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In the gospel of Luke, we read these words about the child Jesus:
“Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel.” (Luke 2:34)
We mentioned this passage briefly in part 9 of our Advent series last month. This small statement offers insights that are worth a closer look.
In physics, we typically speak of things rising first and then falling: what goes up must come down. But this passage isn’t talking about physics. It’stalking about pulling some people downward economically, politically, and socially while raising or lifting up others. It harkens back to the language in Mary’s Magnificat in Luke 1:
“ . . . he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:46-55)
These are passages about wealth disparity, not wealth alone.
Last March, Renewed Heart Ministries’ monthly recommended reading was Kate Pickett’s and Richard Wilkinson’s book The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. In page after page of statistics, Pickett and Wilkinson show that once a society reaches a certain level of wealth, the amount quickly becomes irrelevant. What determines the overall health of that society is the degree of equity or disparity that exists there, whether the distance between the haves and have-nots is great or limited. Inequity disproportionally impacts people in regards to education, health care, crime, substance abuse, mental health, and much, much more.
In a different book, Behave, Robert Sapolsky shows that social economic inequity, over time, even damages individuals and the communities they comprise biologically.
This is the intrinsic reason why our collective thriving depends on raising up some in society while those who have gained too much power, privilege, property, or profit must fall back down. Ancient societies also knew this, and the jubilee in the Torah is just one practice they developed to demonstrate it.
I think of those like Jeff Bezos, who became the world’s first centi-billionaire during a global pandemic where many have suffered losses of unimaginable magnitude. A dear friend of mine, for example, just lost a brother-in-law to COVID. He just had just become a father 11 months ago, and died on Christmas day. We are now over 19 million cases, with many hospitals overrun, and an unnecessarily 333,000 now dead.
What could the “pulling down and raising up of many” mean for us today?
We’ll consider this next.