By Beth Foster
Tomorrow afternoon at Mercy Junction’s The People’s Sermon, I will be sharing the story of a woman who I once disliked. In fact, in a women’s literature class in college, I rated her as weak and boring and declined a coffee date with her.
As we begin February, Mercy Junction’s Winter Worship Theme of “A Different Revelation” moves from “End Times” to “Radicals.” Tomorrow’s The People’s Sermon will be a patchwork of each participant sharing the story of their favorite religious radical.
I will be sharing the story of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
In that decades ago college literature class, we were asked to choose between Eve and Mary – which was weakest and which strongest. Which was more interesting. Of the two, who would you want to talk with over a long cup of coffee? I was with Eve all the way — a fellow rebel and the baddest of the bad girls, and the stories that sister would tell over coffee.
Not only did I find Mary uninteresting and weak, I didn’t like her. As a 21-year-old who’d spent a lifetime in Sunday School, I knew Mary as the quiet, submissive, boring good girl who did as she was told. She and I would not have hung out.
But I didn’t know her.
The older and wiser me now knows that Mary is so dangerous, and such a bad girl, that they’d had to wrap her up in the quietest, sweetest, most obedient lies to even let her in the room.
Over the past few years, I’ve gotten to know Mary. I’ve found out she is a radical and a revolutionary, and that many of Jesus’ teachings were likely her teachings. I learned that, just like her son, Mary’s ability to inspire rebels and to anger authorities has endured through the ages. During British rule in India, Mary’s Song (the Magnificat), was not allowed to be sung in church because it inspired subversive behavior. The Guatemalan government banned her dangerous words in the 1980s.
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm,
he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts,
he has put down the mighty from their thrones,
and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent empty away.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.
For as long as I can remember, even as a little girl, I have felt in my soul the need to kick against so much that is wrong in this world. From patriarchy to the treatment of non-human animals to the destruction of the environment, I felt these injustices in my bones even as a 9 and 10-year-old. I didn’t like those who went quietly and obediently along with the tide of the status quo, and that was the Mary to whom I’d been introduced.
My Sunday school lessons didn’t give me a Mary who fought Herod the Great and called out the sins of Caesar Augustus. The mild virgin in the pink veil with downcast eyes and a halo did little to inspire the heart of a young feminist.
As I get to know Mary, the one who points her finger at the Roman Empire and announces that God will bring down rulers from their thrones, I wish so much that my teenage self could have known her, could have learned from her.
I look forward to telling the dangerous story of Mary, the Mother of Jesus at the People’s Sermon tomorrow.
I hope there are little girls and teenagers there.
I hope this isn’t the first time they’ve heard the story of Mary the Insurrectionist, but if it is the first time, I will be glad to introduce them to this fiery rabble rouser with whom I’d really like to have a cup of coffee.