2 Dec 2022

The Psalms, the Poor, and Mary/Miriam

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christmas, Contemporary Ethics, Jesus, Jewish Backgrounds, Luke, Psalms, Women, Worship
Miriam (Mary) clearly knew the Psalms

Psalms, the Poor and Miriam/Mary (Jesus’s mother’s name is Miriam, like the Prophet who led worship in song)

Today’s (December 2, 2022) Psalm reading is Psalms 6-10. Being Advent on the traditional Christian calendar and what is generally known as the Christmas season, I could not help but imagine a young Jewish girl singing and praying (these are not two different activities) these Psalms this morning. It is interesting to me anyway what can come out of this exercise.

Luke begins his story of the Messiah with deep interest in the poor, powerless and least of these. Women are the embodiment of these social realities in Luke’s Gospel. They also represent the perennial theme in the Hebrew Bible and Apocrypha of widows, orphans and aliens. Luke tells us about an older Jew, Elizabeth. She is barren. Luke tells us about another older Jew, Anna a widow and Prophet who breaks bounds by preaching publicly in the temple for decades. And in between he tells us of Miriam (Mary) who is a young Jew who is poor and quite familiar with oppression and subsistence living. She knew well the meaning of “daily bread.”

Mary/Miriam, like her ancient namesake (Exodus 15) breaks out in classic Jewish song (Lk 1.46-55), which quite literally sets the agenda for the Messiah’s mission in the Gospel of Luke. She describes herself as “lowly” (NRSV) or “humble state” (NIV) in 1.48 and 52. The term used by Miriam/Mary is an interesting one. In the Greek Septuagint, the term refers to barren women such as Hannah (1 Sam 1.11) or Rachael (Genesis 29.31f). It is also used by Judith in her prayer (Judith is a story Luke clearly knows and expects his readers to as well) describing not the barrenness of herself but the people of God who have been humiliated and brought down low (Judith 6.19). It is a word that describes people who, according to the world, do not count! It is a fitting word for Elizabeth, Anna, Judith (who is a widow in her story), Miriam/Mary and especially the people hidden in plain sight: the poor who are humiliated by the haves. Miriam/Mary speaks of those who are “hungry” (1.53) which is no mere metaphor. These are people who are literally hungry. But God has “remembered his servant Israel” because of his “mercy” (1.54).

Miriam/Mary is deeply immersed in the Hebrew Bible. When we read through our lection today (Psalms 6-10) we find many prayers by those who knew the fragility of life on the ragged edge. They cry out “how long” (6.3). In Psalms 9-10 we find the poor, the least of these, front and center. Like Miriam/Mary the psalms confess and praise with a “whole heart” (9.1). Yahweh is the “stronghold for the oppressed” and absolute “trust/faith” is placed in God (9.9).

But the poor have been forgotten. Not by God but by the powers that be. By the people who claim to worship the one true King. Yet sometimes, yes even sometimes, Miriam/Mary as a ten or eleven-year-old or even a fourteen-year-old, and food was scarce and clothes were scarce and no help could be found, might wonder if God had also forgotten. The prayer may ascend in the middle of the night,

Why do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
” (10.1)

She may have reminded the Lord, just as she had heard from the psalm,

In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor” (10.2)

They act as if God does not see (10.4, 9, 13).

But you do see!” (10.14).

So, she, along with Elizabeth, Anna the Prophet, and the Jewess called Judith, pleads even though tears “flood my bed” (6.6), “Rise up, O Lord … do not forget the oppressed” (10.12).

Miriam/Mary was among the oppressed. She confessed it outright. But her song, saturated with the words of Israel, says, that God “remembered.”

God has heard!

God has come to deliver and show the lie to those who think God does not care about what the Have’s do to the “Have Not’s” (sometimes what is done is just ignore them!).

These texts mean everything to Miriam/Mary, and they would to her son as well. They are the voice she cried to heaven. They are the words used by Elizabeth. They are sermons of Anna in the temple (that is if her sermons look anything like those from Huldah, Amos, or Isaiah).

For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
nor the hope of the poor perish forever.” (9.18).

Because Miriam’s son heard her pray and sing, so he came to proclaim Good News of God’s favor to the Poor (Luke 4.18). The songs of Miriam break forth in Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain (in fact they are shot through the Nazarene’s teachings).

Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh

(Luke 6.20-21).

Clearly, Jesus hears his mother sing. He too was immersed in the Psalms. Maybe we should be too. I end my reflections today with this prayer,

Father, may we hear Miriam/Mary’s prayer. May we be the answer to the cries that she, Elizabeth, Anna and all those we turn a blind eye upon. May we be the Good News to the poor, may we be the evidence that Miriam’s Son has come just as we claim to believe during Advent and Christmas. Amen.

5 Responses to “The Psalms, the Poor, and Mary/Miriam”

  1. JT Says:

    Maybe we too should be immersed in Psalms…
    Irrespective of your specific blog content here, thank you again for reminding your readers of the beauty and value inherent within Psalms. They require of me, perhaps more than any other part of Scripture, introspection. Thus, I prefer to read Psalms when I have time to tarry.

    As to your thoughtful content re: the Luke passages and Psalms 6-10, I do appreciate the attentive reminder to the plight of the forgotten, the poor, the hungry, those looked down upon simply because of their humble circumstances, etc. The Lord will not forget. He will not ignore them indefinitely nor will he ignore that we ignored them!

    Although the majority of the Christian world celebrates “Christmas” and “Advent” I eschew them as man-made inventions, based upon false premises. Messiah was not born in December nor are we instructed to celebrate his birthday. Never mind the ancient dubious history connected with the “season”.

    And yet, having stated that, so much do I like your prayer, Bobby, as you ended this blog!



  2. JT Says:

    Thanks Bobby for your detailed input to my earlier comments.

    On your “Christmas” response. True, I have read some historical things about Christmas, which I vaguely pointed to with my – “Never mind the ancient dubious history connected with the “season” comment. Many love to raise the “paganism” roots, “trees”, Saturnalia, Constantine, etc, and other topics to denigrate Christmas, however, that wasn’t really the focus of my brief comments. That all can be interesting reading but isn’t my focal point.

    I’m concerned about syncretistic influences, things that get blended in slowly over time. Things that overlap in the area of adding to/subtracting from the Word – whether in doctrinal beliefs, or in forms of worship, or in other areas of thinking and practicing the faith. I pointed out two already but you did not acknowledge them: 1) a case can pretty solidly be made to dispel Messiah’s birth in December and point to the Fall/Harvest season, as Messiah was killed in early Spring, 2) there is no biblical support for making his birth, even if we had proof of the date, into a worship matter – as the “church” world has clearly done. And I cannot appreciate the practice in our Tradition, CoC’s propensity to make weak statements to pew packers that say “we in CoC recognize there’s no biblical support for celebrating Christmas but since the entire world is paying attention to Jesus at this time of the year, its a good time for us to…blah, blah, blah”. And you know what I mean. Our brethren say, “Christmas isn’t a religious thing for me, it’s about family, good eating and fellowship and the spirit of giving.” But, then they attend their worship services (this year on a Sunday) and they preach “Christmas” sermons, they lead “Christmas” hymns, and many other Christmas related worship things they do as well – nativity acting scenes and singing up on stage by the children included. Yet, these brothers all deny the Sabbath of God that He set aside as Holy at Creation! And they cannot defend their denial in scripture, though they try. Adding/subtracting. Just saying. I imagine men are “free” to worship on Sunday, and I do too. But, (telling the truth here), men shouldn’t lie by teaching that the commanded day of worship is the first day of the week. Free to practice Sunday worship; not free to deceive the folks on the pew by telling them the Bible commands Sunday. And saying God did away with the Old Testament, the Old Covenant, the Old Law, and ceasing from work on His Holy Sabbath. As you have pointed out – that’s 76% of Scripture they just “abolished”. Tsk, tsk, tsk.
    Thank you for the links. I’ll enjoy as always. 🙂

    • Bobby Valentine Says:

      Good afternoon JT. I hope it rained where you are. We got some drizzle all day yesterday. Grateful for any moisture.

      I realize (as I write this) you have not checked out the linked articles. I accept the position of modern historical scholarship that the “Christmas Debate” arose out of Protestant/Catholic debates in the 17th century when Protestant apologists were attempting to discredit all Catholic traditions as “pagan.” The Saturnalia thing arose then, the Constantine arose then, etc. This is all recognized now as a house of cards with no basis in the historical record itself. Constantine was not even in Rome any more by the time Rome adopted the festival of the nativity. The first known celebrations were in North Africa not Europe and were connected to Jewish traditions not pagan ones. Most scholars now argue that Julian the Apostate tried to restore paganism to the Roman Empire and one of his means was to establish a festival to the sun to replace the already existing Christian festival on December 25 (in the West). This places an entirely different spin on the origin of the Nativity/Advent. There is quite a bit of scholarship on this but folks like memes instead.

      On Syncretism. Always a danger where there is bad theology. But biblical faith is a redeeming faith. In both Testaments there are plenty of connections between both “theology” and “praxis” with Egyptian, Babylonian, Canaanite, Greco-Roman sources. The Bible calls Yahweh the rider of the clouds as one example. This is a Canaanite title for Baal. The very words are used in the Baal-Anat cycles. Baal is depicted in iconography as a rider of the clouds with thunderbolts emitting thunder. It does not take much Bible reading to recognize that imagery associated with Yahweh in the Pentateuch, Psalms, Prophets. Biblical faith simply took it over and said that is not true of Baal … there is only one God, Yahweh, this is Yahweh, not Baal.

      There is no syncretism on December 25 in Christian theology however. The pagans borrowed from us not the other way around. Now in the modern age there is the idol of consumerism. But I think the actual Christian calendar is a good safeguard AGAINST consumerism by reminding us what the “season” (Christmas is a season not a day) is about. It is about pain, suffering, poverty, redemption, hope. This is a very biblical message. A few years ago I wrote how “Christmas” gathers much of the biblical message into a single theme. Emmanuel.


      I have no issues with Sabbath day. I also have none for the Lord’s Day. They are not the same and do not have the same function in Scripture or the early Way. I have written on the Sabbath in other places.

      As always love your thoughtful replies. Be blessed.

  3. JT Says:

    Greetings Bobby, and thank you for your considered response complete with lots more reading suggestions as well.

    In my first response to your blog, specifically my third “component” as you characterized it, I included this – “Never mind the ancient dubious history connected with the “season”.” I meant dubious literally – “fraught with uncertainty, arousing doubt, of questionable character”. That you expressed you love Christmas and can defend its religious integrity to your satisfaction is very fine. I think you can admit “dubious” is not such a careless word for a man-made, albeit “religious” holiday with such a controversial history – real facts or imagined “fake news” (as you assigned it), myths defeated by scholars or plain old memes. You won’t deny it to be a man-made holiday will you? If I am to rightly understand your overall emphasis in your thorough defense and reduce it to a few words, it is that you love the “spirit” of Christmas. And that’s not so bad. Except, the world has assigned a specific date that is factually unknown. Probably plain old wrong. You must admit that the world celebrates it as the day He was born, whether you do or not. There is an abundance of wonderful biblical datum recorded in Scripture that you so wonderfully and painstakingly have written about over the years which reflect much about Jesus’s beginnings. At this point, my question is, why don’t we just make hay of that “spirit of Christmas” as realized in the biblical truths and lose the controversial, unbiblical “Christmas” part of it? Quit calling it “Christmas”. Why can’t we just treat it for what it is and proclaim the biblical truth that you’ve written about – on December 25 and every other day of the year? Forget the date. Lose Santa Claus. Forget elves, flying slays and reindeer, and stop lying to our children about it, especially since lying is forbidden. And for some, don’t poo poo calling it lying as if it isn’t! And forget the over-commercialization of the so-called nearly most important religious day of the year. Why can’t we self-proclaimed People of the Book really work at being People of the Book? I’m really calling for a renewed integrity amongst our people!

    Besides the birth-date being dubious at best, the other item I mentioned in first response was that “Christmas” (his birthday) is not a holiday God has placed in our purview. I know, I know. You have put forth Macabbean inspired Hanukah (Festival of Lights) as one that our Lord observed that is “unauthorized”. Yet, comparison beyond that is difficult. No weird themes involved with Hanukah: Santa Clause et al. No dubious, controversial history of its origins in the same way as with Christmas. Your fact is accurate but I don’t think it is helpful.

    Finally, included in your last response to me you said,” But I think the actual Christian calendar is a good safeguard AGAINST consumerism by reminding us what the “season” (Christmas is a season not a day) is about.” I’m unaware of a “Christian calendar”, but additionally, I have no idea how such a “calendar” is a good safeguard…as you claimed.
    Elsewhere you have written about God’s calendar and His appointed times to meet with us. But I’m not familiar with a Christian calendar. Please enlighten.

    Thanks for putting up with me Bobby!


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