|Margherita Caruso as Mary in Pasolini’s Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964)|
A short “thought for the day” offered to the Cambridge Unitarian Church as part of the Sunday Service of Mindful Meditation
An ancient, anonymous Hebrew author famously wrote in the Book of Isaiah (40:3-5, trans. NRSV) that
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.”
Again and again during the past few months, and particularly during this last week with the Conservative Party Conference and against the background of the release of the Pandora Papers, I have heard the term “levelling up.” But, as our ancient author realised, in order to create any level plain — or, in the language of today, any “level playing field” — the levelling up of valleys must be accompanied by a levelling down of mountains and hills.
All four gospel authors (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, Luke 3:4, John 1:23) put this passage’s opening sentence into the mouth of John the Baptist as he announces the ministry of Jesus because they share the idea that any levelling up which really signals the coming of a kingdom of love and justice will only come when there is an appropriate and simultaneous levelling down.
In the Gospel of Luke this thought is expressed in clear social and political terms in the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55, trans. David Bentley Hart), the song sung by Jesus’ mother, Mary, during her pregnancy:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
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 forever.”
It’s a song which, for over two thousand years, has served to remind our religious communities that only when these two movements, levelling up and levelling down, are truly intra-acting with each other will there come about the level enough playing-field required to start building the kingdom of love and justice for which we still long and work.
The universal and everlasting gospel of boundless, universal love for the entire human race without exception that we proclaim in this church demands nothing less.