I don’t know about you, but when I read the Bible it sometimes leaves me wanting to know more about the people and their stories.
- What was it like to be a Jew in exile, waiting for the Saviour to come?
- How did it feel to see Jesus feed the 5000 or heal the sick; what was it like to actually be there?
- What did Jesus say while eating with Zacchaeus that prompted such a radical transformation?
Many of these are questions we won’t know the answers to until we track the people down in heaven and ask them personally, but by studying the historical context of events in the Bible and exploring the meaning of certain words in the original languages, there are insights to gain that can put some flesh on the bones of these characters and bring their stories to life in a richer way.
This week I’m pleased to highlight two books which do just that. Both of them are written by bloggers I’ve connected with through blog linkups over the last few months. I’ll be featuring the first of these books today, and the second in a separate post on Wednesday.
Today’s book is “A Mary Like Me” by Andy Lee
I connected with Andy through the #GritUp Writers’ Collective and I was delighted to be invited to read her book “A Mary Like Me”. In it, she explores the character of three “Marys” of the Bible- Mary of Bethany (Martha’s sister), Mary of Nazareth (the mother of Jesus), and Mary Magdalene.
Often these women are elevated to saintly status: Mary of Bethany was praised for choosing well as she sat, listening, at Jesus’ feet, Mary of Nazareth had the honour of being chosen by God to give birth to the Messiah, and Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. Yet in her book, Andy Lee aims to dispel this myth of near-perfection, and to present the three Marys as ordinary human people, with flaws as well as virtues.
She points out that in biblical times, names often reflected personality or captured the essence of a person’s identity, and that the Hebrew name Miryam, from which the name Mary is derived meant “bitter, defiant, rebellious, yet beloved, gift of God,” and she illustrates how some of these characteristics played out in the lives of the Marys.
For example, Mary of Bethany’s act of sitting at Jesus’ feet could be seen not only as an act of devotion, but also one of defiance:
“Mary B. defiantly rebelled against her older sister, the lady of the house, who required Miryam to do the womanly service of the home. Rather than cooking the meal, Miryam sat at the feet of a rabbi as a disciple. This position was only for the men.”
Similarly, Mary of Nazareth is remembered for her servant heart and her willingness to submit to God’s unexpected plan, she also displayed a very human response in going to visit her cousin Elizabeth straight after her encounter with the angel:
“Mary did what any curious, frightened, and excited person would do. She sprinted to check out the proof that all of this hadn’t been a dream.”
Despite her faith, she also wanted to see evidence for herself that God could do the impossible.
The aim of the book is to encourage us that these women were not perfect, but were ordinary people, and that if God can use them, he can use us:
“The Marys of this book were no different from you and me. They were called by God and used by God despite their imperfections. Contrary to tradition, there is no perfect “Mary heart.” These Marys were simply women struggling with doubt, fear, and their own human weaknesses, yet they were empowered by a loving God to do what he had called them to do. Will he do less for us?”
I found the book very helpful in understanding these characters more, and I am encouraged to continue digging deeper into their stories. The book is written in a conversational and accessible way, but it is also well-researched, with explanations of several of the original Greek and Hebrew words from the Bible which often give fresh insights into these familiar stories.
I’m grateful to Andy Lee, Leafwood Publishers, and Netgalley for access to a complementary digital copy of this book. I only share books here that I believe will genuinely be beneficial to my readers.