October 14, 2018

Pentecost: Ordinary Women: Mary of Magdala

Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at some women who are, on the surface ‘ordinary’. They are simply women who were going about their daily lives when God stepped in and transformed them. They responded to the needs of the world around them and made a difference in social justice, in nursing, and in standing against oppression. Last week we saw that even a woman who might not have actually lived can inspire us to make changes and stand up for what is right.

This week, we come to a rather misunderstood woman. Mary of Magdala. I’ve written about Mary several times on this blog over the years. She is a fascinating woman, even though there is not a lot concrete known about her.

Although blackened by Pope Gregory as a prostitute, there is no evidence of that in the Biblical record. A more likely scenario is that she was a woman of some wealth from the town of Magdala on the Sea of Galilee. We know that Jesus cast out 7 ‘demons’ from her. Whether this was some sort of massive possession or a way of explaining a dramatic healing of insecurities and fears that kept Mary enslaved, is not clear. 

In any event, Mary became one of the women who followed and ministered to Jesus ‘from their wealth’. The women were the fearless ones who stood at the foot of the cross and went to the grave after the Sabbath to complete the anointing of the body. Consequently, Mary was the one who first met the Risen Lord and to whom was given the directive ‘go and tell my brothers’.

It is said that after the Resurrection she continued her evangelism, even to the Imperial Court.  Far from being a behind the scenes operator, Mary was called to be part of the action. She was not afraid to tell her story. Mary invites us to be activeparticipants in our world, to look and see God everywhere. 

Mary reminds us that Jesus can cast out our demons of insecurity, fear, the past, and whatever else can trouble us. God is for us at all times.  

As you enter into the world of Mary, you might do this exercise from 2015 using images to see which way you see her. This one of Mary turning to see who has called her name is one of my favorites.

Then take a minute to consider what pictures you might use to represent yourself. Maybe a butterfly or an eagle. Perhaps, like me, a turtle is your 'totem' animal, reflecting the need for security. Lately, however, a hawk has taken up residence in a nearby tree and I see her as symbolic of strength and resilience.  

What images of yourself do you have? Do these images truly reflect how God sees you?
Can you start to see yourself like God does-as God’s own beloved?

October 7, 2018

Pentecost: Ordinary Women: Judith

In this series, we’ve been looking at women, who made a difference in the world because they said ‘yes’ to God. Another woman from the Biblical record who, though ordinary, reacted in an extra ordinary way is Judith. Her story is found in the Apocrypha in the book that bears her name.  She was one of the women we studied at the August women’s retreat.

The Apocrypha is books that didn’t make it into the “canon”-the list of books chosen to go into the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Fourteen of these books are found in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. This was the translation done by 70 Jewish scholars in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries BCE. The Roman Catholic church calls these books deuterocanonical (or second canon) and includes them in translations of the Bible like the Jerusalem Bible. Most Protestant churches do not include these books at all, except in a separate section or separate book. The books in the Apocrypha, in general, cover stories in the time between the end of the Old Testament and the start of the New Testament. There are stories of the Maccabees who reestablished the independence of Israel and formed the Hasmonean dynasty, from which the Herods of the New Testament were descended. Additions to the Book of Esther and Daniel are also in the apocryphal books, as are some other assorted stories, including the Book of Judith.

The basic story is that Judith, whose husband has been killed by the Assyrians, goes to the Assyrian camp with her maid. She pretends to be an informant, gaining the trust of General Holofernes. Then one night, as he lies drunk, she beheads him. Her action demoralizes the army who retreats from Israel. Meanwhile, Judith returns home with the head of Holofernes to prove that God has saved them by her hand. The Book of Judith records that she was courted by many men, but chose to remain single.

It is unlikely that Judith was a real person, although some writers try to identify Judith with some historic female leader like Queen Salome Alexandra who was the only female queen of Judea, and last ruler of the independent nation. (76-67 BCE)

Throughout history, Judith has been depicted in art, like this image of Judith with the Head of Holophernes by Christofano Allori from 1613. I saw a special exhibit at the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas a couple years ago,  featuring the story of her life, which was quite impressive although I don't recall the artist's name. (The museum also has a wonderful Via Dolorosa sculpture garden, works by Ron DiCianni, and art pieces created from weapons of war.)

Even if she was never a real live woman, Judith can teach us about courage and acting to rectify injustice. We may not want to cut off someone’s head, but we can speak out against evil. We may not have to pretend to be a traitor, but we can confront wrong.

Some might say that Judith was ‘over the top’ in her actions. As women, we are often urged to not be outspoken or take a stand. AnnVoskamp advises, “Don’t take it down a few notches. Take risks — and take all of you to the table. It can feel terrifying — but it is far more terrifying to live anything less than being fully seen…

Because the world’s much too apathetic, the world needs how you ferociously feel much. Because the world’s much too distant and indifferent, the world needs how you passionately and compassionately give much of your attentive soul. Because the world has lost much of its heart, the world needs more of us to come with so much of our heart instead of so little. And it’s better to feel much than to feel much of nothing at all. It’s better to love with your whole broken heart than to love anything half-heartedly. Those who are told they are too much — are those who awaken the world in much needed ways.”

Is there something that you think needs to change? Maybe God is calling you to take a stand.
Are you willing to take risks and give more of your heart to ‘awaken the world’?