Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Category: Bible’s Major Players (page 1 of 3)

Bible’s Major Players: Mary Magdalene

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Mary Magdalene is one from the New Testament.

Mary Magdalene is one of the few women who are named as followers of Jesus. Mary is often listed first among these names. She is often portrayed in movies, including Jesus Christ Superstar and Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, as a prostitute. Why? Mary Magdalene is often connected with the woman of the street who breaks the jar of perfume and washes Jesus’ feet in Luke 7. In Luke’s Gospel this woman is nameless. Mary Magdalene first appears in Luke 8. As scholar Fred Craddock points out, “Only popular legend has made her a prostitute.” Luke’s eighth chapter tells the reader that Mary was healed of seven demons. Craddock observes, “Demon possession caused various maladies of body and mind but not moral or ethical depravity.”

Monica Bellucci as Magdalen in Gibson's film.

Monica Bellucci as Magdalen in Gibson’s film.

Mary plays a significant role in the Gospel story. All four gospels account for Mary being present at the death of Christ. More importantly, Mary was the first witness of the resurrected Lord. In Luke’s account of the resurrection, the two men “in dazzling apparel” tell the women, “Remember how he told you . . .” (Luke 24:4,6). This assumes that Mary Magdalene and the other women were apart of the inner circle of Jesus’ followers. The dazzling men are under the impression that these women were present when Jesus predicted his death and resurrection (“Remember how he told you”).

Luke continues the narrative saying that the women “remembered his words” (24:8). The women are told to go and tell the disciples what has taken place. They recalled what Jesus had said and told the eleven and “all the rest” (Luke 24:8-9). As Craddock points out, these women were not “errand runners for disciples; they were disciples.”

Mary Magdalene, the woman saved from seven demons, is one of the first witnesses of the Resurrected Christ. Her role in being one of the first to communicate the resurrection to others, places her among the Bible’s major players.

How are you living as a witness of the Resurrected Christ?

Resources: Craddock, Fred B. Luke. John Knox Press, 1990.

Bible’s Major Players: Tamar

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. David’s daughter Tamar is one from the Old Testament.

Tamar was the daughter of Maacah and David. She is the only daughter of David’s mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. In an interesting story, worthy of Jerry Springer, David’s oldest son (and first in line for the throne) Ammon finds himself madly – madly – in love with his half-sister Tamar. He pretends to be ill and asks for Tamar to come and prepare food for him. Ammon is able to get  his half-sister with him and rapes her.

Ammon, however, does not stop outdoing himself. Now that Tamar is no longer a virgin, custom says that she must be married. Even if it his her half-brother. She pleas with Ammon to marry her, but he refuses. In fact, Ammon’s love for her has been replaced with hatred. He wants nothing to do with her anymore. It seems that he got what he wanted, and was satisfied.

source: http://thebricktestament.com

source: http://thebricktestament.com

Tamar is forced out the door and into the streets.

Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long-sleeved robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and walked away, crying as she went. (2 Samuel 13:19, Common English Bible)

This act outside of Ammon’s house, Virginia Stem Owens suggests, is a “symbol of her degradation.” The rape along was enough to humiliate and shame Tamar, but to leave her unmarried was worse. She would be lowered in the eyes of her society. She no longer, without the man who took her virginity, had the possibilities of marriage or children. Her future was taken from her and ruined.  And so, “Tamar, a broken woman, lived with her brother Absalom” (2 Samuel 13:20b).

How have you been left broken by others?

Resources: Owens, Virginia Stem. Daughters of Eve. NavPress, 1995.

Bible’s Major Players: David

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. King David is one from the Old Testament.

The Bible says that when Samuel anointed David, the “spirit of the Lord came mightily upon” him (1 Samuel 16:13). In the very next verse, the reader is told that an evil spirit in Saul replaces the spirit of the Lord. Barry Bandstra notes that in “the Hebrew Bible the spirit of God is the power God bestows on select individuals that enables them to perform their God-given task.” God had chosen David.

The first narrative of David is when he confronts the giant Goliath (1 Samuel 17). In this act of defeating the giant, David was able to gain much popularity with the people, including Saul’s own family. This began Saul’s rich jealously and attempts to kill David, failing again and again. David would spend much of his time in hiding from Saul.

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While in hiding, David becomes something like a Biblical Robin Hood. As Walter Harrelson explained, David “gathers around him a band of desperadoes, and is able both to prevent capture by Saul’s men and to become the most feared and respected man in all Judah.” When he grows tired of being an outlaw and on the run, he and his “band of desperadoes” join the Philistine camp in their struggle against Saul. The whole time, however, they are raiding the tribes south of Judah. This only increased Saul’s determination to rid of David.

Meanwhile, the Philistines have pushed Israel back toward the Jordan River. Saul attempts to take a stand at Mount Gilboa. However, Saul and his sons die in this battle, leaving the throne empty. David would claim his divinely ordained role as King.

David, from the beginning of his kingship, would lead with what many scholars have called “political savvy.” At the news of Saul’s defeat and death, David made a point not to approve nor condone the death of Saul. As Bandstra points out, “He did nothing that might serve to alienate the loyal followers of Saul,” which made up most of North Israel.

michelangelo-sculptures-13

Michelangelo’s David

David would set his capital at Hebron in Judah. David would rule over the southern tribes, and after the northern tirbes fell apart under Ishbaal, he would rule the northern tribes as well. It would be the first time that all the tribes of Israel would be united. David then decided to move his capital to Jerusalem, so as not to give the impression that he was favoring the south, and called it “the city of David” to show that it was under his command. After chasing the Philistines out from around the city, he made another political move that would change things. He moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, setting the city as the political and religious center for the newly unified nation.

David’s heart became troubled after the nation was safe. He was living in a great house, while the Ark, the symbol of God’s presence among God’s people, was in a tent. David set out to build a great house for God. God, however, through the prophet Nathan, told David to not build such a house. Instead, God promised that God would build a house for David (2 Samuel 7:16).

This is a play on words, as Walter Brueggemann suggests. The word “house” can mean either “temple” or “dynasty.” Daivd would not build God a temple, but God would build David a dynasty. This will become the first dynasty of the Hebrew people.

As great as David was as a king, he would make some pretty bad decisions. Despite these mistakes, God still supported him. Although Samuel disapproved of the people’s desire for a monarch, God used the line of David to shepherd his people.

How has God used you through your successes and mistakes?

Resources: Bandstra, Barry L. Reading the Old Testament. Wadsworth Publishing, 1999. Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. John Knox Press, 1990. Harrelson, Walter. Interpreting the Old Testament. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Bible’s Major Players: Joseph the Carpenter

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players.  The carpenter Joseph is one from the New Testament.

Though there is not much said about this man, I would argue that Joseph played a significant role in the birth narratives. It took an enormous amount of risk and faith for Joseph to stay married to Mary after she told him that she was pregnant. According to the society of the time, Mary would have been labeled as a woman of the street and could have easily been stoned to death. Joseph, according to Matthew’s birth narrative, was “a just man” and decided to divorce Mary quietly. This implies that instead of acting our of anger towards Mary, Joseph still loved and respected her.

The fact that Joseph decided to quietly divorce her suggests that he made this decision out of his love for God, which is greater than his love for Mary, suggests scholar Douglas Hare. Joseph, Hare writes, “determines to do it secretly, so as not to cause her public humiliation.” This is the kind of compassion that Jesus would grow up with. This is the kind of compassion all of humanity should have towards each other.

family_5337cJoseph, however, changes his mind. An angel appears to him in a dream informing him that the child Mary’s carrying is from God. The text says that when Joseph woke up, he did as “the Lord commanded him” (Matthew 1:24) and did not know her until “she had borne a son” (Matthew 1:24-25).

I think we can each find ourselves in Joseph. When he was first told that Mary was going to give birth to the Son of God, he was not ready to go out on that limb. He did not want to step outside of his comfort zone and accept what God was doing in his life. The reality is that when God calls us, it is to call us out of our comfort zones. Joseph went out of his comfort zone and embraced Mary and the unborn child.

How is God calling you out of your comfort zone?

Resources: Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew. John Knox Press, 1993.

Bible’s Major Players: Delilah

Slide2The Bible is filled with some major players. Delilah is one from the Old Testament.

The book of Judges tells of a man named Samson, who should be included in the next cast of Expendables. Samson was a Nazirite set apart to God. Nazirites followed strict guidelines. Samson blew most of them in the wind. But one, not cutting his hair, he followed.

It was a tough time. The Israelites were constantly fighting off other -ites. The worse of them were the Philistines. Samson was like Hercules to the Hebrew people. He held great strength. He fought armies single-handedly. He was what legends were made of. Even though he fought and killed Philistine men, Samson had a soft spot for Philistine women.

Delilah being the last of them. Delilah lived in the Valley of Sorek, a place between Israel and Philistine. But this little bit of information does not tell us where Delilah’s allegiances laid. What we do know, is that Delilah owns her own house. Which means, she is either a wealthy widow or a woman whose occupation pays well. And remember, at this time it was rare thing.

And the relationship between Samson and Delilah must have been known in the community. The Philistines came to her, asking her to discover Samson’s secret. And they promised to pay her well.

“Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.” (Judges 16:5)

So, Delilah uses her seducative powers to inquire about Samson’s secret to his strength. She asked more than once, and more than once he tells a lie. The Philistines attack and he is able to escape. As a side note, you’d think he’d know after the first time that something was up. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

samson1cBut, the third times the charm. Delilah uses the oldest trick in the book, “If you love me, if you really, really, love me, you will tell me the secret to your power.” And she is persistent. The text actually says that Samson was tired to death of her nagging. One Bible translates it “annoyed to death.” A children’s Bible translation puts it this way: “He became so tired of it he felt like he was going to die!”

I think the point has been made. Samson had enough. And so he tells her the whole story, from beginning to present:

“No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.” (Judges 16:17)

And there it is! The secret is out. Delilah, as she did before, tells the Philistines, and they shave his head. Samson awakes, and this time truth as been told. No more lies. And he is as weak as “any other man.”

The thing to remember about Delilah is that betraying Samson was not her idea. The Philistine leadership came to her. Samson was the only thing keeping them from conquering Israel. And with Delilah’s help, they found his weak spot.

Samson had told lies just for fun. Delilah told truth for money. Some have compared Delilah to Judas, who betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Delilah did betray Samson for a whole lot more than thirty pieces of silver. Samson wasn’t worth all of that silver, but Delilah was. She sold herself to be used as a pawn in someone else’s game. We may never know if Delilah loved Samson as much as he loved her, but the implication is that she did love herself.

In what ways do you risk selling yourself as a pawn in something that is not part of God’s plan?

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