Mary: The Mother Mother's Day Lecture for Montview Presbyterian May 12, 2019
Adult Education | May 12 Mary, the Mother: Submissive or Subversive?
We know Mary, the mother of Jesus, from portrayals of her in art, music, and poetry. These have shaped the traditional image of her as the exemplary woman: modest, submissive, pure. In the earliest written and visual evidence of Mary, a surprising new personality appears. Join us as presenter Mary Hanson illuminates what ancient resources reveal about Mary’s role in the early Church.
Mary Hanson, with her husband, Clement, has been a member of Montview since 2000. Mary has served as a deacon and is currently a member of the Westminster Choir. Mary received a Master of Arts in New Testament Biblical Studies from Denver Seminary. Her thesis is published in a book The New Perspective on Mary and Martha. She is also the author of Bold Girls of the Bible. Both works are published by Wipf & Stock, 2013. Her interests are women of the Bible and feminist theology. She has also written a German grammar for reading theological German called Deutsche Theologie zum Lesen.
I gazed out the tour bus window leaving Nazareth where Jesus spent his childhood. We were traveling the very paths that Jesus knew well, but feeling his presence remained elusive. The Church of the Annunciation was interesting, but did not seem to have any connection with Jesus. It is a modern church over the grotto where Mary saw the angel Gabriel. A large billboard, displaying a hostile message to Christian visitors, dominated the site. It was not a place to linger. The impression that stayed with me was of a poinsettia plant the size of a small tree, with bright red leaves, resembling the splattered blood of Jesus.
We unloaded from the bus at the top of a formidable cliff. It is here, where according to Luke 4:28-30, the crowd from Nazareth was determined to throw Jesus over the cliff because of his claim: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The drop-off is an impressive feature of the landscape, stubbornly impermeable to the ravages of humans. Here the visitor has a commanding view of the Jezreel Valley with Mount Tabor rising out of the haze to the east. I looked down at my sturdy walking shoes. With a misstep, my soles could be penetrated by thistle thorns the size of nails, which poked through the hard soil. How did Jesus walk this land with flimsy sandals? I could not help but be reminded of the hard paths that Jesus hiked; a path that ended in a crown of those thorns.
The tour bus approached the Sea of Galilee, which lay sparkling blue before us. We stopped off at the Church of the Beatitudes, the location on a hill where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount. This was the first of a series of churches, near or on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, all built in the twentieth century. Beautiful for sure, but they did not inspire any connection with Jesus. The visit remained stubbornly an adventure of the head, and not of the heart. Thankfully, there was no crass commercialization, no blaring signs, restaurants, and motels. The bus passed some modest gifts shops featuring souvenirs and local wine. Yes, you can buy wine for your own wedding, fermented from grapes that are claimed to be offshoots of the vines from the village of Cana.
At first sight, Capernaum appears as piles of black rocks in square outlines; one can almost make out foundations of modest houses. Cacti and palm trees provide scanty shade, and pink, purple, and red bougainvillea splash over walls to provide welcome color. While the setting on the lakeshore is beautiful, the village has sharp edges. I was particularly interested in how houses of Capernaum would look in the time of Jesus because of another story I have written about the daughter of Jairus. With the eye of a writer, I was trying to find details I could add to that story. No intricate mosaic floors, painted wall murals, or luxury furnishings would be part of ancient living in Capernaum. In winter, it would be a harsh existence.
A modern structure hovers over the hexagonal foundations of what is thought to be Peter’s house. This was Jesus’ home away from home when he was on the lake. It is hard to erase the spacecraft-like chapel that is built over the archeological site. One can appreciate they are trying to protect the remains of a location first-century Christians may have worshiped, but the modern structure doesn't add first-century ambiance. Visitors are able to peer through glass windows in the floor of the structure. The shore is rocky, a working beach for pulling up boats, not for lounging in the sun. This was a village of laborers; fishing would be the life source. I noted tiny shells washed up on shore. Were they there when Jesus walked the shores?
I had heard of people who described quite an emotional high while walking the ground where Jesus walked. I usually maintain my cognitive space in such situations, so I was not looking to feel Jesus’ presence, but yet, I thought I should feel some connection. The next event on our schedule was a boat trip across the lake. We boarded and began to enjoy the cool breeze. The first-century inhabitants would have looked to the lake for refreshment in the below- sea- level summers.
Then I saw him; one of the boat navigators took my breath away. I am a sixty-year old woman. Young men do not usually catch my attention. He looked like Jesus, as Jesus is casted in Hollywood movies. He had deeply tanned skin, long dark wavy hair, muscular build, and eyes neither deep brown nor grey. I looked around to see if any of the other tour members were noticing him. I would think that the young women in our mostly college-age group would be swarming around him and posing for photos with “Jesus.” What a “catch” to post on Facebook! Apparently, I was the only one to see “Jesus.”
I tried not to let him catch me staring at him. His tourboat-steering partner, who was closer to my age, looked like a rotund, balding Peter. He noticed my interest in the captain’s cabin and motioned to me. Yes, of course I was very interested in boats and I eagerly staggered toward him in the rocking boat. He showed me the big round steering wheel, the fine wood dashboard, and many other features of a vintage boat that I would not have normally noticed. He was obviously very proud of his boat! I kept glancing over my shoulder at his co-navigator.
Through the wind rushing by and the noise of the motor, I am not even sure what language he spoke, but I kept nodding to show my interest. I just wanted him to keep talking; I did not want to leave Jesus. I kept watching “Jesus” through the corner of the eye, still hoping he did not notice how my attention was riveted on him.
I motioned to “Jesus” that I would like to take a photo of him with “Peter.” He graciously complied and wordlessly posed, not quite smiling. Did he have any idea that he looked like a multiple-great grandnephew of Jesus? He returned to his post, put his feet up on the dashboard of the boat, leaned back, and began to catch a few winks while the boat must have been on automatic pilot. Well, what did I expect? Would he calm a storm and walk on water?
Not so fast! I had no idea what nationality he was, Jewish I presume. Jesus, at least if Isaiah’s suffering servant description is applied, probably was not so strikingly handsome. I personally doubt that Jesus was good enough looking to attract a following because of his looks alone. That would defeat his purpose. Disciples and crowds followed him for his wisdom, his kindness, and his promises.
I finally tore myself from the cabin, smiled and waved goodbye to “Peter,” and joined the other tourists again after my comprehensive education on the features of his boat. The opposite shore was coming into view as I tried to process this “Jesus experience.” My rational self said I was only enjoying a fantasy. Nevertheless, this encounter firmly placed Jesus in the flesh as an inhabitant of this land. Now I had no problem imagining Jesus in the landscape where he walked. He had caught, gutted, and grilled fish on this lake. He preached, performed miracles, and enjoyed the camaraderie of friends and family.
Meanwhile “Jesus” got back on his feet as we neared the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. He took the wheel and began to guide it beside the small dock on the other side of the lake. His eyes stared intently on the target, the motor was set on idle, and we very gently glided to the edge of the pier. With no effort at all, he accurately threw a rope around a post, leaped onto the dock, and secured the boat.
I think he offered a slight smile when I waved to him while walking down the ramp. I had a couple photos safely in my camera. He was already preparing to take on new passengers for the return trip. This “Jesus” was all business about keeping his passengers safe. It was an illusion, I know. Still, as we went swimming on a nice beach at our kabbutz on the east shore, I had no problem feeling the presence of Jesus. He must have enjoyed his human body swimming in the warm, soft, lake water. How many times did he sooth his tired feet with a massage in the sand. A million miniature seashells lay in drifts washed up by the waves. Why has no one ever mentioned these in the travel literature? Each one represents a tiny life; and he knows each one by name. Jesus had been with me throughout the whole trip at each discovery.
This true story took place during a study trip with Jerusalem University College in 2000.
From Witless to Witness
April 25, 2014 Have you ever approached someone and asked, “Where are you buried?” Mary Magdalene has asked the most likely question of greatest cluelessness possible. Granted, Mary did not know yet that she was actually talking to Jesus. Jesus looked like a gardener; we gardeners like that resemblance to Jesus.
She turned away with discouragement. Then she heard her name in a voice she knew! “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary’” (John 20:16). Her world, the whole world changed when she heard her name. She was changed from witless to witness, “Go to my brothers and tell them” (John 20:17). Jesus knows his flock and calls them by name (John 10:3). We too are changed when Jesus calls our name. From witless to witness!
The "Beloved Disciple" is Each of Us
The beloved disciple looked down into the grave, he saw the folded grave cloths, and he believed. Mary Magdalene heard her name, recognized the voice of Jesus, and she believed. Jesus appeared that night to the disciples, and they were overjoyed. Thomas touched the wounds on Jesus’ hands and side, and he believed.
That beloved disciple seems rather pesky at times. How is he—probably he—always in the right place at the right time? How can one disciple be so favored over all the others? It is not fair!
For the first several decades of my life, I mistakenly believed that men were more favored by Jesus. After all, as I was frequently reminded, only men were chosen as the twelve. There was an inner circle, and then all the rest of us who could only aspire to being camp followers. It seemed Jesus had formed yet another boys-only club around him— no different from the rest of the world. I would always be on the outside looking in; being content to receive fragments of left-over faith after the men had digested it.
Then I discovered the beloved disciple. This person is elusive: reclining on Jesus’ breast (13:23); at the cross (18:15-16); recognizing Jesus on the shore (21:7); the source of information for the Gospel (21:20-24). Who would not want to be this kind of disciple? I researched the possibilities of who this person could be— which resulted in a lot of theories and interesting reading—but no convincing identity.
Then it occurred to me, this disciple could be any one of us! The identity of this person is stubbornly disguised for a reason. Therefore, any one of us can identify with the place of the beloved disciple. This extra disciple can be any believer —I personally do not think one of the twelve would be tolerated as “beloved” above the rest (Matt 20:20-28).
It could be you or me, female or male, Jewish or Gentile, poor, influential, or whoever finds herself or himself otherwise excluded.
Walking and Talking on the Way to Emmaus
January 30, 2012 One of the scenes in the Gospels where I would most like to be a participant is Luke 24:13-33. Two people are walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a seven-mile journey. One can tell by their postures and the pace of their steps, that they are deep in sorrow, nevertheless they were in deep discussion about the recent events of the crucifixion.
One person is named Cleopas, the other is unnamed. The grammar gives no indication of a masculine or feminine companion. In John 19:21 the wife of Cleopas was one of the women standing at the foot of the cross, and her name was Mary. This pair could easily be Cleopas and his wife. A stranger came up behind them who inquired about their conversation. How could anyone have missed news of a crucifixion, darkness at mid-day, voices from heaven, and an earthquake? They patiently recounted all the recent events.
Then he called them “Foolish!” (Luke 24:25). This is how he thanked them for the update! Not only did this stranger eavesdrop on their conversation; he did not respond with appreciation for answers to the question he himself asked. At that point, I think I would have suddenly pretended to forget something and turn down another road to lose the obnoxious stranger. The text says: “Their eyes were closed, and they did not recognize Jesus” 24:16. Why did Jesus cause himself to not be recognized, and why did he pretend to not know of the events of which he was the centerpiece? That I do not know.
Somehow Cleopas and his companion (wife) persisted with the stranger and continued listening. Jesus, still disguised to them, explained everything concerning himself beginning with Moses. How would you like to hear several hours of explanation from the mouth of Jesus himself? We wonder why Cleopas and companion did not immediately write everything down. Maybe they did, or at least told the information to the writers of the Gospels. Matthew is especially filled with Old Testament prophecies starting with Matthew 1:22: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet.” Where did Matthew, or the Gospel’s writer get this information? Cleopas and his companion may be a good start. And if his companion was his wife, who was also at the foot of the cross, a large contribution of the Christology of the Gospels was due to a woman.