The Uses of Sorrow
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
— Mary Oliver
Nations tell stories about themselves. Stories that establish who they are, how they see themselves in the world. For example, in 1950s and the early 60s in England, we could sing Rule Britannia and half believe it were still true. Now, they can’t even manage an orderly Brexit.
The USA has its Declaration of Independence, which contains these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [men] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
‘All are created equal’? Yet some of the men who signed this document were slaveowners.
‘Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness’? Tell that to the ever-increasing American underclass.
Australia’s founding story includes Terra Nullius, the lie that the land was unclaimed before Britain established a jail here for its own underclass. Terra Nullius enabled us to think of Australia as the land of the fair go, while ignoring the frontier wars that are our real history. Australia, the land of the fair go—but don’t arrive by boat.
Luke has a foundational story for the Good News of Jesus. It’s been called the Great Reversal. We see it firstly in Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. Mary sings:
[God] 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.
And Jesus himself follows it up, by reading from Isaiah 61 in the Nazareth synagogue:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
Luke’s Great Reversal subverts all other stories. It’s a story of the poor being raised up and the rich being cast down.