Luke 1:53 :
He has filled the hungry with good things.
He has sent the rich away empty.
Confusion abounds surrounding the meaning of the words “hungry” and “rich.” It would be easy to take this verse out of context, so let’s take a careful look at what is meant by “the hungry” here.
What I believe is the most appropriate way to interpret scripture is to do it with other scripture. The immediate context of the verse is often a good place to learn what a verse means. We need to remember that this verse is just a very small part of the words that Mary has been saying by the power of the Holy Spirit. It forms a single message, so it makes sense that we look at other parts of this message to see if it can help us interpret the meaning of “the hungry” in this verse.
In verse 48 we read that God has “looked at the humble state of his handmaid.” This clearly means Mary. It would appear that Mary is one of “hungry” from this context because she is given a good thing in that “from now on all generations will call” her blessed. I doubt that Mary was starving, it might have been that she struggled at times, but was Holy Spirit really meaning that “the hungry” were people without food? I don’t think so because the next good thing Mary talks about is “his mercy” “on those who fear him.” I think that the hungry are those who need God’s mercy. There appears to be an even broader context if we look at the next few verses that refer to Israel and Abraham and God’s promise to him. “The hungry” in this context could easily mean Israel which was clearly being oppressed by Rome. This was a hot topic of the time according to historians. In a very broad sense “the hungry” appears to be referring to those who are oppressed, or “kept under” by their own sin and Satan through the help of “rich” men.
If I am understanding this correctly that “the hungry” are those who are oppressed, then it makes sense that “the rich” are those who are helping to do the oppressing. It would be a grave logical error to say that being rich is evil! Think about this carefully. Who is the richest person? This is a bit of trick question. The richest person is God who owns all things on earth and in the universe. God is not evil and never goes away empty, so this cannot be talking about all of the rich! This illustrates why it is very important not to take verses out of context but I admit it is easy to do accidentally.
We do know that God does not oppress people but even shows mercy to those who do evil. Those who are rich and think that they are a god, are the ones that Satan uses to oppress others. There is a very interesting set of proverbs about those who gain money in an evil way:
Proverbs 11:16-18 :
A gracious woman obtains honor,
but violent men obtain riches.
The merciful man does good to his own soul,
but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.
Wicked people earn deceitful wages,
but one who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward.
Those who go the way of the world as promoted by Satan can become wealthy based on the oppression of others. This is one of the reasons why it is clear that abortion is wrong. To an unborn baby, we are rich because we have all had the opportunity to see the world and live on our own. When we kill out of convenience to ourselves those who are less powerful and more needy, are we not playing the role of “the rich?”
May God continue to teach us our true condition and give us hearts that are ready to show mercy to everyone. May we see how we need God’s mercy and how wonderful it is to be forgiven.