Exalting the Status of the Lowly

Mary and Elizabeth - The Lord exalting the status of the lowly and the barren.

Musings in CMi and the Bible is a 12-part series on each of the 12 Dimensions of Culture of the Cultural Mapping Inventory (CMi). You can find the overview article here.

This musing is about the Cultural Dimension of Status

With the Cultural Dimension of Status, we look at the polarities of Ascribed and Achieved Status – Is status ascribed to people due to their birth, class, particular college where they studied, or is it achieved by people through hard work, diligence, and personal success?

Status in Palestine

Status was a complicated thing in first century Palestine. It was a country occupied by the Romans, with a king who was not a Jew. Many people had status but only in the small group they belonged to. 

Roman citizens had formal status and privileges as the Roman empire was the occupying force. Among the Jews, status was very much dependent on your lineage, how rich your family was, what social group or religious order you joined (like the Pharisees and the Essenes or the Zealots, or heaven forbid, by becoming a tax collector) and how good your connections were to those in Power. There was a fair amount of strife between groups and sometimes your status was only within your group while you were despised by members of other groups. Men had more status and privilege than women.

Though status was mostly ascribed through lineage and tribal affiliation, it could be achieved or increased by one’s actions (being more religious, becoming rich, etc.) but it could also be lost through “acts of God” like sickness, barrenness, poverty, etc.

People who were childless, lepers or had other infectious diseases were looked down upon even when they had formal status. The latter were literally outcasts. They had to live away from other people and make noises wherever they went calling out “unclean”, “unclean”.

Mary & Elizabeth

Mary and Joseph were both descendants of king David, Joseph was even a direct heir to the throne, but their poverty placed them low on the status ladder and consequently there was little preferential treatment. (They had to spend their time in Bethlehem during the census in the stable part of the house/inn they stayed in, with the animals. There was no room but also, … there was no one of lower status than them who would give up their room/bed for them. Getting pregnant before the wedding didn’t help here either.)

Elizabeth was the daughter of a priest and the wife of Zechariah the priest. She was known for being upright in her walk, but her barrenness diminished her status and she felt that sting of shame clinging to her.

When Elizabeth got pregnant in her old age, she said, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.” (Luke 1:24, NIV)

When Mary gets pregnant through the Holy Spirit, she’ll have to go through the stigma of bearing a child out of wedlock. Still she considers her pregnancy a gift from God and an elevation of her status. She knows future generations will admire her and says, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me---holy is his name. His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 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. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.” (Luke 1:46-54, NIV)

Using our Status and the Power that comes with it

Jesus was in the business of reversing status, elevating people who were looked down upon by others. He went around healing the sick, touching lepers (and healing them), spending time with a Samaritan woman of questionable reputation, casting out demons, etc. Even at his birth He was elevating the status of others, like his mother and the shepherds.

How do we employ the status and power we have? Do we work hard to keep our status and keep it elevated above the people around us? Do we tell others to earn their status by hard work? Or, are we willing to elevate others just because they are also created in the image of God?

Paul wrote to the Philippians to just do that: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV)


Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.
Used with permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


Published September 8, 2023 

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