Sending the rich away empty

God casts down the mighty from the thrones
and raises the lowly,
fills the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty.
Luke 1: 52-53

DSC04679When Mary, pregnant with Jesus, visited her cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, she broke into the song we call the Magnificat. This hymn, rooted in the hymn of Hannah in 1 Samuel 2: 1-10, is a revolutionary call to recognize and live the Reign of God which has begun in this world with the incarnation of Jesus in the womb of a young poor woman from the backwoods hamlet of Nazareth.

Something new has happened: God has become flesh.

Something new can begin: human beings saved by God can begin to live in the light of the Reign of God.

“God sends the rich away empty,” Mary sings.

Now that’s a bit much for some of us who have more than we need – even if we are not super-rich. It’s really a challenge to those of us who live among the poor but with all the security of a US bank account, Social Security, and more.

But what might God be saying to us?

During my canonical retreat before ordination as a deacon, the retreat director led a session on Mary. Sometime later that day, I was praying the Magnificat when this insight came to me, which I quote from my notes:

You fill the hungry with good things
and send the rich away empty
so that we may experience
the emptiness that you alone can fill,
with the emptying out of ourselves for others.

We who are rich need to be emptied out of all that keeps us safe and isolated from the precariousness of existence for so many in the world.

This became very clear to me the last week. I live a comfortable, uncomplicated life here in Honduras, with easy access to what I need. But this past week the village has been digging up the road to put in a sewage line before the road is paved. It’s a major inconvenience. I cannot park my car by the house. I have to find alternative places to park the car and walk ten minutes to the house.

Yesterday, I had to travel an alternative route to get to where I wanted to go. We were going to a nearby village to celebrate Mass on their feast day – anticipating the Assumption of Mary. The truck was full – with people and with the drinks for the meal after Mass.

But even this adventure proved to be a valuable lesson in the vision of the Reign of God. Isaias helped me find a back way out of Plan Grande. But we got stuck in the mud and even four-wheel drive wasn’t enough. So almost everyone got out of the truck and tried pulling and pushing. No luck.  Sure enough, about five men from nearby came and pushed and pulled the truck. We proceeded to Mass but, as I look back, I realized that act of being pushed and pulled by the poor was also a sign of God’s presence and what God wants for us.

May God continue to empty me of my attempts to be self-sufficient and move me to serve at the table of the poor.


The photo was taken in the Cloisters Museum in New York City.

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