image of Gabriel, Mary, visitation

On Sending the Rich Away Empty

originally published November 27, 2007, in Wimminwise, the blog of the Women’s Center at LPTS

Reflecting a little more on Mary’s exultant claim that God “has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:53): 

This text has been one of those (don’t most of us have these?) that bothers me a little every time I hear it.  Since it is a reading for Advent, that’s regularly.  It’s very nice to fill the hungry with good things, but it never seems very nice to send the rich away empty.  Not that God is constrained to be nice.  Still. 

[Maybe my discomfort comes from applying WWJD logic to that passage.  If I were passing out goodies, and made a point of giving them to poor people, and not to rich ones, wouldn’t I be being unfair by not treating everyone the same?  Of course, maybe it would depend on what the goodies are, and why I’m passing them out . . .  And then, everyone is not the same . . .  And then, I remember that the point here isn’t niceness, it’s justice.  But I have to go back through that reasoning again and again, as if it’s one of those words I always have to look up in the dictionary to know how to spell properly.]

But on the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, which is by popular cultural paradigm a day when Americans celebrate their freedom to overindulge, sending the rich away empty takes on a whole new meaning.

Maybe it is a good thing to be sent away empty – for the rich themselves.  Maybe it is a bad thing always to be full of whatever it is one is full of when one is rich, or even too rich.  Maybe sending the rich away empty means sending the arrogant away emptied of pride, or the greedy away emptied of acquisitiveness and materialism, or the pushy away emptied of selfishness.  That would be the kind of transformation that leaves everyone better off.

That would be nice.  To say nothing of being just.

Images: “Crypte de l’église de Gargilesse-Annonciation,” image of fresco, Daniel VILLAFRUELA, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons; “Sophia” by Tania Kugai, used by permission

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