Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Girl Talk

                And the sky was bright with a holy light, twas the birthday of a king....

Preface:  In the same way I stand transformed at the cross of Jesus and the unthinkable rejection and agony he suffered for me, I am also transformed by the incarnation--God of all creation born as a helpless baby.  The very thing we as humans long for, the splendor and glory of the heavenly realm, our Savior readily gave up to become an infinitesimal speck of life in Mary's dark womb.  It is truly the greatest story every told.  At the onset of Mary's pregnancy, she visited her older cousin Elizabeth.  They both had miraculous conceptions and were told their babies would be extraordinary. Imagine all the girl talk that must have taken place about their amazing circumstances.

Elizabeth shares details of Mary's visit to her home:

"Mary danced across our threshold.  Even after several days of mountainous travel, her lovely dark eyes sparkled and she was full of smiles as she greeted us.  Her tunic was tattered and dusty and her sandals were worn thin.  Stones and thorns along the way had etched deep scratches into her feet, but Mary didn't seem to notice as she moved about lightly with the ease of youth.  My little cousin was accustomed to trekking up and down narrow hillside footpaths because of her usual daily duties of tending sheep or carrying water.

"And now she was carrying greatness, the only Son of God, supernaturally conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.  I was also with child, miraculously conceiving in my old age.  To say I was delighted to be pregnant would be an understatement after spending many barren years of disappointment and enduring disgrace by society because I couldn't bear a child.

"When the babe in my womb heard the sound of Mary's voice, he leaped with joy, just as though he knew his Lord had entered our home!  Exhilarated, I responded:  'Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bare!  Why am I so favored that the mother of my Lord should come to me?'  We hugged, holding onto each other.  Mary, unable to contain her excitement, burst into song, glorifying God.  She was thrilled that she had been chosen to be the mother of Messiah--the longstanding dream of every young Jewish girl.

"Over the next three months, it became clear exactly why Mary came to visit me.  In spite of our age difference, we had much in common.  We spent the days, then lighting candles and staying up late into the nights, chatting and sharing--wonderful girl talk--about everything.  There were so many things to discuss and compare.  We were both bearing our firstborn child.  We both knew in advance we would have sons and even knew their names would be John and Jesus.  We shared the same angel messenger, Gabriel, who told us our sons would be great men.  We pondered the angel's words and wondered what it would be like for Mary to be mother of the Son of the Most High.  We mused over how John would turn hearts back to God, preparing the way for Mary's son, Jesus.  We wept as we realized that I, because of my age, would probably not live to see all this come about.

"And we shared apprehension of the birth process, having seen many a sister deliver a bundle of wrinkled newborn flesh, encircled by women, supporting and soothing the moaning mother.  Women's work, it's called, while the men sit in silence in the courtyard.  Little did we know that Mary would have to bring her baby into the world in unfamiliar and crude surroundings, without feminine support, and with only Joseph at her side.

"Toward the end of her stay, my long anticipated boy was born as expected, with family and neighbors sharing in the festivities.  Oh, and I should mention my husband, Zechariah, a priest, who was struck dumb by the angel Gabriel prior to my pregnancy, finally spoke again.  His inability to communicate gave Mary and me a lot of time to spend together, since I couldn't talk to him.  Zechariah was about to explode when he finally got his voice back.  He then prophesied more wondrous things about John and Jesus.

"John's birth was an answer to the prayer we had prayed for years for my barren state to be lifted.  But Gabriel said it would also strengthen Mary, showing her that nothing is impossible with God.  She returned home refreshed and ready to face potential cruel slander by her neighbors and dismay of her family as it became obvious that she had become with child prior to marriage.  She was sure, with her loving Joseph by her side, that everything would be OK.

"Six months later, Mary bore her holy infant in the most humble of circumstances, unnoticed by the rest of the world.  But in celestial realms, the day of Jesus' birth was cause for jubilant celebration!  Shepherds in a nearby field described how the heavens opened and an angel appeared in a blaze of glory, terrifying them. They said the angel reassured them saying:  "Don't be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy for everyone!  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Messiah and Lord!"  The shepherds recounted how suddenly a massive angelic choir appeared around the angel.  Their song rippled thunderously through the countryside as they praised God in the highest, proclaiming peace on earth.  Heaven erupted in joy that day; Earth had finally received her King!

"Sharing our souls, our hearts, our hopes and dreams as moms-to-be, Mary and I formed a deep and powerful bond during her visit that will remain with us forever.

Luke 1:5-80 
Photo caption from song The Birthday of a King by William Harold Neidlinger
                                                                               (c) Joyce Catherwood 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

1st Century Soccer Mom

Preface:  Way before there were SUVs and seemingly round-the-clock soccer or a myriad of other child-related events, most of us as mothers had some "soccer mom" in us.  We all want the best for our kids and want our kids to be the best.  We haven't all had the same opportunities or finances to haul our kids all over town to every imaginable type of lesson or activity.  But there is no denying we would welcome any chance to advance our sons and daughters so that they might be more successful.  It shouldn't be difficult then to understand why Solome, the mother of disciples James and John, would dare to ask Jesus if he would give her sons top jobs during his Messianic reign over the Jews.  We would probably do the exact same thing.  Though her request turned out to be inappropriate at the time, Jesus' response was patient and thoughtful.  He understands that moms will always be moms.

Solome tells her story.

"Yes, Jesus had said he was going to die, but we assumed his work has just begun.  My husband, Zebedee, and I, and both of our sons, James and John, were swept up in the contagious energy of his exciting ministry.  Everywhere Messiah went huge crowds followed.  He touched lives, healed the sick and he had even raised the dead.  It was amazing!  It was exhilarating!  We thought his influence could not be contained and would explode, finally leading to his Messianic rule from Jerusalem.

"I was overjoyed to follow Jesus and care for his needs.  It was as though he were my own son.  He nicknamed my boys 'Sons of Thunder' because of their enthusiasm and eagerness to assist him.  He and John had become best of friends.  We felt especially close to him.  He was family.  So as we traveled together to Jerusalem one bright sun-shiny day, it seemed perfectly natural to me to ask Jesus for a favor.   With James and John by my side, I kneeled before Jesus and asked him if my sons could have prominent positions in his kingdom.

"We gazed at him with great anticipation, waiting for his response.  But it was not what we expected.  He said he didn't think we really understood what we were asking.  He asked James and John if they could drink of the cup he was to drink.  They said, 'Yes, we can!"  But we were not sure exactly what he meant by that.  We felt he must have been referring to all that would be involved in his Messianic reign.  I wondered what else it could be.  His frequent references to arrest and crucifixion had troubled me.  But I put that aside because his influence and miracles were so impressive, it didn't seem possible that could ever occur.

"I began to feel uneasy as a wave of embarrassment swept over me. Then I knew for sure my request was not the best idea when things began to unravel.  Jesus' response had been patient and considerate, but the other ten disciples had overheard our conversation.  Before long, a heated argument erupted over who should be the greatest.  The ten indignantly turned on James and John.  Jesus had to step in to straighten everyone out, explaining the greatest must first become a servant.

When we reached Jerusalem, our hopes and spirits soared.  Jesus entered the city triumphantly with great fanfare.  But our dreams were quickly dashed to pieces when Jesus was indeed arrested a few days later just as he had predicted.  The adoring crowds turned vicious. This strong, tender-hearted young man had done nothing but good to others.  Yet he was mocked, slapped and spat on.  He was brutally beaten.  Even the execution soldiers were shocked at the extent of his wounds.  I watched with unbelieving eyes, determining not to leave him even though many, including most of his disciples, had fled for their lives.

The grim process dragged throughout the afternoon.  My son John had also stayed by him, comforting Jesus' mother, Mary, as she knelt in unspeakable sorrow before the cross.  Through parched lips and struggling for breath,  Jesus asked his dear friend John to care for his mother.  My brave son took Mary's hand and gently led her back to us.  Then Jesus died. 

Three days later, he was raised from the dead!  We were exuberant beyond words.  It was there, at the foot of the cross, that I finally began to understand what it meant to follow him.  How foolish of us to ask for prominence.  He had not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Mt. 20:17-28

(c) Joyce Catherwood 2010

Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Leave Her Alone!"

For some reason, I identify profoundly with Mary of Bethany.  Not because I could stand up to the same measure of devotion she showered on Jesus, but because it is so easy for me to doubt myself.  I feel as though I am always saying or doing the wrong thing when reaching out.  This may be because of the reaction or lack of reaction of others or simply a dose of low self-esteem.  But how embarrassing for Mary as she reverently anointed Jesus to very quickly find herself in the crossfire of harsh, confusing criticism from the disciples.  I'm sure for several moments she was convinced she had blown it.  The way Jesus protectively took her side and defended her has long been a source of great encouragement to me.  Sometimes, in my attempts to reach out to others, I know I actually do mess up. The awesome thing is Jesus is constantly there to rescue us, validate us and redeem our well-intended, though sometimes misunderstood, actions no matter what.

Jesus said Mary of Bethany's story will be told throughout the world.  So listen to it now as Mary recalls the events of that day:

"I stood silently in the doorway of the common room of our home where, in honor of Jesus, a specially-prepared meal was being served to the disciples and my brother, Lazarus.  The conversation at the table was animated.  Everyone was still celebrating the astounding resurrection of my brother from the dead!  No one seemed to notice the fatigue in Jesus' eyes and that his heart seemed heavy.

"I was waiting for the right moment to anoint Jesus with costly spikenard.  I had carefully planned this for days because on several occasions, Jesus had confided in us that he was going to die a gruesome death by crucifixion.  No one really believed him, but I did, and I was deeply affected and disturbed.

"I stood in the doorway for a long time.  Finally, the time seemed right.  It wasn't easy to enter a room full of men.  My heart was pounding as I timidly approached Jesus carefully holding the precious alabaster jar.  First one guest, then another looked up at me.  I broke the neck of the jar on the stone floor.  The sound reverberated through the whole house. I started trembling because now I was the absolute center of attention.  But as the sweet fragrance of perfume filled the air, I began to calm down and reminded myself of why I was there.  I poured the spikenard on Jesus' head.  Everyone watched Jesus' face to see his reaction.  He just closed his eyes and the travel-weary and drawn expression on his face began to melt away.  I could tell Jesus realized that I understood that he was going to die soon.  And I knew the thought of dying was excruciating for him.

"Caught up in the beauty of it all, I then fell to my knees and emptied the last of the luxurious ointment, every drop in the beautiful jar, on his feet.  I untied my hair and used it to gently wipe each foot.  It was as though Jesus and I were the only two people in the room.  It was going exactly as I had planned.

"But I was rudely jerked back to reality by the voice of Judas.  He loudly and indignantly complained about the waste of expensive perfume, insisting that I should have used the money instead to help the poor.  Then some of the other men chimed in and harshly rebuked and criticized me.  My heart sank.  There I was in the presence of men with my hair untied--a definite indiscretion in our culture.  I had interrupted their feast.  I suddenly felt so foolish having spent all that money on the spikenard.  I began to cry.  Too humiliated to raise my head, I remained bowed before Jesus.  Huge teardrops fell on Jesus' feet and I awkwardly tried to wipe them off with my hair.

"Overwhelmed with shame and embarrassment, I started to get up and run out of the room when I heard Jesus say, 'Leave her alone!  Why are you bothering her?  She has done such a beautiful thing to me.'  And in front of all those important men he said the poor would always be among us, but he would not always be there.  He said the perfume was used appropriately--to prepare him for his burial.  And then he said: 'You can be sure wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she had done will be told in memory of her.'

"I was speechless.  Jesus not only understood what I was trying to do, he also praised my act of devotion.  I glanced over at Judas and his face was flush with resentment.  He stood up and left the house.  Later, I learned he had immediately gone to the religious leaders and arranged to betray Jesus.  A few days later, heartbroken, I wept bitter tears as Jesus was unjustly sentenced to death, tortured and crucified.  And I was so thankful I had arranged to honor him through my anointing before he was made to suffer so.  But my sorrow was soon turned into the greatest possible joy when he was raised back to life.  I was the first to see him and talk to him!

"Now, whenever I look back on that special banquet and remember Jesus' words and his gentle kindness toward me, I have a feeling of  immense satisfaction that I poured out my adoration on our Lord, the very Son of God. It did provide him solace and helped to ease his fears as he faced the horror and desolation of the cross.  And that is all I had wanted to do.  I am so glad I followed my heart."

Matthew 26:6-10; Mark 14:3-10; John 12:1-7

(C) Joyce Catherwood 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Don't Cry..."

Preface: Do you think it's possible to imagine how the widow of Nain felt after Jesus raised her son from the dead! How can we even envision such a thing? I feel completely inadequate trying to find words to describe something so out of the ordinary, something supernatural.  None of us has ever experienced having a child brought back to life, on the way to the cemetery. But she did! Our dear Lord Jesus, so filled with compassion, was moved by her tears. His heart went out to her. And right then and there, he touched her life in the most unbelievable way.

The widow from Nain tells her story:

"The last place I wanted to be was in another funeral procession, with my anguish laid bare in front of everyone. I was the center of attention, the recipient of sympathy and pity, but all I wanted to do was curl up in a dark corner somewhere and die. It was devastating to go through it again--first the death of my husband, and then my only son. I was convinced the aching pain in my heart from these losses was never going to go away.  My precious son had been a constant source of comfort and joy.  He was all I had. 

"As we followed the funeral bier being carried through the streets of Nain, villagers came out of their shops and homes and joined the procession. Some were truly sympathetic. But others joined the flow of people because it was custom to do so. They meant well--gazing at me and shaking their heads. As they silently fell in line, they wondered what would happen to me now, with no husband, no son to provide for me.

"It was true. I would be destitute: a victim of a dispassionate system. Just being a woman relegated me to an inferior status, but being a widow added another layer to the discrimination, making me easy prey for the unscrupulous and fraudulent.  But I no longer cared. Bent over in grief and tears blinding my eyes, it was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other. 'Just keep going,' I told myself. 'Just keep walking.'  I remember the sound of shuffling feet on the stone streets was strangely mesmerizing, helping numb my tormented mind to the cruel reality of my loss.

"As we passed through the town gate, a man suddenly came up behind me and gently touched my shoulder. With a soothing voice, he tenderly said, 'Don't cry.' Before I could turn to see who it was, he hurried past me. It was Jesus, the teacher from Galilee. He went directly to the bier and laid his hand on it. I felt the crowd shrink back in shock as they observed a Rabbi ritually defile himself by touching a dead body--my son's dead body. The bearers of the bier stopped abruptly, startled that someone had interrupted a funeral procession.

"Everyone, mourners and onlookers alike, stood still.   Jesus, visibly moved with empathy said 'Young man, I say to you, get up!' Immediately, my son sat up! I gasped. My heart stopped as I heard my son begin to speak. Staring at everyone around him, he blurted, 'What's going on?'

"He had no idea what had happened. He thought he had just awakened from a dream. Recognizing some friends, he asked, 'What happened to me? Where am I?' Stunned and speechless, his friends just stood there with their mouths open, watching a dead person talk to them! Jesus quickly loosened the white linen burial garments that had bound my son in death. Helping him off the bier, he put his arm around my boy and led him to my open arms. The shocked crowd of witnesses trembled with fear and awe, and glorified God, calling Jesus a great prophet.

"Ever since that amazing event, I have often wondered, why me? As he happened upon our sad procession that day, what compelled Jesus to dry a widow's tears? Had he been thinking of his own impending death, and of his widowed mother?  And how broken her heart would be as she watched her firstborn son die on a cross like a common criminal?  Not many months later,  in his last agonizing moments of life, Jesus comforted his mother.  Fighting for breath and barely able to speak, he arranged for her to be cared for by his closest friend. So maybe that's why his heart went out to me. I can't say for sure. I only know that, somehow, my pain was important to Jesus. He felt my grief, he knew my uncertain plight and future, and he redeemed my life and changed my destiny by raising my only son from the dead.

Luke 7:11-16

(C) Joyce Catherwood 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Crumpled Red Poppy

Preface: It warms my heart that Jesus would surround himself with little children, taking them in his arms, validating their existence and importance. Remember, women and children were viewed as second class citizens, definitely not deserving of time and attention of most rabbis. On that particular day when Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me..." there were parents and children of all types present. Their stories are not revealed. But there had to be many worthy of being heard. Though our story is imagined, Jesus' accepting love and comfortable, relaxed way with children remains unchanged. After all, Jesus created children, how could he not enjoy them?

A young mom tells us what it was like to have her precious little daughter blessed by Jesus.

"I held onto my Lydia tightly as I made my way through the massive crowd. She looked so sweet--all fresh and clean, dressed in her very best. We were going to receive a blessing from Rabbi Jesus. She proudly clasped a red poppy in her chubby little hand, so excited to give it to Jesus. In the distance, I could see other parents already gathering. Then, as I got closer, I overheard Jesus' disciples harshly rebuking the moms and dads who had brought their children to be blessed. Everyone looked duly chastised as they were told Jesus had many more important matters to attend to. Their loud, stern and unfriendly tone actually startled and frightened some of the little ones and made them cry.

"Had I misunderstood what Jesus was really like? I had previously observed his respectful and loving interaction with both young and old, especially the powerless and those regarded as insignificant. This was a huge letdown for me. Normally I am ridiculously intimidated by rabbis, but I had truly expected Jesus to be different. So, deeply disappointed, I turned around to go back home. Our society doesn't validate children, especially fatherless little girls like mine, and I wondered why I had ever thought otherwise. Lydia realized we were leaving and put her head on my shoulder, crying softly, still clutching her prized red poppy.

"But I stopped in my tracks when I heard Jesus rebuking the "rebukers"! He told his disciples to let the little children come to him and not to hinder them because the kingdom of God belongs to them! He said whoever does not receive the kingdom like a little child will never enter it. It was amazing! As the disciples backed off, parents hesitantly stepped forward with their kids. I turned back and joined them

"As we gathered around, Jesus knelt down and reached out to coax a wobbly toddler, with a runny nose and tattered clothes, to come to him. Then all of a sudden, a playful young boy standing behind him pulled away from his father's hand, ran to Jesus and jumped on his back, throwing his arms around his neck. Everyone froze, waiting for Jesus' reaction. With an enormous grin on his face, Jesus stood up, held onto the boy's arms and twirled him around. Within minutes, Jesus was surrounded by giggling children, tugging on his sleeve, hanging onto his leg--all wanting to get in on the action. After a while, Jesus took each child, one by one, in his arms, cradling the infants and lifting the others high into the air before blessing them.

"And as for my own little bundle of joy, well, we waited our turn. Then Jesus very graciously accepted the bright red poppy Lydia offered to him, even though it was a little crumpled by that time. Sensing her shyness, he gently picked her up and for a few treasured moments they marveled at the beauty of her little gift, both deciding it was their favorite flower. Then he blessed her. Unaccustomed to special treatment, his blessing made us both feel so cherished.

"The 'littleness' of these children contrasted sharply with the well-meaning, but overbearing reaction of the disciples. These precious ones, so used to being ignored, pushed aside, even mistreated, not only received a blessing and validation from the humble Messiah, but were lifted up as tender examples of the very essence of the kingdom of God."

Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-15; Luke 18:15-17

(c) Joyce Catherwood 2010

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What A Day This Has Been!

Preface: It had not been an ordinary day for Simon Peter's wife. Her mother almost died. The whole town turned out at her front door. Her initial encounter with Jesus was one she would not ever forget. She witnessed his healing hand in her own family and his unending compassion for the lowest and most unfortunate society had to offer. She kept asking herself over and over, "Who is this man?" and found herself inexplicably drawn to his goodness.

Peter's wife tells about the events of the day:

"The entire city had turned up at our house! The mass of people filling every street and pathway leading to our porch waited until the sabbath drew to a close because they felt Jesus would not help them on the sabbath. Then, as soon as the sun set, they started banging on our door, peering over our wall and even into our windows. These were individuals who were, more often than not, shunned by society and viewed by the religious leaders as unclean or unworthy, but they somehow knew Jesus would not turn them away. It was an unsettling sight to say the least. But Jesus put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, telling me not to worry as he pushed the door open and stepped into the midst of them.

"For a brief moment. I left the door open slightly to see what was going on. A desperate mother in ragged clothes thrust her dying baby into Jesus' arms, begging for help. A blind man crawled on the ground just behind her, frantically groping for the healer. Some stood patiently waiting their turn, but others were unable to contain themselves. One poor soul whose mind was completely gone, screamed and clawed his way to the front line. I nervously shut the door as Jesus patiently and lovingly healed and comforted the insistent crowd. And when he had tended to them all, he wearily came back into the house and fell asleep.

"What a day this had been! Only a few hours earlier, my mother lay restlessly confined to her bed in an upper chamber of our home. She had been stricken with a great fever. She was massively dehydrated, her lips parched, her skin burning hot to the touch. Her breathing was shallow and raspy and she drifted in and out of unconsciousness and bouts of delirium.

"After teaching in the synagogue, Jesus, accompanied by his new disciples James and John, arrived at our home. Jesus was instantly concerned after Peter, his brother Andrew and I met him at the door, filled with anxiety over my mother's condition. He climbed the stairs to her room, stood beside the bed and took her hand. Lifting her up, he commanded the fever to leave. To our amazement, she opened her eyes, and, somewhat startled and confused, glanced around the room. We all stood there, momentarily stunned, staring at her and then, when we came to our senses, gave her the biggest hug she could handle. After gathering her composure, she expressed her deepest gratitude to Jesus, then demurely excused herself, got dressed and went downstairs to do what she does best--lovingly prepare food and make a fuss over everyone!

"As we shared a meal together, we basked in the glow of mom's fresh, new radiant health and the presence of this remarkable man, spending an afternoon like no other.

"How did it happen that the great healer came to our home? My brother-in-law, Andrew, who shares our residence, was a disciple of the great John the Baptist. Weeks earlier, John the Baptist and Andrew had seen Jesus walk by. John the Baptist had just baptized Jesus the day before. He grabbed Andrew by the arm and declared: "It's him! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" Andrew then spent the day with Jesus, and afterwards couldn't wait to tell my husband Peter, and take him to meet Jesus. They were both convinced they had found the Messiah! Peter was beside himself with enthusiasm. He had always been given to impulsive behavior, but this was different. I could tell.

"And after witnessing Jesus restore my precious mother and then spend hours late into the night compassionately relieve the suffering of the neediest, I was ready to fully support Peter's desire to be his disciple. I have no doubts our mundane fisherman's existence is about to change forever and that we are in for the ride of our lives!"

Matthew 8:14-16; Mark 1:29-34; Luke 4:38-41

(c) Joyce Catherwood 2010

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Bride's Story

My granddaughter trying on her mom's wedding dress for fun

: Jesus wasn't about to let a young bride's big day be ruined. True, the amazing miracle of turning water into wine signaled the beginning of his historic ministry. But Jesus had indicated to his mom that it was not yet time to go public with his supernatural signs, so why did he finally agree to intervene when the celebration ran out of wine? I believe he purposely came to the rescue of a family in distress on what was supposed to be one of the most joyful and memorable days of their lives. Jesus stepped in because he wanted the wedding to be a success!

Let's let the bride tell her story in her own words:

"I had dreamed of my wedding day forever! My groom and I had been promised to each other since childhood. Now our year of engagement, filled with anticipation and careful preparation, had drawn to a close and the time for our grand and glorious wedding feast had finally arrived.

"I had fasted all day as required by our religious teaching, so I felt somewhat light-headed. So it took a lot of extra effort to concentrate while reciting the prayers of atonement as part of my preparation. Though I had shed some nervous tears earlier, I had to smile when the groom's messengers arrived at long last and I watched them lay out the garments and ornaments and perfume I was to wear. My dear groom had been so extravagant, I could hardly believe my eyes!

"As evening drew closer, I stood proudly as my friends dressed me in my exquisite bridal gown and fabulous accessories. We giggled as we reminded each other of all the times we pretended to be brides, using old cast-off clothing and little handmade accessories we had made out of whatever we could find. But this was the real thing and the air was filled with excitement. On this day, I was allowed to let my long hair tumble down my back, framing my face as we carefully positioned the crown of fresh myrtle leaves on my head. Over it all we placed the long white veil of betrothal.

"And then I waited until dusk turned to darkness...

"Meanwhile, with much joy and shouting, my groom and his friends had "searched" the village for me, a traditional part of the ceremony. Finally I saw the torches as they entered my parent's courtyard. "Come see the treasure I have found," my groom said as he lifted my veil and our eyes met. We walked out onto the street into a procession filled with music and dancing. My groom led me proudly to his house and into the room reserved for the women. Surrounded by my maidens, I ever so elegantly sat down on the special platform prepared for me. I was not accustomed to being the center of attention and it was exhilarating!

"I could see into the room where the fabulous feast was spread for the men. Everything was just perfect. My father-in-law was bursting with satisfaction. So many years and expense had gone into the preparations, and the wine, a key element and a measure of a host's generosity, had been given much forethought.

"A few hours into the joyous celebration, I noticed confusion among some of the servers. I was stunned to learn they had run out of wine! This was the ultimate embarrassment and disgrace to my family. I couldn't hold back the tears as they trickled down my cheeks and onto my lovely wedding dress, leaving stains on the most precious thing I had ever owned.

""Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mary of Nazareth quickly leaving our women's table. She spoke briefly to my father-in-law and then approached her son, Jesus the carpenter. Shortly after, I overheard Jesus tell the servers to fill up, right to the brim, the six huge water jugs lined up in the corridor. Then he told them to draw some out of one of the jugs and give it to the master of the feast. When he tasted it, the feast-master immediately took my groom aside and asked him why he had saved the best wine till last!

My groom and his father were stunned and speechless. Their reputations had been saved and the biggest day of my life didn't end in disgrace. Mary told me later that Jesus was at first reluctant to perform such a miracle because it was not time for his powers to be shown publicly. But he did it anyway. For us!

"In the days to follow, Jesus went on to do the most astounding things, healing people, raising the dead, comforting the sick and downtrodden. And how can we ever forget how he chose our wedding feast to begin his magnanimous and renown work and, at the same time, touch our lives in such a personal and beautiful way."

John 2:1-11

(c) Joyce Catherwood 2010

What If Women Had Written the Gospels?

What if women had written the Gospels? A loaded question, right? Well, maybe not...read on.

Obviously it would have been extremely unlikely for the Gospels to have been written by women. It would have violated societal and religious norms of first century Judaism.  Women were not generally given the opportunity to be schooled and were considered unworthy to even study religious manuscripts, much less author them. In fact, in reference to the founding religious document of Judaism, the Torah, the Talmud suggests "Let the Torah rather be destroyed by fire than imparted to woman." Women learned about the sacred through their fathers, their husbands and the rabbis.

The inspired gospel accounts, authored by men, have of necessity been expressed and conveyed in male imagery. Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with the masculine view, but the feminine perspective often remains unspoken.

Several years ago, I emerged from an ultra-conservative church environment where men were the primary source of spiritual authority and teaching. Again, this is not a criticism of the male outlook, but the total absence of female input can lead to an imbalanced overview. I had been immersed in this restrictive atmosphere from age seven. Strange as it may seen, I had never read any books, written by men or women, on spiritual topics other than what had been published by my former denomination. It was a very closed community and "outside" reading was highly discouraged.

Once freed from these limitations, I felt somewhat lost and was eager to hear what other women had to say about their own spiritual journey. We, as women, receive courage from hearing each other's stories, told with openness, in the language of our own hearts. It gives value to our feminine nature because we sometimes find it difficult to believe our unique views as women are worthwhile. So, like a child in a candy store, I found myself pleasantly overwhelmed with the volumes of material out there by Christian female authors. One book title in particular intrigued me--The Magdalene Gospel with the subtitle "What If Women Had Written the Gospels" by Mary Ellen Ashcroft. It was one of the first books I read.

The Magdalene Gospel is an imaginative retelling of the gospel narratives from the perspective of Jesus' women followers. It provides feminine insight to the Gospels and offered me a new way to see Jesus. It gives voice to the group simply referred to as "the women," who were so close to Christ during his ministry.

In the time frame of the book, Mary Magdalene and "the women" are together scant hours after the death of their beloved friend and teacher. Envisioning myself sitting silently in the shadows of their candlelit room, I listened as they, stricken with grief, each tearfully shared cherished memories of their experiences with Jesus. They had just witnessed the horrors of the crucifixion and the premature death of their champion. They had watched Joseph of Arimathea carefully remove Jesus' body from from the cross and followed the somber procession of those who carried him to the rock-hewn tomb. They didn't fully understand that he would be raised up, so the loss of their master was suffocating. These women, through the heartfelt telling of their individual stories, introduced Jesus to me in a personal and touching way.

The inspired words of the gospel writers remain the same, but in this book, the words are filtered through the eyes and the hearts of "the women" Jesus befriended. They were healed, comforted, lifted up, and valued by Jesus in an oppressive society where women were viewed as second-class citizens. Their lives were overturned by his gentle and tender treatment of them. And they responded with emotion and devotion to their master. And so did I. These ladies opened the door for me to begin to view Jesus in a deeper, more relational context.

The Magdalene Gospel launched an in-depth and ongoing study on my part of the gospel accounts embracing "the women." And there is a part of me that is able to identify with each one as she interacted with Jesus while he lived as the Son of Man on this earth. Every story reveals a facet of Jesus' extraordinary unconditional love and compassion, uniquely expressed within the framework of a woman's needs.

No. Women didn't write the Gospels. But women were a vital and influential part of the gospel stories.  Their voices can be heard today if we will just listen.

*The Talmud is a collection of ancient Jewish writings consisting of early scriptural interpretations of the law.

                                                                                (C) Joyce Catherwood 2010