and olives, will be her family’s second and last meal of the day. Joseph comes home bone weary from day labor rebuilding the Roman city of Sepphoris, an hour’s walk away.
Jesus was raised around hard work and service. He grew up, labored alongside Joseph, then left home announcing He had come “not to be served but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). He lived a hard, lowly life helping others, reminding them, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
Young Mary’s self-understanding as a servant must have been formed very early in her life. When the angel Gabriel stood before her, Mary presented herself ready to serve: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). Raised in a long tradition where people thought of themselves as the Lord’s servants, Mary sings in today’s text of how God “has helped his servant Israel”.
Faithful Jews had always thought of themselves as God’s chosen servant from the time God called their father Jacob:
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from the farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off; do not fear, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:8-10).
The way was hard for God’s servant people, but He promised to always stand with them. They were chosen by God, not for privilege but for service to the world. They were to bring God’s light to the nations: “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 96:6). They were called to be God’s servant, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32).
The Jewish people brought light to the nations by writing all the books of the Bible except, perhaps, the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts. All of the prophets were Jews and all of Christ’s apostles were Jews, as well as the first Christians. And the Messiah had to be a Jew because God had promised to bless the whole world through Abraham’s family. Thus Jesus said, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). So a young servant named Mary rejoices in her Song that God “has helped his servant Israel”.
Being a servant shapes the identity of all whom God calls. Eight hundred years before Messiah came God introduces His only Son as the lowly Servant:
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice (Isaiah 42:1-3).
- Take a few moments to ponder Isaiah’s prophecy of Jesus the Servant (see above, Isaiah 42:1-3). What do Isaiah’s words and images stir within you?
- How do you sense that God might be calling you to be a servant?