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Eavesdropping on an Ancient Interview
by Barbara Smith

Why did God choose Mary rather than another young unmarried Jewish woman? The Bible doesn't say.

Who was she? Looking back at us with studied serenity from a Renaissance portrait, she seems so above the Christmas crush that does us in. What could she know of depression, depleted bank accounts and the other disappointments that define our lives today? However, when we read the Bible accounts of her life, we see this woman lived with some stress: stress that we often discount when we think of the countless masterpiece portraits of "The Virgin."

We have the opportunity to hear Mary tell her story through the pen of Luke, the third Gospel writer. Luke interviewed eyewitnesses of the events described in his gospel (Luke 1:2), a history which begins with John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus, and ends with Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to heaven. Luke would have had access to Mary, whom Jesus entrusted to the care of the apostle John shortly before dying on the cross. (John 19:25-27) Only Mary, or one of her children could have furnished the details of Christ's conception and birth related in chapter one of Luke's gospel.

She was a real woman who lived in amazing times. The Roman Empire had imposed a "worldwide" peace, "Pax Romana." Rome had built the roads that spanned Europe and north Africa. Upon those roads traveled the tradesmen and merchants who spoke the language in which the New Testament was written: Greek. The Good News, of peace with God, had traveled fast; those who had been walking in darkness saw a great light, from Jerusalem to Rome, by the time of Luke's interview.

Mary lived without luxury and with many heartaches. By the time she and Luke talked, she was an old woman, perhaps more than sixty years old. She probably was a widow and lived under the protection of John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. (John 19:26)

Mary was not a theologian, but she understood God. He was the infinite and personal God who chose Abraham to father a nation, even if Abraham was weak and willful, so that HE might reveal His glory to the nations.

This much she knew.

So let us picture Dr. Luke interviewing Mary, the mother of Jesus, sometime after Jesus death. Imagine a comfortable room a perhaps in Ephesus, shortly before Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 A.D.

Two men and an elderly woman sit, talking quietly.

One man, John, the disciple, sits watchfully by the woman' side.

The other man, a Greek, is Luke, the apostle Paul's devoted traveling companion, fellow worker and "beloved physician." (Col 4:14) He accompanied Paul on his second and third missionary journeys, went with him to Rome, and stayed with Paul during his imprisonment and execution in a Roman jail. (2 Tim 4:11)

The woman, dignified and composed, fixes her attention upon the earnest, cultivated man sitting before her. She awaits the questions that so many others have asked. . .


"Can we talk about the Magi?" Luke asked. "Matthew described what happened, but what was it like to entertain such strangers under a Jewish roof. They didn't come the same night Jesus was born. When did they arrive? What really prompted their visit?" (Matthew 2:1-12)

Mary thought quietly for a moment, considering the question. "Ah the wise men?" Looking first to Luke and then to John, Mary laughed heartily, before remarking, "I have had some dazzling adventures for a provincial woman!" She then began her recollections of that celebrated evening.

"These wise men from the East studied the heavens, and when they saw what they took to be a star, they came to find and worship the new King of the Jews. They may have studied the writings of Daniel, and known the prophecy of the Jewish Messiah." (Daniel 9:24-27)

She stopped and looked at Luke. "I have often wondered, do you think those men had read of Isaiah's prophecies, Luke? His words were carried into Babylon."(Isaiah 30:8)

Luke considered the possibility but shrugged saying only, "If they were scholars, they might have they have known Daniel, for his prophecies were known in my father's time. Was conversation difficult?"

"Joseph and I could not understand their language and gestures say only so much along with broken phrases!

"Ah, well . . . Perhaps they were studying the night sky when they saw the heavens split as the shepherds did from hundreds of miles east of Bethlehem." Mary's voice now grew frosty as she continued. "These strange men from the East paid closer attention to their surroundings than the rulers in Jerusalem paid to their prophets!" Mary sighed, drawing in a sharp breath.

"You mean what the prophet Micah had foretold?" Luke asked. (Micah 5:2)

"Precisely, Luke! For centuries the Jews had been told their King would not come from Jerusalem. Still, it is a mercy for us that Herod didn't know what his scribes knew: that the Christ would come from Bethlehem.

"Joseph used to say that the rulers, and even the people, kept looking for a political Messiah who would overthrow Rome, rather than looking to their God." Her voice rose, in agitation.

"Times still haven't changed, Mary," John observed. "Jerusalem is now on fire with political intrigues against Rome. Now, the zealots speak boldly of insurrection."

Mary groaned. "Perhaps tonight, my Son will return . . ." Her voice trailed off.

Luke paused, wanting her to continue recounting her memories of the visiting wise men. "So, when these men arrived . . . ?"

"Ah, Doctor, that was quite an evening! When these Eastern wise men finally found us, the Child was almost toddling. We fortunately had found a house in Bethlehem not far from the stable." Mary said, as if she could plainly see her early home.

"No angel had prepared us for this experience, I assure you. Our home was small, but comfortable for the three of us. But these exotic men in their flowing robes quite filled our small quarters!

"You see, Luke, after many months of relative peace and quiet, we had fallen into normal routines. All of the glory faded as we struggled to make ends meet. So, when we heard the commotion that heralded their arrival, Joseph opened the door with some misgiving I don't know which reached us first: the noise or the smell of the camels.

"Jesus clung to Joseph, eyeing the colorful entourage with shy wonder He reached out as if to touch the hem of their gowns and He tried to form words He had never seen such finery in our home before!" She smiled.

"I often wonder what He was thinking. Could He have known at so young an age the words of King David, who warned the world's kings to be wise and serve the Lord?"

Mary continued. "Just as Simeon and Anna had fixed their eyes on Jesus, these strange and wonderful men fixed their eyes on my Son, never looking to right or the left except to bow and worship.

"Can you imagine Luke? Those elegantly robed men bowing low in the dust of a Jewish carpenter's home to a little one like my Jesus was?"

Luke savored the irony in the images she described. Several moments passed.

"And Matthew told you of the gifts," she asked, interrupting the quiet. "The gold, the frankincense and myrrh! Never had Joseph and I seen such extravagance nor had anyone in the town.

"For by the time these foreigners offered their gifts, the whole town knew of their visit! Jews do not lightly entertain gentiles, you see, Luke. So, our neighbors wondered, 'Now, what are they doing at Joseph's home?'

"But even our normally nosey neighbors kept silent, for Joseph did not protest the dignitaries' worship of my Son."

Luke looked puzzled, and John quickly explained, "No one is worthy of worship but God Himself! (Exodus 20:5) This was a serious matter that Joseph, a righteous Jew, allowed them to present their tribute to the Child."

Mary spoke again, describing their departure. "The strangers left, with great solemnity, vanishing slowly into the darkness that enveloped the town of Bethlehem that night. While the sound of their excited cries and the bells clanking on their camels slowly subsided, Joseph and I pondered what had happened, what we had received: a king's ransom as far as we could see!"

"An astounding story, Mary!" Luke exclaimed.

"Yes it is," Mary smiled. "Jesus loved for me to tell it. Especially when I tried to remember all the details of how the men looked, what they wore how their camels were equipped. Sometimes I thought my voice would dry up if He asked one more time for the Magi story!

"I think another reason He liked to hear it was that these gifts were truly a ransom, enabling us to escape Herod's cruel grasp! How wonderfully useful those gifts were for our little family."

"You didn't save them, Mary?" Luke asked.

"No, just the memory of that evening was the treasure I kept in my heart, Luke. Those gifts: so astonishing and lavish, we sold to escape into Egypt away from Herod's murderous intentions.

"God guided the Magi to us and their gifts provisioned our journey to Egypt. Had He not provided this wealth, we would have perished in Egypt. Egyptians never forgot their hatred of Jews -- so Joseph had little opportunity to work. (Genesis 43:32) With these gifts and the work he could find, we were able to live in Egypt for many years."

She shuddered. "I see now the gracious hand of our God in guiding us to and from Egypt, but to remember why He moved us is a terrible thing."


After Thoughts: When next you see a sentimental portrait of "The Virgin," remember, Mary was a real woman who lived through amazing times. She knew from the inside out the Good News, of peace with God, good will towards men. May this knowledge be yours this Easter holiday, too.


Taken from:
Eavesdropping on an Ancient Conversation
by Douglas and Barbara Smith
Third Floor Publishing
PO Box 827
Arnold, MD 21012


© Barbara W. Smith 1999, all rights reserved
Permission is given to reprint any of Barbara's articles in non-profit publications as long as the article is reprinted in full and contains the copyright information and Web site address.

Please send a copy of the publication to:
Third Floor Publishing
PO Box 827
Arnold, MD 21012

We hope our thoughts encourage you in the Lord Jesus Christ who has enabled us to do exceedingly abundantly more than we could have asked or imagined -- please let us know what YOU think. E-mail us at workbook@toad.net. (Please don't forget to include your e-mail address with in the body of the message--we've had some of our responses returned due to insufficient e-mail addresses.)




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