February 20, 2013

Too incredible to be fiction

In the days of Jesus Christ, there was no women’s liberation movement. Jewish men expressed their gratitude that they had not been born a Gentile, a plebeian or a woman. Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “A woman is inferior to man in every way.” Women were not merely the lowest on the social scale; they didn’t even make the scale.

In my studies, I’ve learned that one evidence used to argue that the Bible is true is the criteria of embarrassment. That is, the authors of the Bible wrote things that made them look like idiots. If these things were not true, they would never make them up because they would be embarrassing. Bible scholars toss that idea around, but in the case of what the New Testament says about women, I can see it being a valid argument. 

For example, Jesus treated women with respect. He talked to women publicly when no other Jewish men would do so, such as the woman at the well, also a hated Samaritan and of questionable reputation. Another woman, Mary Magdalene, was demonized and shunned, but Jesus healed her. 

It was this Mary who was the first to see the risen Christ, something a Jewish man would never invent and record as part of a supposed plot about Jesus and the resurrection.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:11–15)

Today’s devotional points out that Mary’s love for Jesus was deeper than any other for she alone stood outside the sepulcher weeping. Her courageous love did not run from the facts, even though Peter and John, who also loved Jesus, went to their homes again, as did all the others. Only this woman lingered by His grave and stared the death of her beloved Jesus in the face. (Lack of recognition came because He was likely back-lit in the morning sun and her eyes were blurry with tears.)

I try to identify with Mary, but cannot know the rejections she faced as a woman or the experience of being at the graveside of someone who healed me and claimed to be the Son of God. I can more easily identify with the unbelief and shock experienced by the disciples, and how it scattered them to their homes and into hiding. 

I don’t know if they were later dismayed to realize that Jesus had not shown Himself to them first. Were they mumbling that Jesus had reserved that incredible event for a woman they knew as a sinner and out of whom there had been cast seven devils? Were they embarrassed that the first words of Christ after He had risen from the dead were, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

Maybe by the time John wrote his Gospel he had become more like Jesus and was glad or even proud that Jesus had given a status to women that they had not previously had. Even in recording this event, John seemed to be was saying “amen” to the love of Mary for Jesus, and to the value Jesus gave her in passing by everyone else, including His mother, the disciples, Pilate, the chief priests to showing Himself first to this woman who loved Him. The evidence of embarrassment aside, I agree with today’s devotional that in that culture, “even the genius of a Shakespeare could never have conceived a scene like that.”

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