WEEK 78 — June 29, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SISTERS

 

week 78

 

The Ministering Women

 

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 devils had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Luke 8:1-3

Most of us have a slightly skewed mental picture of Jesus and his disciples during their wanderings through Palestine. Perhaps we’ve all been too much influenced by Sunday School pictures showing only thirteen men in robes and leather girdles walking along, each with staff in hand.

Now, how do you suppose those thirteen men got food and lodging during their travels? Did they go about with begging bowls like Asian monks?

Of course sometimes they were invited to eat with friends — but not every day. Of course Jesus fed the five thousand — but even then he didn’t conjure up the loaves and fishes out of nothing. Sometimes the New Testament tells us that the disciples went to buy food — but where did they get the money to buy it with?

Read again the verses above. Luke 8:1-3 makes it clear that there were women as well as men who walked where Jesus walked. Who were they? Comparing several references scattered throughout the four Gospels, we may learn the names of some of them:

1) Mary Magdalene;
2) Mary the wife of Clopas;
3) Mary the mother of that disciple known as James the Less              (she might also have been the same as Mary number two);
4) Salome, wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John (and apparently a sister to Mary the mother of Jesus);
5) Susanna; and
6) Joanna, who — strange as it seems — was the wife of a highly placed official at the court of King Herod Antipas.

In addition to those whose names we know, Luke 8:3 states that there were also “many others.” When Jesus and his entourage made that last fateful trip to Jerusalem, we know that his mother Mary joined in with the other women. Perhaps it was always a somewhat fluid group. The Gospels tell us that Jesus sometimes sent out the Twelve, sometimes made a special assignment to only two of them, sometimes called only three of them to join him. Would it not have been natural for the group of ministering women also to have swelled or shrunk as needs and situations changed?

Luke’s descriptive note about the woman called Joanna may have been especially significant. Since her husband was Herod’s steward or household manager, she probably had some funds at her disposal. Salome’s husband Zebedee had prospered as a commercial fisherman to the point that he was helped by hired servants as well as by his own two sons; perhaps Salome also got money from home sometimes.

Throughout twenty centuries of Christian history there have been greathearted women who have banded together like sisters to perform many types of ministries. How fitting that at the very beginning there were those brave ministering women with Jesus and the Twelve! How fitting that their last sad service for their Master miraculously turned into a morning of overwhelming joy!

Prayerfully read their memories, reconstructed through imagination in this Bible-based poetic meditation:

We each had something to be thankful for:
Some illness healed, our spirits calmed to rest.
So when our Master took the road once more,
we served him in the ways that we knew best.

It isn’t easy feeding thirteen men;
we often had to scrimp and improvise.
Joanna got some money now and then:
You’d be surprised how much a few coins buys.

Then, all the sewing! Traveling is hard
on robes and tunics; soon they’re full of holes.
Why, even leather can get scratched and scarred:
We mended belts, and sandal strings and soles.

We walked the dusty lanes of Galilee;
across the Jordan; down the Roman ways;
and once or twice we even got to see
the Holy City on the festal days.

That last trip to Jerusalem was strange.
Our Master rode in triumph up the hill.
Yet all too soon we sensed a subtle change:
No shouts or glad hosannas; all was still.

In all our serving, never did we think
our ministries for Jesus would conclude
with buying fragrant spice to mask the stink
of lacerated flesh and gouts of blood.

Rejoice, O sisters! Put your spice away.
The stone is moved, the rocky tomb is bare.
Our Master lives again! Now from this day,
we’ll go and tell the glad news everywhere.

O our living Lord, help all of us — women, men, and children — to serve you and yours as unselfishly as those ministering women did in olden times! Amen.

Copyright © 2016 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 77 — June 22, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SISTERS

 

week 77

 

Women Tend to Trust the Doctor : Luke the Beloved Physician

 

Many people have tried to tell the story of what God has done among us. They wrote what we had been told by the ones who were there in the beginning and saw what happened. So I made a careful study of everything and then decided to write and tell you exactly what took place. Luke 1:1-3ab, CEV

Among those first people from whom (and to whom) Christ Jesus came, Luke holds several distinctions.

For one thing, he is the only person the Bible specifically designates as a doctor. Medical practice of twenty centuries ago must have been a far cry from medical practice of today. And yet – then as now, a good physician must have been a person of some sensitivity, a person whom others might tend to trust and confide in.

Another distinction: As far as we know, Dr. Luke is the only writer of the Bible who was not a member of God’s original Chosen People. In other words, Luke was a Gentile, not a Jew. His very presence among the early Christians, even among the closest missionary colleagues of the great Apostle Paul, aptly symbolizes the fact that the Way of the Christ is — and has always been — open to all races.

A third distinction: “Luke” is one of the better-known Bible names, simply because he wrote one of the Four Gospels. In past centuries illiterate Christian peasants even prayed at bedtime,

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,
bless the bed I lie upon.

A fourth distinction: Luke did not stop with writing a biography of Jesus: He also continued with a second volume, giving an account of what happened after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Except for a few scattered references in the letters of Paul, Dr. Luke tells us everything we know about the first generation of Christ’s People. His two relatively long books place him on a par with Paul as one of the two major writers of the New Testament.

Yet a fifth distinctive can be gleaned from a careful reading of these ancient Christian records. Little is said about Luke in the Scriptures, but that little is good.

He was a beloved friend of Paul’s. His times with Paul on the missionary trail can be detected from the passages where he used “we” and “us” in narrating the Acts of the Apostles. And when everyone else had deserted Paul while the great apostle awaited sentencing in a Roman dungeon, Dr. Luke was still there.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that such a person should have been able to include in his inspired writings many events and incidents not recorded anywhere else in Scripture. Maybe it isn’t unusual that a good many of those stories unique to Luke and Acts seem to have come from the lips of women.

Humanly speaking, this may have been the only way such recollections could have been preserved for posterity. Most women of Palestine two thousand years ago could neither read nor write. Yet from Mary and Elizabeth, from the women at the empty tomb, from the many females prominent in the pages of Acts, Dr. Luke drew out oral memories. He listened carefully and wrote everything down in his scroll.

As the first line of the following Bible-based poetic meditation states, “Women tend to trust the doctor.” As you continue reading, give thanks to God for all of those women who must have confided in Dr. Luke, . . . and for Dr. Luke himself, who faithfully recorded what they told him:

Women tend to trust the doctor;
this is now I’ve come to hear
women’s stories hid from others,
tales that sometimes bring a tear.

Stories told by Mother Mary,
old Elizabeth as well.
Then Susanna and Joanna:
What great news they had to tell!

Once in Nain a widow told me
how the Lord had raised her boy.
Once a woman – long in bondage –
on a sabbath day found joy.

Martha’s sister, thoughtful Mary;
Lydia, who heard God’s call;
Dorcas, Rhoda, and Priscilla;
Philip’s daughters, preachers all.

All of these told me their stories,
let me write them in my scroll.
Am I called “Beloved Doctor”?
Christ’s the one who made them whole!

O Christ the Great Physician, bless all of those in the family of faith who become givers or receivers of personal care. Amen.

Copyright © 2016 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 76 — June 15, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SISTERS

 

week 76

 

Master, Make Her Help Me! : Sister Martha

 

Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
Luke 10:40

When I was young, it seemed to me that Martha got a lot of bad press in Christian circles. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the beautiful little story related in Luke 10:38-42. And every time I heard it read or told again — in Sunday School lesson, sermon, or passing reference — people always seemed to speak more favorably of Mary than of Martha.

“We too must sit at the feet of Jesus,” I was taught. “We should listen to the teaching of Jesus as Mary did, rather than letting ourselves get distracted with worldly matters as Martha did.”

In recent years many Christians have taken a more balanced view. After all, somebody has to get dinner on the table! Today there seems to be a greater awareness that some followers of Christ are more like Mary and some are more like Martha, and that none of us should ever look with disdain upon the others.

The traditional wording of Jesus’ gentle reproof has him telling Martha, “Only one thing is needed.” In past years I remember being taught that the “one thing” referred to was, sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to his teaching. Newer Bible translations have helped bring a balance into our contrasting views of Mary and of Martha. “Only one thing is needed” could just as well be translated, “Only a few things are needed.”

In actuality Jesus was urging Martha not to go to so much trouble with her meal preparation. “Keep it simple,” he was advising her. “Don’t feel that you have to prepare such an elaborate spread.”

I have known many Marthas.

Long ago I pastored a small country church where the members took turns inviting me for Sunday dinner. In certain families, I knew the wife and mother would not appear at church that day. It was unthinkable that she should not spend the whole morning getting things ready to serve up to the preacher. How often I wished for some tactful way to tell such dear women, “I’d much rather you come to the worship service, even if this means that Sunday dinner won’t be quite as sumptuous as you would have liked.”

Not all Marthas are females. Inordinate busyness bothers many Christians of all ages and both sexes. Keep that in mind as you read the following Bible-based poetic meditation:

Mary, come and help me!
I’ve got the fish to clean,
the dough to knead, the bread to bake,
I ought to make a raisin cake.
Mary, come and help me!
(But Mary wouldn’t come.)

Mary, come and help me!
I’ve got the hens to feed,
the floor to sweep, the beds to air,
I see there’s clutter everywhere.
Mary, come and help me!
(But Mary wouldn’t come.)

Master, make her help me!
I’m working all alone
from morning light till dark of night.
She ought to help, it isn’t right.
Master, make her help me!
(But Jesus said instead:
“Martha, Martha, calm your soul.
Constant doing takes its toll.
Mary chose the better part.
Sit by me. Come know my heart.”)

O Lord, you know all of the Marys and all of the Marthas among us. Suit a blessing to each one, we pray. Amen.

Copyright © 2016 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 75 — June 8, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SISTERS

 

week 75

 

Ruth, Ruth! : Sister Orpah

 

Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.” . . . At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
Ruth 1:11ab, 14

It’s sometimes interesting to hear the other side of the story.

An old proverb says that the history of a war is always written by the winners. You might say that the history of Ruth and Naomi as told in the Bible was written from Ruth and Naomi’s point of view. But — what about Orpah?

When I studied Shakespeare in school, I was taught that Cassius, the wily instigator of the plot to assassinate an overly ambitious Julius Caesar, was not really the villain of the play. “Take away the noble Brutus,” so the commentator wrote, “and Cassius becomes the hero of the story.”

In similar fashion we might say: Take away Ruth, and Orpah becomes the heroine of the story. Consider:
• Orpah was broadminded, not limited by racial prejudice; born a Moabite, she was willing to marry a sojourner from the land of Israel.
• Nothing in the sacred record suggests that Orpah was anything less than a good wife to her husband. Naomi herself praised Orpah’s kindness in the verses quoted above. Certainly Orpah was a good daughter-in-law to her husband’s bereaved mother.
• After Orpah’s husband and brother-in-law had both died, Orpah’s widowed mother-in-law planned to go back to the land of Israel. What tender love and sympathy Orpah must have shown in being willing to leave her own homeland and go along to keep Naomi company! It was only at Naomi’s insistence that Orpah finally turned and went back home.

Actually Orpah was the practical one, not Ruth. Orpah recognized the hard fact that distance can put considerable strain on family relationships; just ask the extended family of any foreign missionary.

Of course things were much worse when Adoniram Judson sailed for Myanmar (Burma) in 1812: He only had one home assignment in 38 years. When we went out to Indonesia in 1965, an exchange of airmail letters still took a month; transoceanic phone calls were rare and chancy at best. Even with today’s instantaneous communication, it isn’t easy when part of the family goes far away from home.

If Orpah was indeed such a kind and compassionate woman, don’t you suppose she must have been concerned about Ruth, her friend and her sister by marriage? Don’t you suppose she must have worried when Ruth vanished into a foreign land?

Feelings such as these form the imaginative basis on which the following Bible-based poetic meditation has been built. The narration begins back when both Orpah and Ruth were still marriageable young women in Moab.

Ruth, Ruth!
There are strangers in town,
sojourners, Israelites, sturdy and brown,
sons of a widow from Bethlehem town.

Ruth, Ruth!
They have come to our house —
Mahlon and Chilion, seeking a spouse,
coming to terms with the men of our house.

Ruth, Ruth!
You’re a beautiful bride.
Mahlon stands smiling with you at his side.
(I too stand smiling as Chilion’s bride.)

Ruth, Ruth!
Our men lie as dead;
too weak to work, they lie suffering in bed.
(What will we do when our husbands are dead?)

Ruth, Ruth!
We are widows; we mourn.
Mother Naomi says grief can be borne.
(How can we bear it when all of us mourn?)

Ruth, Ruth!
Are you ready to roam?
Mother Naomi is going back home.
We must go with her. (How far must we roam?)

Ruth, Ruth!
We must find our own way;
Mother Naomi has told us to stay:
No hope awaits if we follow her way.

Ruth, Ruth!
Must we part, from this day?
Me here in Moab, and you far away?
How you’ll regret what you’re choosing today!

Ruth, Ruth!
How I miss you, my friend!
How I have wept for your miserable end —
exiled, far distant from kinfolk or friend.

Grant a special blessing, O Father God, on all families that suffer separation, from whatever cause. Amen.

Copyright © 2016 by Perry Thomas

WEEK 74 — June 1, 2016

MIDWEEK MEDITATIONS:
SISTERS

 

week 74

 

That’s My Little Brother : Miriam Sings

 

Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered. And the girl went and got the baby’s mother. . . . When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
Exodus 2:7-8, 10

My one slender claim to likeness with Moses the great Lawgiver is this: I too have an older sister named Miriam who looked out for me when I was a child.

Actually I have had three older siblings, two sisters and a brother, and all of them were good to me when I was little. Yet there was a special relationship with Sister Miriam. A common love of storytelling, a shared penchant for wild and wide-ranging imagination: These were some of the things that drew us together. (Miriam was also the one we all went to when we needed a splinter dug out of a finger.)

Back in Bible times, did that first Miriam and her little brother Moses also have a special relationship? The Bible doesn’t tell us. It does, however, point out how faithfully and how cleverly young Miriam looked out for her little brother’s best interests.

How long do you suppose Miriam had to stand guard on the muddy banks of the Nile, swatting gnats and enduring the Egyptian sun? What if she had wandered off somewhere at the exact moment when Pharaoh’s daughter appeared on the scene? What if she had nodded off to sleep?

Not only was Miriam faithful: She was also clever. Notice in the verses quoted above that she did not tell Pharaoh’s daughter about her own kinship with the baby in the bulrushes. Nor did she offer to bring the baby’s mother to nurse him: She only mentioned finding “one of the Hebrew women.” Young as she was, Miriam must have sensed that in the context, saying too much about family relationships might have made the whole thing sound too much like a plot.

In later years, the relationship between Moses and Miriam, like the relationship between Moses and Aaron, did not always run smooth. Yet the three siblings stayed together. A prophet listed all three of them on a par as leaders of the Israelites (Micah 6:4).

When Moses started a paean of victory after the drowning of Pharaoh’s army in the sea, how fitting it seems that his sister Miriam then took up the song. She led the women as they chanted in triumph, playing their tambourines and dancing before the Lord God Almighty.

The following Bible-based poetic meditation seeks to lift the curtain a bit, showing brief glimpses of Miriam and her little brother at various stages in their lives.

That’s my little brother.
We keep him out of sight.
If Pharaoh’s soldiers found him, O!
He might be dead tonight.

That’s my little brother.
To hide him got too hard.
He’s floating in that basket there,
with me here standing guard.

That’s my little brother,
in Pharaoh’s daughter’s lap.
I’ll call our mother, so that she
can nurse him; then he’ll nap.

+      +      +

That’s my little brother,
the one dressed like a prince.
They took him to the palace. O!
We’ve scarcely seen him since.

+      +      +

That’s my little brother.
He’s standing by the shore.
He stretched his hand above the sea;
we saw our foes no more.

That’s my little brother;
he sings of victory.
O sisters, strike your tambourines!
Our God has set us free!

O Lord, we never know what our little brothers or little sisters might become when they grow up. We pray today for all of them, and for their older siblings as well. Amen.

Copyright © 2015 by Perry Thomas