When we’ve gone out of our way to help someone, and they say, “I won’t forget this,” we can tuck those four words into our back pocket. They’ll come in handy down the road. One day, the tables will be turned and we’ll be the one in need of help. Quid pro quo. That’s how life works. It’s the mutual give-and-take of friendships, business partners, and the whole panorama of human relationships. One good turn deserves another. And, let me add, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Where this does go wrong—and I mean goes wrong all the time—is when we twist this person-to-person horizontal way of doing life and point it vertically to the God-to-person way of doing faith.
You know how this works. We get to imagining that the Almighty is up in heaven, surrounded by angelic secretaries, who keep spreadsheets of our good and bad deeds. The bigger our tally of good, the better positioned we are to get our prayers answered, keep our children safe, land a good job, or sustain a healthy marriage. After all, God won’t forget this. In remembrance of our church-going, our tithe-giving, our VBS-volunteering, our homeschooling, our correct-voting, our not-being-like-those-people, the Lord will smile on us and reward us for keeping our righteous noses clean.
There's a name for that way of thinking: Trash Theology. Oh, it’s trendy. We dig it. After all, we like to think it hands us a wee bit of control over the Lord. But it’s a putrid pile of theological garbage, through and through.
Who says so? The mother of Jesus says so.
The Greek Song Marinating in Hebrew
In the articles this week, we’ve heard stories of the Lord “zakaring” people like Noah, Joseph, and Hannah. He remembered them in that rich and deep Hebrew way entailed in the verb zakar (זכר), which is not a mere mental recollection but an embodied action. Today, as the series wraps up, we’ll step into the New Testament, written in Greek, but we’ll sit down to a song that smells and tastes like it’s been marinating in Hebrew for a very long time.
The song? Mary’s Magnificat. It ranks as one of the most brilliant, insightful, stunning pieces of biblical hymnody ever written. You’ll find it in Luke 1:46-55, but its rightful place is inscribed upon the heart of every follower of Mary’s Son. Read it. Sing it. Memorize it.
The Magnificat is recorded in the middle of a conversation between two pregnant women. When young Mary visits old Elizabeth, both women are with child, Jesus in Mary’s womb, John in Elizabeth’s. John does a dance of joy, in utero, over being in the presence of Jesus; Elizabeth is beside herself with happiness that “the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Luke 1:43); and Mary intones a song for the ages, which begins, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” (1:46)
The theme of Mary’s hymn is how the Lord grabs the world and turns it upside down. He chooses her, a seeming nobody, a young woman lacking in royalty, lacking in power, lacking in riches or prestige, to be the one whom all generations will call blessed. She whom hardly anyone knew would become a household name in even the far-flung places of the world. The Lord God of Israel turns things topsy-turvy: the mighty, he dethrones. The humble, he exalts. The rich, he sends empty away. The hungry, he fills.
And now, at the climax of the song, we savor these lyrics: “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever” (Luke 1:54-55). Ah, there it is! “In remembrance of his mercy.” With these words, Mary pulls a box of matches out of her pocket, lights one, and drops it onto that pile of trash theology we just talked about. Burn, baby, burn.
She does not say, “In remembrance of Israel’s fidelity,” or “In remembrance of the piety of the patriarchs,” or “In remembrance of compassionate Ruth, faithful Josiah, suffering Jeremiah, praying Daniel, or whoever.” No. The Lord has remembered to help his servant Israel, to fulfill his promises to Abraham and to his offspring forever, not mostly or mainly because of his mercy, but exclusively so.
Why did the Lord choose Mary? Out of mercy.
Why did he keep that old, old promise? Out of mercy.
Why was the Son of God incarnate in Mary’s womb? Out of mercy.
Why was our Father about to reconcile the world to himself in Jesus? Out of mercy.
Our Zakaring Father
God won’t forget what he’s promised to remember. He’ll remember out of mercy. And that mercy, that undeserved kindness, the divine heart ever titled toward us, which does not reward us according to our iniquities but loves us according to who he is—that mercy is the foundation of all our hopes, all our prayers, all our confessions of sin, every breath we breathe and every step we take toward the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.
Everything from the moment Jesus became one of us inside his mother until the moment, after his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he took his seat beside his Father, could be summed up nicely in two words: God Remembers.
Growing inside Mary’s womb was the incarnation of divine remembrance in the Son who would act to save us all. Everything from the moment Jesus became one of us inside his mother until the moment, after his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, he took his seat beside his Father, could be summed up nicely in two words: God Remembers.
God remembered, out of mercy, to do it all for you. He remembered Noah. He remembered Rachel, Joseph, Hannah, Mary, Israel, the world. And he remembered, and always will, remember you. He is our “zakaring” Father. In remembrance of his mercy, the mercy found fully and abundantly in Jesus, he does it all for you.
Now, that’s worth remembering.