Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mary of Nazareth

How did I, a most unassuming young Jewish peasant girl, become the most famous woman in history?  I am shorter than five feet tall, but robust and sturdy.  My strong brown hands are calloused from work. Beneath my veil, I disguise my glossy black hair with a line of red or purple dye running down the center part.  The modest jewellery around my face demonstrates that I am from a decent family.

My clothes were of homespun wool or linen, loose-fitting, in one of the soft colors of natural dyes – either a cream, or a deep faded pink, or a soft blue-grey. I wore leather ankle-boots in winter and sandals in summer. And I cut my dusty toenails with a sharp knife.

Now that my menstrual periods had started, my parents gave serious consideration to choosing a husband for me. The man they settled on was Joseph, a young man not much older than I was. Joseph was well-regarded by the people around him, too.

The proposed marriage contract was worked out between our families. The amount of my dowry was settled, hopefully enough to act as an income for me should Joseph abandon me or should I become widowed. A big feast was celebrated at our betrothal.

Soon thereafter, I my menstrual periods had stopped. Even though I had never lain with a man, I knew for certain I was pregnant. But I was not yet married and this meant I had brought disgrace to all my family. Joseph and I knew he was not the father, and even though my future husband was richly embarrassed by my condition, he decided to marry me nevertheless. The marriage ceremony went ahead, and we became husband and wife.

Some months later, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Once washed, the baby was presented to Joseph, who named the baby, Jesus. By giving my son a name, he accepted him as his own child too.

In Nazareth, our lives revolved around our home, a mud brick house with a courtyard and two rooms - a front, public room with an awning, and a private room behind it. The house had a flat roof with exterior stairs and an awning of woven goats' hair to protect against the sun. This was used by the women as a work-space, an extra room. The inside of the house was quite comfortable, though minimalist by modern standards.

The routine of daily life was broken several times a year by festivals, when we traveled to Jerusalem to visit the Temple and offer sacrifice there. On one of these visits, Jesus became lost for three days in the crowded city streets, and Joseph and I hunted desperately for him. We eventually located him speaking to scholars in the Temple precincts. These learned men seemed to be treating our son as an equal, which made me realize something I had suspected ever since my son was born - that he was nothing like the other children, that he had a special destiny.

This eldest son of ours grew into a complicated young man, too clever and restless to settle easily into an ordinary life in Nazareth. Like many men whose birth was shadowed he was not entirely accepted by the people he grew up with. He was an inspiring, exciting man but not a comfortable one. I watched him with all the anguish and love of a mother, and growing misgivings.

At some stage, Jesus left Nazareth and gained considerable fame as a charismatic teacher and healer. Joseph had disappeared from my life – first away working as a tradesman and later dead.

Nazareth did not celebrate often, so when Jesus returned to the village he was at first greeted warmly. He went to the tiny synagogue and taught there, to men and to women, and people were impressed by what he said. But then things turned sour. The people of Nazareth did not treat Jesus with the respect he had received in the outside world. Jesus resented their skepticism, and did not hide his resentment.

The villagers turned on him and ran him out of town. In the ensuing mêlée, the rougher element among the villagers tried to kill Jesus. It was probably someone in this group who referred disparagingly to Jesus as “the son of Mary” instead of “the son of Joseph”. They disdained my son because they believed him to not have a father. It was a most unbearable experience for I was forced to watch helplessly as my son was being vilified.

On another occasion I tried to see Jesus in another village. He was earning a reputation as a troublemaker, distrusted by powerful people. The clashes he was having were too serious to ignore. I decided to caution Jesus. I gathered my four younger sons and my daughters and went looking for Jesus, to see him or to warn him, or both. As it turned out, things had gone too far for that. Jesus' response to us was certainly not what I expected. “Family?” he asked. “The people who follow me are my family.” The incident profoundly shocked me.

Later, they tortured and beat my son, his injuries too terrible to imagine. As he hung on the cross his body was dying, crumbling under a combination of exhaustion, shock, and suffocation. As long as he could hold himself upright he could breathe, but as he became exhausted and let his body sag forward, the angle of his arms constricted his lungs, and he reverted to a terrible rasping struggle for air. It broke my heart to see him die like this.

After my son’s death, I lived on, venerated by the disciples, watching Jesus’ followers grow. They called him Christus, the Savior, and said he was the divine Son of God. For a poor woman of Galilee, it was too much to fathom.



(Article remixed from http://www.bible-people.info/Mary.htm)


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