‘Cast Down the Mighty, Send the Rich Away’

An anti-capitalist Biblical message out of a church in New Zealand is getting quite a lot of attention online.

“I’m quite amazed how much beef we’re getting that this sign is not Christmassy,” Dean Jay Ruka said of the sign outside St Mary’s Cathedral New Plymouth in a Facebook post. “The words are verbatim Scripture, Mary’s song about her boy’s pending birth and the meaning of his life.”

Fact Check

Claim: The sign at St Mary’s Cathedral in New Zealand quoted verbatim scripture

Description: Dean Jay Ruka stated that the sign at St Mary’s Cathedral in New Zealand, which includes phrases such as ‘Cast down the mighty’, ‘Send the rich away’, ‘Fill the hungry’, and ‘Lift the lowly’, quoted verbatim scripture.

Rating: Mostly True

Rating Explanation: The claims made are found to be mostly true. The phrases used on the sign are paraphrased from the Canticle of Mary (or the Magnificat) from the Book of Luke in the Bible. However, they aren’t ‘verbatim’.

The sign, posted on December 15 2022, shows the biblical figure Mary in the center; around her are four phrases: “Cast down the mighty,” “Send the rich away,” “Fill the hungry,” and “Lift the lowly”:

“I know it’s offensive, ’cause it’s kind of offensive to me, too,” Ruka said in an interview posted the same day. “That’s one of the reasons I put it out there, ’cause it challenges me.”

While not quite “verbatim,” the phrases are taken from the passage known as the Canticle of Mary, also called the Magnificat, a hymn of praise attributed to Mary, which can be found in the Book of Luke, verses 1:45-55. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the New Revised Standard Version reads in part:

He 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.

The design on the display was created by artist Ben Wildflower, who explained on his website that he first used it on a fundraising postcard:

I changed it from the past/passive (He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly, He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.) which is something I first heard done when we attended St. Marks, Locust St., an Anglo-Catholic church on Epiphany Sunday and the liturgy phrased it as “Cast down the mighty from their thrones. Amen. Lift up the lowly. Amen. Fill the hungry with good things. Amen. Send the rich away empty. Amen.” This really stuck with me as St. Mark’s is in an extremely wealthy neighborhood and attended by lots of folks not lacking in material means. By singing these words there was an admission that the words of Scripture really do call us to economic justice.

This is why I put her fist in the air. There are enough images out there focusing on the lowliness and meekness of Mary. I wanted to make one that highlights her holy rage and her indictment of an economic system built on idolatrous ideas about what kind of people do or don’t deserve things like food and shelter. I like that Mary.

Ruka said he initially wanted to put Wildflower’s design on display in 2021, but decided against it out of fear that it might inflame divisions within the country.

“So I thought I’d put it up this year, just to challenge us on what Christmas really is about, ’cause it’s not about commercialism even though it’s been railroaded by commercialism and capitalism,” he told interviewer Bryan Taranaki. “The true story of Christ really confronts those social structures.”