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 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