Madonna of the Magnificat

by Christine Sine

Mary and the MagnificatOn Sunday Carla Pryne was away and Rev Ralph Carskadden preached a very powerful and compelling sermon about the upside down values of God’s kingdom.  Here is a portion of that sermon I thought you might find interesting.

When gazing at the splendid Madonna of the Magnificat by Botticelli, contemporaries of the artist would have seen something very differnt from what we see.  They would recognize every figure in the painting as a member of the Piero de’ Medici family.  According to Wikipedia  the painting portrays the family of Piero de’ Medici, lord of Florence from 1492. His wife Lucrezia Tornabuoni is Mary, Lorenzo de’ Medici is the young man with the ink-pot, flanked by his brother Giuliano de’ Medici who is holding a book. Behind the two boys is Maria, while the two elder sisters are holding the crown in the background: Bianca on the left and Nannina on the right. The newborn is the daughter of Lorenzo, Lucrezia de’ Medici.

However, Bitticelli might not have been the complete sellout to the ruling classes that this appears.  The open book near the centre of the picture portrays the Latin text for the canticle of Zechariah of the left and the Magnificat on the right with its wonderful song of praise to our God who “has scattered the proud in their conceit, cast down the mighty from their thrones, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.”  Mary not only sings of revolution but with the quill pen in her hand she is also shown to be a revolutionary women of letters, and the right hand of Jesus, the hand of blessing rests on his mother’s recvolutionary words.

At the heart of the Christian gospel is a message of reversal of worldly values and orders.  Often that message is disguised, glossed over or ignored, but it is there.  In Bottitcelli’s painting the beauty of the picture, the exquisite use of gold, divert our attentionfrom the message but it is there for all to see.  The proud, rich and powerful don’t fair well in the words or actions of Jesus – especially as recorded in the gospel of Luke.  In the gospel portion for this Sunday (Luke 14: 7-14) we hear echoes of Mary’s song “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Jesus even told his host that he had invited the wrong guests.  Instead of inviting relatives and rich neighbours he told them to invite the poor , the crippled, the lame and the blind who cannot repay.

By the standards of most of the world’s people we are all rich and privileged.  We who are baptized into Christ are called to use our wealth and privilege and power for the sake of others, as representatives of a renewed world of justice, mercy, equality and peace.  Followers of Jesus have always been called to be different, to be revolutionary, to “revolve” or turn around and go in another direction.

As we gaze at Botticelli’s painting we can see a child extending a hand of blessing to the revolutionary words of his mother.  This is the child that invites us this day to dine with him at his banquet feast, who extends his gracious hospitality to all who hunger, all who are least, who are thought unworthy and unacceptable.  With lepers, tax collectors, the blind, the lame, the disfigured, the harlots and the outcasts, with the faithful disciples from all ages and with the angelic strangers we may entertain unawares.  We too are bidden to come and feast at the Lord’s table.

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madonna fan November 18, 2007 - 2:52 am Reply

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