Mary Sings of Justice, Then and Now

This reflection originally published by MFSA,

By Julie Taylor, Executive Director of National Farm Worker Ministry

“Thank you for coming to visit us.  Thank you for not abandoning us.” These were the words of a farm worker to me during a labor camp visit in North Carolina several years ago.  

The first part did not seem unusual to me but the second part of this farm worker’s words have both haunted me and inspired me ever since. Our group, there to build relationships with farm workers, listened as both the delegation and the farm workers shared their names, where they were from, a little about their families and who they represented.  For the delegation it was a group from various parts of the country, all from varied families and all representing a denomination or religious order who are part of the National Farm Worker Ministry.  For the farm workers it was a group from various parts of Mexico, all from varied families and all part of a farm worker union working together on this particular farm.

We listened as the farm workers shared about beloved children, spouses, parents they were trying to help. Some had faded photos tucked into a wallet or in their belongings. They talked about their dreams for their children, talked about being the hope of their family for financial support by doing farm work in a faraway place. The delegation had dreams for their children too and offered words of thanks for the work of the farm workers to literally feed everyone.

In our conversation, we learned about the fears that many farm workers face.  Some do not have proper documentation so live under the constant threat that ICE will detain them and then deport them. Some have appropriate documents but they are given misinformation about their rights and intimidated about any complaints they have. Others are here under the supervision of farm labor contractors who recruit them in their countries of origin and make threats to the safety of their families at home. Even those with documents can often live in fear of profiling or that others in their household are at risk. Without a viable path to citizenship and comprehensive immigration reform, many farm workers live in persistent fear. 

All these things and more were shared through translators since many farm workers do not speak English and many of our delegation did not speak Spanish.  Despite that, the hospitality and care between both groups was shared without words, simply in our presence with each other and in the smiles and gestures of greeting. The delegation thanked the farm workers for their hard work, for feeding us.  We gathered them together, prayed with them, and went home.

One of the lectionary readings for this week is Luke 1:26-48 in which Mary is visited by an angel with the news that she will bear the Son of God.  The angel begins his announcement with “Fear not.” The word “fear” appears 515 times in the Bible (NRSV) and the combination of “fear” and “not”, appears 170 times. Together, “fear not” often occurs at the beginning of a message and almost always when an angel is present. The nativity story is a notorious example of this: in this passage, as the angel comes to Mary, earlier in Luke’s account when the angel comes to Zechariah, and later in Luke 2 when the shepherds hear the announcement of Jesus’ birth.  “Fear not” is also in Matthew when an angel comes to Joseph in a dream with instructions about Mary’s blessing.

We read these verses through the eyes of the past and may miss how astounding it must have been. In the face of an angel, it is not surprising that a person would need encouragement and assurance. It’s an unusual occurrence, one that, amazingly, a teenage Mary receives with humility and faith and commitment. In response to the proclamation by the angel that “…nothing will be impossible with God,” Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” She has received this news and accepted it, but how?

This leads us to another important lectionary scripture for this time which is Mary’s song in Luke 1:46b-55.  Here, this earnestly faithful young woman sings. Read the passage to “hear” her song.

Mary understands that Jesus’ life will be for the lowly, the hungry, the weak, the poor…for her. Her son’s life will be for justice, for mercy, for grace, for love and she celebrates by singing her opportunity to be part of it. It is an unbelievable affirmation of her own role despite the upcoming challenges and hardships and suffering she will face.  But it is her faith in God and her profound trust in the God of impossibilities that spark her song and uphold her life going forward.

Mary is singing for the lowly, the hungry, the weak, the poor.  She is singing for those in our society who are pushed to the margins by the powerful. She is singing to farm workers who are part of those excluded, marginalized and often forgotten. And she is singing to us, calling those of us who embrace our faith to a mandate embodying love through the struggle for justice. 

During Advent, listen for the voices of farm workers who tell us they are struggling.  They are struggling for fair wages.  They are struggling for freedom from sexual harassment and violence.  They are struggling from exposure to pesticides.  They are struggling with the impact of climate change in natural disasters.  They are struggling with rising temperatures and increased heat stress which impact their very bodies. They are struggling for decent living and working conditions. And they are struggling from the lack of protection from the coronavirus.

Join me in offering our prayers for farm workers during this season and all through the year. As you gather at your table, think of the hard work of farm workers who picked the fruits and vegetables that give us nutrition. And join the National Farm Worker Ministry and MFSA in taking action to support campaigns and actions which will further the cause of justice in our communities, states, and country. Help me reassure the farm worker who long ago thanked me for not abandoning him. Help me let him know that people of faith stand with him, care for him, are working with and for him to bring justice for farm workers. That is what Mary really sang about, God’s fulfillment of the promise to embody love and justice in the person of Jesus for all the lowly, the hungry, the poor and neglected – justice for all of us. 

Grace and peace to all!