Saturday, June 16, 2007

Four Biblical Marys

I have one more reflection for Miriam, based on the story of her disgrace in the wilderness.

I once called Miriam "the first uppity woman" in a Bible study, based on the story from Numbers about how she and Aaron went to God, complaining about Moses' leadership. After all, they reason, hasn't God called all three of them? Aren't they a team? Why is Moses getting all of the credit, all of the respect? It seems that although they both stepped over a line in their complains abut Moses, only Miriam is punished. Only Miriam is afflicted with a skin disease and forced to live outside of the community for seven days. Hence the title: First Uppity Woman. First Woman to Take More Authority Than She Is Given. Let This Be A Lesson to Us All. Especially women.

And yet. Miriam, Moses and Aaron are named together in Micah 6 as the three leaders of the people Israel, the three prophets who led the people out of slavery and into the promised land. And yet. All of the Marys in the New Testament are named after this larger-than-life character, this woman who took more authority than she was given. And yet. In countless midrash, her life and her deeds are recalled.

There was a cost to Miriam's over-reaching. But there was also a prize. That prize is the legacy of leadership: the leadership of a woman who sees and who sings, a woman who reaches and who sometimes overreaches. A woman who dares live large -- confident of her place in the justice and the mercy of God. Let This Be A Lesson To Us.

Prayer: Gracious God, make me unafraid to reach for power, unafraid to reach for respect, to do the work you call me to do. Help me to be a seer and a singer, a prophet and a leader. In the name of your Son. Amen

And now, on to Mary:

The 2nd Mary is Jesus' mother. The Virgin Mary. Mother of God. "Theotokos." God-bearer. Who is she... really? She is often pictured wearing white, or blue, symbols of purity, honored for her chastity and her obedience to God. But who is she... really? Our most frequent portraits of her are as a young girl, bowing her head to the angel, straining to hear the incredible Word. And often when we hear her, we hear her singing, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior."

But she is also a namesake of Miriam, for she is a prophet. When we hear her speak of God raising the poor and lowly, and sending the rich away empty, we are to hear the prophets' words echo in our minds, rippling out. She (along with Elizabeth and Zechariah) is the first fruits of the outpouring of the Spirit, predicted in Joel, "in the last days I will pour our my Spirit on all flesh...".

She is "theotokos," God-bearer, as the Greek church calls her. But she is as we are, "god-bearers" -- called to be bearers of God, bearers of hope, to a barren world.

Next edition: Three reflections on Mary

Note: the top illustration is from the St John's Bible


lj said...

I love uppity women! It's like the bumper sticker says, "Well-behaved women rarely make history."

Katherine E. said...

Yes, indeed! Here's to all uppity women! Thanks for the reflection.