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The Gentle Savior

Seeing Jesus Through the Eyes of the Women Who Met Him

Can My Friends Recognize Jesus on My FB Feed?

July 20, 2017
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Imagine a medical practice whose ads ran with this kind of content:

  • “If your blood pressure is high, it’s your own fault. Just cut the sodium.”
  • “Your smoking addiction offends me.”
  • “Suffering from diabetes? What a jerk you are. If you cared about your family, you would just eat less sugar.”

I can tell you that no doctor with that attitude would ever need to file an Aetna claim from me!

Which brings me to Jesus, a well-known healer of physical misery. Throngs of people flocked to him for relief from their suffering (see Matthew:  4:23-24, 8:16-17, 9:35-36, 4:13-14, 15:29-31, and 20:29-34). They not only knew him as a source of healing, but he was also safe. Matthew says he looked on the crowds with compassion and saw them as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). That’s why the Canaanite woman could risk asking for help when her daughter “suffered terribly” from demon possession (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30).

Even more important, Jesus offered spiritual restoration and made that offer safe too:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)l

As disciples of Jesus, we are called to introduce a broken world to spiritual healing—rest, peace, restoration, a better way of living, freedom from the chains of sin. I worry, though, that our social media activity is more often presenting an impenetrable barrier to Jesus. (Read More)

God Has Been Good to Me

May 11, 2017
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***

Return to your rest, my soul,
for the Lord has been good to you.

For you, Lord, have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord
in the land of the living.

Psalm 116:7-9

 

I got married! Lynn & Christian April 15, 2017

I got married!
Mr. & Mrs. Christian Pechuekonis
April 15, 2017

Nearly 13 months ago I took a chance and answered a message from a nice looking man named Christian on an online dating site. His profile identified him as a follower of Jesus and a widower who had cared for his wife through a two-year terminal illness. Reading between the lines, I sensed a good-natured man of integrity. He seemed like he might, at the very least, be good friend material. I agreed to my first, first-date in 38 years. So weird.

I had set up my dating site profile four months earlier and had experienced practically no interactions up until then, which was fine. With a couple of years of grieving over my broken marriage out of the way, I felt mostly content with my life—fulfilling job, healthy church, rich female friendships and challenging volunteer work. Still scarred and a little cynical about men (and God, to be honest), I felt no real urgency to have another man in my life and expected that dating would be about an even mix of thrill and disappointment. (Read More)

Not the Women You Expected

December 12, 2016
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the-virgin-mary-874005_1280

December brings us all back to the gospels to reread the narratives about the birth of Jesus.

Matthew interests me because his gospel tells us about the visit of the Magi and all the troubles with King Herod. The gospel begins, however, with what some might consider the most yawn-inducing opener of any book ever written: “So here’s the genealogy of Jesus …”

It’s a wonder anyone ever gets past the first 17 verses to the wonderful news of Immanuel (“God with us”). Despite the popularity of Ancestory.com, few people enjoy reading biblical genealogies. The names are unpronounceable, and who even knows who half of those people are?

Matthew’s genealogy is actually worth paying attention to, though, because it contains some hidden gems—details not common to most of the biblical lineage lists: Women! (Read More)

Jesus, Mary and Martha in John’s Gospel

March 5, 2016
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flowerI’m spending a little more time in the Jesus-Mary-Martha stories on the blog this month, because I recently ran across an interesting article that interprets John 11 through a more literary lens.*

Considered from this perspective, we can see that John used both Martha and Mary in their own way to reveal something about the identity of Jesus. Rather than being set against each other, as in the Luke 10 story, John shows both of these women exemplifying faithful, albeit different, responses to Jesus that the gospel presents as models of discipleship.

This story fits well within the context of John’s gospel, whose major purpose is explicitly stated at the end:

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31)

As the narrative begins in John 11, Mary is immediately highlighted:

“This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.” (John 11:2)

This foreshadowing is unusual for John and may indicate that his readers were already familiar with the anointing story. They may have known her from Matthew 26:6-13 and Mark 14:1-9, where the woman went unnamed, yet Jesus stated, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”  (Remember that John’s gospel was the written last.) Clearly, John wanted readers to know beforehand that they were reading about a familiar figure. (Read More)

Five Women in the Messiah’s Bloodline

January 16, 2016
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I loved this post by Cara Strickland on the Junia Project blog last month. She said it so well that I thought I would share an excerpt with you here:

wildflowersRecently, I heard a sermon preached almost entirely on Jesus’ genealogy in the book of Matthew.

I was visiting a church I attended in my youth, a place where I learned a lot of what I’ve needed to unlearn about theology of women. I was delighted to see that the pastor immediately picked out the women in the narrative, a little disappointed to realize that he did so only to point out that they were all foreigners, with the exception of Mary. But this got me thinking in another direction, as sermons so often do. I began to think through these five women, to question what else they might have in common.

Right there, as the pastor continued with his sermon, I realized something I’d never noticed before. Each of the women in the genealogy was either single (in the case of Tamar, Ruth, andRahab), or sort of relationship adjacent (Bathsheba’s husband was away at war, leaving her vulnerable, Mary was betrothed, but easily sentenced to death for being pregnant at a word from Joseph).

The very things that made women safe in the cultures of their day: marriage and children, were missing from their lives.

This affected me especially because those things are also absent from my life. I don’t know what’s it like to be a widow. I can imagine that the process is made worse by unfair treatment from a frightened father-in-law, who watched two sons die after coupling with Tamar. Still, that doesn’t excuse the fact that he sent her home to her father’s house, making her present and future uncertain. Without children to carry on her husband’s line, there would potentially be no one to care for her. She might be worried about where her next meal would come from, or how she would continue to live. Read the rest of this post (originally titled “The Women of Advent” at The Junia Project.

 

Cara is a freelance writer and food critic based in the Pacific Northwest. She can often be found writing at carastrickland.com.

Good Reads for the Soul

December 19, 2015
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booksThis lovely holiday season also coincides with the close of another year, and it has me reflecting a bit. I feel like I’ve been doing some stretching and growing spiritually over the past 12 months—a more blessed and joyful kind of growth than I experienced in the prior couple of years.

Along with attending a new church, I read some challenging books this year, all of which I highly recommend. I thought I would share some of my 2015 book list with you, in case you are looking for some reading to expand your thinking.

Nonfiction

Gospel Women: Studies of the Named Women in the Gospels
 by Richard Bauckham

This book takes a definite scholarly tone, but Bauckham presents some great in-depth examinations of a few gospel women. My favorite chapters covered both Luke’s inclusion of women in his gospel, in general, and the disciple Joanna, in particular. The book gave me lots of interesting new fodder for my writing and speaking on the topic of Jesus and women.

Quotable: “There is a good deal of evidence that in the Greco-Roman world in general women were thought by educated men to be gullible in religious matters and especially prone to superstitious fantasy and excessive in religious practices.”

Damaged Goods: New Perspectives on Christian Purity
by Dianna E. Anderson

This book changed my thinking about ways the church talks to women about modesty, virginity and sex. It definitely made me regret some of the things I said to my daughters when they were teenagers. You might be left dissatisfied with Anderson’s refusal to insist on a biblical injunction against sex outside of marriage, but she makes some really important points about the church’s near obsession with sex, as well as its double standard and the toxicity of its sexual shaming.

Quotable: “Women in evangelical culture bear the brunt of modesty teaching. The vast majority of this teaching goes in one direction only. Women do not have sexual desires—we are not ‘visually stimulated’ in the ways men are. Therefore, the burden of modesty falls on our shoulders because ‘men are wired that way.’ (Read More)

What a Friend We Have…

November 22, 2015
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Remember that old hymn, “What a Friend We Have Jesus?” The lyrics speak of him bearing our sins and griefs, knowing our weakness, being the one to whom we can take everything in prayer — our refuge and solace.

It’s a nice song, but a version written by  the siblings Mary, Martha and Lazarus would have taken a much different tenor. It would have spoken of Jesus as a friend in a more literal and personal kind of way, in the “favored companion” sense of the word. He was not only a superior who healed or saved or taught them. He had a mutual relationship with this family, whom he clearly liked and enjoyed being with.

Image Martha, Lazarus and Mary clipped from the movie, "The Gospel of John"

Image of Martha, Lazarus and Mary clipped from the movie, “The Gospel of John”

This friendship is unique in the Gospels. Jesus certainly spent a lot of time with his disciples, but Martha’s home is the only one that he returned to time and again (see Luke 10:38-42, John 11:1-47, 12:1-11).

Jesus even referred to Lazarus as “our friend” (John 11:11), although we never actually hear the voice of Lazarus in any of the narratives. Luke and John seem much more interested in Jesus’ friendship with the sisters. You see it even in this sequence (John 11:3-5):

“The sisters sent word to Jesus, ‘Lord, the one you love is sick.’”

John didn’t let it go at that. He added, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.”

He put these siblings are on a very short list of individuals named explicitly as being loved by Jesus (another of whom was John himself). John really wanted us to understand the nature of this relationship. (Read More)

Domestic Violence: A Christian Issue

October 29, 2015
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two womenI’m heading over to Charlottesville’s Shelter for Help in Emergency this Friday night for my monthly volunteer shift, so the topic of domestic violence is on my mind. Plus, I wanted to share some thoughts on this issue before October ends.  I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how important it is.

I did some web surfing about how churches and Christians often deal with domestic violence, so since I’m not the expert, I’m going to share with you some of the powerful words of writers who are. Links are included to each full article.

From Domestic Violence within the Church: The Ugly Truth:

“Spouse abuse shocks us,” [Denise] George writes. “We just cannot believe that a church deacon or member goes home after worship . . . and beats his wife.” Tragically, however, George notes, some of these men justify their violence “by citing biblical passages.”

George sites a survey in which nearly 6,000 pastors were asked how they would counsel women who came to them for help with domestic violence. Twenty-six percent would counsel them … to continue to “submit” to her husband, no matter what. Twenty-five percent told wives the abuse was their own fault—for failing to submit in the first place. Astonishingly, 50 percent said women should be willing to “tolerate some level of violence” because it is better than divorce. Advice like this, George warns, often puts women “in grave danger”—and in some cases, can be a death warrant. (Read More)

Who in the World Is Junia?

September 22, 2015
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Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was. (Romans 16:7 NIV 2011)

Since the days of the earliest church writings, this passage has been a puzzle to readers who came to it with a conviction that apostles must be men. From medieval times until fairly recently you could hardly find a Bible translation containing the name Junia. Translators through this period resolved their dilemma by rendering the name Junias, a male name (as in, “Those earlier manuscripts couldn’t have been right, so let’s just fix that little typo”). I still own an NIV Bible from 1984 that uses Junias.

Most modern translators now agree that the evidence supports a female name here, so disputes have transferred to that sticky phrase “outstanding among the apostles.” Some alternative renderings include “esteemed by the apostles” (see note in the 2011 NIV) or “well known to the apostles” (ESV).

I am more interested in the identity of this woman of such significance to Paul and the other apostles—regardless of what her distinction was. Is she really mentioned nowhere else in New Testament literature? (Read More)

Losing Her Life and Finding It

August 27, 2015
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The disciple Joanna was the topic of a post here a few months ago. I’ve learned so much more about her since then, and I’m excited to share with you the rest of the story. All the credit for this background goes to scholar Richard Baukham.*

First, let’s review what Luke 8:1-3 says:

“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”

To first century readers, this passage would have read like a neon sign flashing “This is a situation loaded with meaning!” To people living within memory of the rule of Herod Antipas, here in a nutshell is what they might have ascertained about Joanna:

She was Jewish, probably from a wealthy Galilean family. She was married to a prominent official in Herod’s administration, lived in Tiberias—Herod’s capital city—and enjoyed a life of luxury, at least until she began following Jesus. Then, she probably lost her social standing but also would have struggled for acceptance traveling with people who were accustomed to viewing “Herodians” with contempt. (Read More)

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