Tag Archives: Mary

Ladies First

When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.
Luke 24:9-11 (NIV)

Of the three authors of Jesus’ biographies (aka “the Gospels”), Dr. Luke is known for his attention to details not found in the other three. One of these details that stands out for me is the attention he gives to the women among Jesus’ entourage and inner circle.

Much earlier in his accounts, Luke shares with us that a group of women were traveling with Jesus and the Twelve. They were also financially supporting His miraculous mystery tour around the shores of Galilee:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

Luke 8:1-3 (NIV)

Contemporary followers of Jesus don’t give enough attention and credit to Jesus for radically shifting the status of women in Hebrew and Roman society. The status of women in those days was as poor as it has been throughout most of history. Women were perceived and treated as inferior to men. One of the daily prayers that a good Hebrew man would recite thanked God that he was not born a woman, a dog, or a Gentile. It was socially unacceptable for a man to speak to a woman in public. Freeborn women in the Roman Empire fared somewhat better than women in Hebrew world of Judea, but not much.

Jesus was a game-changer. He broke with convention. He spoke to women publicly. He touched them, healed them, and treated them with love and grace. It is no wonder then, that women would be among his most staunch supporters. I also find it fascinating that among the inner circle of female advocates is Joanna, the wife of the head of King Herod’s household. Another fact comes to my mind this morning that among all the accounts of Jesus’ kangaroo court trials before the Jewish High Priest, the Jewish religious authorities, the Roman Governor Pilate, and the Judean King Herod, there is only one person who speaks up on Jesus’ behalf. The wife of Pontius Pilate sent her husband a private message urging him not have anything to do with Jesus and all of the turmoil being stirred up against Him.

In the years to follow, the spread of the Jesus movement was, in part, fueled by the fact that the status of women within the movement broke with social convention. “In Christ,” Paul wrote, “there is neither male or female.” When Jesus followers gathered for their love feasts women were welcome at the table with men. It may seem like a baby step in contrast to modern society, but in the day it was a major game-changer. It should also be noted that once the Jesus Movement became an institution called the Holy Roman Empire, women were quickly stripped of what gains in status that they had been enjoying.

In the quiet this morning I find it, therefore, worth pondering that in yesterday’s chapter Luke makes it clear that it was the women of Jesus’ inner circle who followed Jesus to the cross and witnessed the entire bloody affair while the men were hiding in fear for their lives. In today’s chapter it was the women to whom word of the resurrection was first given, and the men who concluded that the silly women were being non-sensical.

The further I get in my journey, the more I find myself shedding the social and institutional conventions and norms that I was taught and absorbed growing up with regard to women. God saw fit to ensure that most of my earthly journey would be spent as the lone male in the company of amazing, strong, gifted, and wise females. I find that it has made me both more appreciative of Jesus’ rebellious change of the social conventions of His day, and more desirous to carry on that legacy.

Have you missed the previous chapter-a-day posts from this journey through the Gospel of Luke? Click on this image and it will take you to a quick index of the other posts!

Grappling With “Never”

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:20 (NIV)

“I don’t know what to with never,” Wendy confessed to me one afternoon.

There are some moments in this life journey that are etched indelibly in my brain’s memory bank, and this is one of them. When the two of us were married Wendy inherited two teenaged daughters. Still, we had always desired to have a child together. After multiple surgeries and what seemed like endless months of fruitless attempts to conceive, Wendy’s admission of fear as we stood silently in our despair on the back porch felt like a giant weight on our souls.

The story of John the Baptist’s parents in today’s chapter holds a special place in my heart. There is so much happening in the subtext of Zechariah’s conversation with the angel Gabriel that is completely lost on any reader who has not walked through the long, depressing, desolate path of infertility.

A few of observations:

  • I find it ironic that Dr. Luke diagnoses Zech and Liz’s infertility as “Elizabeth was unable to conceive.” Perhaps there’s more to this story than is told. Nevertheless, having walked this journey I know that it’s also possible the low sperm count or poor motility were the culprits of their childlessness. Of course, this medical knowledge was not available in their day, but it makes me sad that Elizabeth got the blame.
  • I’ve been digging into the theme of exile on this chapter-a-day journey over the past months. The truth is that Elizabeth and her husband were in a personal exile of their own. When you are walking the path of infertility you realize that the vast majority of people don’t understand and it’s usually emotionally painful when they try. Furthermore, you’re not sure you want to talk to those who’ve been through it themselves. Those who walked the path and ultimately conceived are just a depressing reminder that it hasn’t worked for you. Those who never conceived are a reminder that “never” is a possibility which you don’t want to face and don’t know what to do with (a la Wendy’s confession). Infertility can be horrifically isolating for the couple going through it.
  • When the angel tells Zech “Your prayer has been answered.” My husband’s heart shoots back with a cynical “Which one?” If Zech’s heart was like mine, then there’s a section of it calloused over from month-after-month, year-after-year of fervent, unanswered prayers and wiping away his wife’s river of tears.
  • When Zech asks Gabriel “How can I be sure of this?” he is, once again, being defensive and protective of the hearts of both his wife and his own. Infertility is a vicious cycle of summoning faith, raising hopes, and having them dashed again and again and again and again. The last thing the elderly husband wants to do is put his wife through it one more time.

It’s easy for the casual reader to point the finger at Zech’s lack of faith. I’m sure many Jesus followers will hear messages this Advent season comparing Mary’s simple acceptance of Gabriel’s message to Zech’s rather obvious doubt. My heart goes out to the dude. He’s been made the Steve Bartman of the Christmas story for two thousand years, but I get where he’s coming from.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the long-term effects that disappointment and unanswered prayer can have on one’s spirit. As for what to do with “never,” Wendy and I worked through it together with God. We discovered, and continue to discover, deep lessons about joy, grief, faith, perseverance, character, maturity, and hope. At the same time, there is a lingering sadness that rears itself unexpectedly at odd times, which in turn pushes me back to the lessons already learned. I plumb their depths once more.

Still, if Gabriel showed up in my office this morning and told me Wendy was going to have a baby, I totally believe that the subtext of my reaction would land somewhere between sarcastic and cynical.

Zechariah would understand.

Dreams, Visions, and Bad Pepperoni

source: h-k-d via Flickr
source: h-k-d via Flickr

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
    though no one perceives it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on people
    as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
    and terrify them with warnings,
to turn them from wrongdoing
    and keep them from pride,
to preserve them from the pit,
    their lives from perishing by the sword.
Job 33:14-18 (NIV)

I woke at 2:30 this morning out of a deep sleep and disturbing dream. Like most dreams it was surreal and strange. A thread of storyline was wound loosely around snatches of scenes and emotions. Terrorists were after me. I could trust no one and spent much of my time hiding and trying to avoid those who I knew were enemies bent on my death. I found myself entering what appeared to be a pre-game meeting with the Judson University men’s basketball team when I realized that the room was set to explode. I ran for the door and was barely outside when the bomb went off. Suddenly I was in the custody of two or three of the terrorists and they were dragging me away. I struggled from their grasp and ran for my life. I turned a corner and found that a large contingent of people from my alma mater had arrived (basketball fans, presumably?) and were getting off a bus. If I could just reach them I would be safe, but everything was moving in agonizing slow motion.

I’m not sure what to make of all that. Perhaps it was simply the effect of some bad pepperoni from my pizza the other night.

My local community of Jesus followers has been exploring the subject of dreams and visions of late, beginning with a look at the dreams, visions, and visitations surrounding the Christmas story. There were a lot of them when you think about it:

  • Zechariah (John the Baptist’s dad), had a vision in which the angel told him his barren wife was pregnant.
  • Mary had a visitation telling her she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit with the Messiah.
  • Joseph had a dream telling him not to put Mary away, but to marry her.
  • The shepherds were visited by the angelic host telling them of Jesus’ birth.
  • The Magi were warned in a dream to go home and avoid Herod.
  • Simeon had received a vision that he would not die before he had seen the Christ.
  • Joseph was warned in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous wrath.

I have no doubt that God speaks to people in dreams, in visions, and in visitations. It happens time and time again throughout God’s story. Elihu makes a point of it in his words to Job in today’s chapter. God can and does speak to people through dreams. I believe it a gross mistake to deny this, to close myself off to the truth of it, or harden my heart against the possibility that God might speak to me in such a way.

By the same token, I don’t believe that God speaks to all people through all dreams. A dream may be spiritually significant, inspired by Holy Spirit. A dream may be the surreal by-product of memories, thoughts, and emotions inspired by bad pepperoni. I tend to think that the latter is a common reality, while the former is more the exception than the rule. When signs and wonders become common, everyday occurrences they cease being wonders.

Today, I’m thinking about the wonder of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and the role that dreams, visions, and visitations played in this most momentous of events in human history. I’m thinking about my own life journey in which wondrous events of divine design seem to happen on prescribed occasions for specific purpose. They are interspersed by long periods of mundane, daily toil. I’m thinking about finding and maintaining healthy balance and perspective in all of this. I don’t ever want to be guilty of chasing after  obscure, hidden meaning in my dreams while ignoring the plain truth presented clearly in God’s Message.

By the way, I’m also thinking about the Judson University men’s basketball team who blew up in my dream last night. Sorry guys. I’m not a prophet, and I really don’t think that was from God. Blame the pepperoni. Go Eagles!

source: 15918528@N00 via Flickr
source: 15918528@N00 via Flickr

Chapter-a-Day Mark 16

Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning, just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” Mark 16:1-3 (NLT)

When I read this passage from today’s chapter, it struck me how completely un-female-like it was for the ladies to head off for the tomb with no idea how they were going to get the giant stone covering the tomb rolled away from the entrance. Women, at least most all the women I know, don’t do anything without a structured plan of execution that is both reasonable and efficient.

Nevertheless, the three ladies headed to Jesus’ tomb without fully understanding what would happen when the arrived, nor how they could possible reach the body of Jesus and accomplish what they intended. They journeyed to the tomb in faith believing that somehow they could get the stone rolled away and would get to Jesus. They had no idea how they would be rewarded for their faith.

It struck me that it’s that way for any of us who have sought after Jesus. We don’t quite know how we’re going to find Him, nor do we quite understand what we might find and what might happen if and when we do. I regularly find that for those who honestly seek after Jesus there is no clear road map and no reasonable plan of execution. We don’t have a list of necessary supplies. We just head out onto the path with a heart’s desire to find Him. It’s a faith journey, after all.

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” – Jesus

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 12

“If she can’t afford a lamb, she can bring two doves or two pigeons, one for the Whole-Burnt-Offering and one for the Absolution-Offering. The priest will make atonement for her and she will be clean.” Leviticus 12:8 (MSG)

One of the reasons I’ve always encouraged fellow followers to read through the Old Testament is that it provides layers of new understanding to familiar passages in the New Testament. Take the verse above, for example. Now compare that with Luke 2:22-24:

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took [Jesus] to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now we get a deeper picture of Mary and Joseph, who were dedicated followers of the Law and held to the rituals prescribed in Leviticus chapter 12. We also learn that Jesus’ family was of limited means because they sacrificed the doves or pigeons rather than the lamb. This, in turn, is fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic word picture (Isaiah 53:2) that the messiah would be of humble beginnings “like a tender shoot and a root out of dry ground.”

God’s Message provides wholistic understanding. While individual verses or passages provide inspiration or instruction, they are intended to be interpreted in the context of the whole. I am always wary of those who pull one or two verses out of God’s Message and interpret them to mean all sorts of things that do not fit in context with the whole. These early books of law are certainly dry in terms of simple devotional reading, but they are thick with providing a broader historical picture of God’s plan.

Chapter-a-Day Luke 10

Painting by Bueckelaer via Flickr and Jim Forest

As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village. A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen

. Luke 10:38-39 (MSG)

My wife, Wendy, and I are blessed to spend more time together than most couples I know. We both work out of a home office, so a normal day is spent in the house together. We eat breafast together, we eat lunch together, and we eat dinner together. If I take a break from my work, I usually walk down stairs to talk to Wendy. Much of our free time is spent working together on stage or in administrating the local community theatre. We worship together and serve together on the visual tech team at church. Wendy and I have an intimate relationship that is built on the foundation of shared time, shared space, shared interest, and shared conversation.

The story of Mary and Martha, and the simple lesson of it, keeps popping in my path the past few weeks. I was reminded of it once again in worship yesterday morning. So often I approach my relationship with Jesus like Martha, in which my relationship is really about doing things around him. Yet, Mary had the more initimate relationship with Jesus because she spent time centered on conversation with him.

My relationship with Jesus and my relationship with my wife are really no different. If I want to find intimacy in the relationship, then it’s going to require a foundation of time, proximity, and focused communication.

Chapter-a-Day Luke 9

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Image via Wikipedia

The apostles returned and reported on what they had done. Jesus took them away, off by themselves, near the town called Bethsaida. Luke 9:10 (MSG)

One time when Jesus was off praying by himself, his disciples nearby…. Luke 9:18a 9 (MSG)

About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray…. Luke 9:28a (MSG)

Jesus often used the phrase “he who has ears, let him hear.”

Listen.
Be open.
Pay attention.
Keep your antennae up.

Earlier this year, I told Wendy that I wanted to be more intentional in spending time together in prayer. As we’ve spent hours in the car between home and the lake, I’ve attempted to prompt us to spend a little of that time praying together.

This past week my daughter Taylor and I were doing a study wrapped around the painting Christ in the House of Mary and Martha by Johannes Vermeer. In the course of our conversation, I once again felt the conviction to be less of a busy-Martha and more Mary-like in spending time with Jesus, sitting and listening and spending time in conversation.

Today, as I read the chapter I couldn’t help notice the recurring theme of Jesus getting away by himself to pray.

I find that lessons from God’s message are sometimes those things which are woven through the text; His callings then weave those lessons through life in a recurring theme. I’ve found that when God promps me, it often comes in whispers as a still-small voice, but we have to quiet our lives enough to hear them (and, if you’re like me, turning your hearing aid on helps, as well).

I hear you, God. I hear you.

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