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Oh Mary, were you favoured?

Written by Nicky Geldard  | 

 

“Mama, Papa,” Mary’s soft voice called out in search of her parents. “Where are you? I need to speak with you.”

 

It was the middle of the day, so Mary headed for the rear of their small house where her mother was serving the midday meal. Her father greeted her with a grin and a quick instruction to help. Her mother visibly relaxed at the sight of Mary’s approach and thrust the baby into her hands, “Just hold her for me, Mary, she’s been fussing and I need to get your father some food.”

 

Mary gazed into the eyes of her small sister and watched the cherub lips make small suckling motions. She took a deep breath and said quickly, “I need to go to our cousin, Elizabeth.”

 

Mary’s father looked up, suddenly intent on Mary’s face. Her mother’s frantic activity came to a sudden halt. “Why, Mary?”

“She is with child.”

“What!?” Mary’s father was incredulous, “But she is too old to bear a child! Where did you hear this news, Mary?”

The reply was low, “An angel told me.”

Mary’s parents exchanged glances. “Mary. Do you not feel well?” Her mother put an arm around her and led her to a stool.

 

“That is not all he said,” now that she had told them about the angel Mary was determined to finish the story. “He said that Adonai has found favour with me and I am to bear a child,” at this her voice wavered, “I am to call him the Son of the Most High.[1] Oh Mama, Papa, he will be the Messiah we have been waiting for.”

 

Two white faces stared at her, barely breathing. Then her mother said, “Mary, are you with child?”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Have you missed your flux?”

“No, Mama – but I know that I am with child. The angel told me it would be so. And…” here she stammered, “The Holy Spirit came upon me[2] and, and, I just know that I am.”

 

Mary’s parents exchanged glances then spoke as if she wasn’t there. “Let her go to Elizabeth – if she is truly with child then she will appreciate the help.”

“And Mary? What if, what if…” Mary’s mother couldn’t say the outcome they both dreaded.

“She says she hasn’t missed her flux yet, maybe it was an hallucination, maybe we have nothing to worry about.”

“But, what if…?” Mary’s mother anticipated the shame should Mary truly be pregnant.

“I will speak to Joseph, we will get to the bottom of this.”

 

And so Mary went to her cousin Elizabeth. She travelled from Nazareth in the north to the hill country of Judea in the south – a distance of approximately 110-160 kilometres.[3] One source suggests a person could traverse up to 30 kilometres a day[4], so the journey may have taken Mary four to five days. If she had accompanied a caravan, she may have made the journey in three days. Regardless of the detail, it is enough to note that the young Mary made this journey in haste. She didn’t wait long after receiving the angelic visitor’s news before she set off to visit Elizabeth.[5]

 

Middle Eastern culture is communal and operates on a shame-pride understanding.[6] As Kenneth Bailey explains, “The child is not told, ‘That’s wrong!’ but ‘Shame on you!’ Certain acts bring shame and others bring honour on the family. He or she is to avoid shame and defend honour.”[7]

 

Mary’s haste to see her cousin, Elizabeth, may have had something to do with the realities of this culture. When it was discovered that she was pregnant, it would have brought deep shame to her family. She and Joseph were not yet married so the child would have been seen as illegitimate. One author has noted that, “Her pregnancy wounded the people she loved best and jeopardized her reputation and even her safety. Back then, a women found unfaithful could be stoned to death…But this was only the beginning.[8]

 

The humble birth of Jesus in a stable, amongst the animals, with a celestial light serenely beaming has been the stuff of plays and pageants, songs and poems, stories and paintings for centuries. We have told and retold the story until it has taken on a romantic haze. The reality of it would have been…unorthodox, in a word. To be born “among straw and animal dung”[9] without “even the most basic amenities or the customary female attendants to soothe her brow, grip her hand through the worst contractions, or bathe and swaddle her newborn”[10] – this would not have been Mary’s expectation or wish for her son or herself. And yet, this was the way God chose to enter our cosmos. It was the most humble beginning imaginable for the great I AM.

 

When Mary was first told that she was to bear the Saviour of the World, the angel Gabriel greeted her with these words, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”[11] Gabriel again repeated this sentiment when he said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God.”[12]

 

Favour. I’ve been thinking on that word for a few weeks now as I’ve contemplated Mary’s journey from the first glorious visitor to the agony of the cross. Favour? How so?

 

Kristi McLelland explains that whispers would have followed Mary all throughout her life.[13] Because, really, how could Messiah come through a poor, young woman from Nazareth? It didn’t make sense. She and Joseph must have, you know…Or what if it wasn’t Joseph? She seemed like an innocent, such a good girl – but those are the ones that always surprise you!

 

Whispers, accusations, shame. Some scholars believe Jesus himself faced those same accusations when talking to his opponents about freedom from sin. The charge was laid to him that, “We (as opposed to you) are not illegitimate children,”[14] or as the King James puts it, “We be not born of fornication.” A comment that was “perhaps a cutting accusation about Jesus’ own heritage.”[15] This shame had longevity.

 

Added to the whispers was the reality of life. An unconventional birth in a stable and Simeon’s disturbing words when an eight-day-old Jesus was presented in the temple, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (italics mine).[16] Then there was the flight to Egypt because of a mad king’s power lust.[17] After that, when Jesus was 12, Mary and Joseph lost track of him for three days.[18] Any parent knows how heart-stopping losing a child is, let alone for three days, let alone the fact he was entrusted into their care by God Almighty!

 

Favoured?

 

It took thirty years before Jesus began his public ministry. Before that, we have one sentence: “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.”[19] Francine Rivers has written a beautiful story on Mary’s journey with Jesus and the confusion she must have experienced as she waited and waited and waited for him to reveal himself.[20] While she knew him as the Promised One, everyone else saw him as a carpenter from Nazareth, the son of Joseph.[21]

As you read through the gospels, you’ll see, “the Mary trying to sort out her relationship with Jesus, constantly thrown off balance by things he said and did, who struggles to come to terms with her identity as a mother and as a follower of Jesus. Her son turned out to be more of a challenge than she ever expected.”[22]

 

And then there was the cross. Never will I forget viewing Mel Gibson’s, The Passion. Mary’s agony as she witnessed her little boy tortured, jeered at and then brutally murdered was juxtaposed with her memories of a small Jesus. It twists my insides just to think about the depth of her pain. “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” She had been run through, dead but alive, breathing but her heart had been severed. Oh Mary, were you favoured?

 

We see two Greek words used in Gabriel’s address to Mary that have been translated ‘favour’ in our English Bibles: kecharitomene[23] and charis[24] – both words mean ‘grace’. Gabriel’s words to Mary indicate that she was a recipient of God’s grace.[25]

 

The grace she received was not so much that she was considered worthy to be the mother of the Messiah[26], for that journey was braided with pain. But she was graced with the privilege of intimately knowing Jesus and watching as He transformed the world.

 

He saw those that had not been considered worthy of note. He brought healing into a brutal world, he challenged self-seeking authority, he redefined humanity. And Mary not only witnessed it, she was also a recipient of this heavenly grace. She stood on the edge of the before and the not yet. She straddled the divide of the world prior to grace and the world after Grace appeared. Mary knew what it was like to live in a world where the marginalized were oppressed and she saw the world as her Son changed it. She was the instrument God chose as He threw open Heaven’s gates. Blessed indeed. Favoured indeed. Graced, for all time.

 

God’s favour is not how we might interpret favour – it is not comfort or ease or painless living – it is finding our worth within His grace. Mary was favoured, not because Jesus belonged to her but because she belonged to him.

 

As you dive into the busy Christmas season, take heart that the grace offered to Mary, is also offered to you. It was love that motivated God’s great gift to our tired and broken world. It was love that appeared in the guise of a tiny baby. And it is grace that gives us access to that love. Courage, dear heart, you belong to Him and it is there you will find your worth.

 

 

 



[1] Luke 1:28-32

[2] Luke 1:35

[3] Liz Curtis Higgs, The Women of Christmas

[4] blog.logos.com

[5] Luke 1:39 NIV

[6] Kristi McLelland, Women and Jesus in the First Century and Now

[7] Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes

[8] Carolyn Curtis James, “Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength and Significance Through Their Stories”

[9] Luter and McReynolds, “Women as Christ’s Disciples”

[10] Carolyn Curtis James, “Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength and Significance Through Their Stories”

[11] Luke 1:28 NIV

[12] Luke 1:30 NIV

[13] Kristi McLelland, Women and Jesus in the First Century and Now, podcast 7

[14] John 8:41 NIV

[15] The Baker Illustrated Bible Handbook

[16] John 2:34-35 NIV

[17] Matthew 2:13-18 NIV

[18] Luke 2:41-50 NIV

[19] Luke 2:52 NIV

[20] Francine Rivers, Unafraid

[21] Luke 4:22 NIV

[22] Carolyn Curtis James, “Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength and Significance Through Their Stories”

[23] Luter and McReynolds, Women as Christ’s Disciples

[24] Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan, Women in the New Testament

[25] Luter and McReynolds, Women as Christ’s Disciples

[26] Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan, Women in the New Testament

Posted by Nicky Geldard

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GRACE UPON GRACE UPON GRACE

Written by Nicky Geldard  | 

She sat alone, huddled up in the corner of the room. Watching the first rays of morning light steal across the floor, she shuddered. What would this day bring? She heard footsteps, cowering in the corner, she covered herself with the skimpy garments she still wore. The door was shoved open and a sneering voice cut through her, “Get up, whore.” As she staggered to her feet, the men filling the room sneered at her. “Strip her,” a rough pair of hands tore at her clothing, revealing her breasts. “Get her out, let’s see what he makes of this.”

 

Cruel laughter followed her as she walked, bearing her shame for all to see. The crowds knew she was charged with adultery – why else would a group of Pharisees be herding a half-naked women down the street? “Whore”, “Filth”, “Disgrace” – the insults followed her as she stumbled down the road. She knew the price for her indiscretion – the Law of Moses demanded that she be stoned. The crowds followed, ever keen to see an execution. Who would decide her fate? Where were they taking her?

 

Her question was soon answered – the temple courts, of all places. Not only was there a crowd of people listening to a Rabbi, but there were Pharisees, teachers of the law and Roman soldiers on patrol, scanning the crowd for trouble. Her shame doubled, fear choked her as rough hands pushed her in front of the Rabbi. She dared not look up.

 

“Teacher,” the voice dripped with sarcasm. “This women was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such a women. Now, what do you say?”

 

Bile rose in her throat, it was a trap. Whoever this Rabbi was, the Pharisees were clearly trying to trick him. She should be punished, she knew that. She had committed adultery, knowing full well the consequences should she, they, be caught. But, with the Roman soldiers looking on, this Rabbi dare not condemn her to death. The Jews were not allowed to pass judgment and execute a person without Rome making the final decision.[1] What would the Rabbi do – obey Moses or Rome? Either way, he would lose, she would lose. Would he defy the law of Moses in the very courts of the temple? Or would he be arrested for not following Roman law?

 

Tension filled the air. The soldiers, sensing a riot, watched as the Rabbi stood, then bent down and wrote in the sand. Being the eighth day of the feast, Sabbath rules were at play. This Rabbi clearly knew what was expected. While he wasn’t allowed to ‘work’ by writing on paper, writing in the dust was acceptable.[2] The Pharisees sniffed, clearly put out. What was he doing? They couldn’t deny this strict observance of the Law. Maybe he understood more than they gave him credit for?

 

“Give us an answer,” one Pharisee demanded. “Moses or Rome?” another called out. “C’mon, what are you waiting for?” The Pharisees were getting restless. The Rabbi stood, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” The crowd gave an audible gasp.

 

Stoning, by custom, was a communal act – by everyone playing a part in the execution it meant that family could not retaliate against any one person.[3] But the Rabbi was asking for each man to take personal responsibility for his part in stoning the woman. No man would risk the wrath of the Romans by throwing the first stone. Also, no man dare claim he was sinless by stoning her, he would be remembered to his shame. Isaiah, the great prophet, was clear on that: “All we like sheep have gone astray,” – nobody, not even a Pharisee, would contradict their tradition.[4]

 

The air crackled with tension. The Rabbi had not only seen the trap the Pharisees had laid before him, but he had posed a problem to them that they could not answer. He knelt again, and continued writing. One by one, their faces seething with anger, the Pharisees melted away. The crowd started murmuring, the woman forgotten.

 

She started to weep, silently, covering herself the best she could. The shock was too much for her. Expecting a violent and painful death, she now stood alone. But, not completely alone. The Rabbi stood before her and spoke to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” The kindness in his voice startled her and she glanced up to see compassion and love radiating out of the warmest pair of eyes she had ever seen. “No one, sir,” she answered, just barely getting the words out. “Then neither do I condemn you,” she was struck by his gentleness. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

 

And that is where the story ends. You will find it in John 8. It’s a story that reveals many things about the culture of the time, the Pharisees, legalism, etc., but it’s ultimately a story about grace. And not just one act of grace, there is grace upon grace layered throughout the story.

 

The woman is shamed – her guilt on display for all to see. It was tradition to strip to the waist anyone caught in the act of adultery[5] – and so, here she was, her shame laid bare. But she is just a pawn in a wider game – the Pharisees are really out to trap Jesus. Kenneth Bailey, author of Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, explains that: “in any culture, one of the quickest ways to get into trouble is to humiliate powerful people on their own turf.” This is what Jesus did, and by doing it, he put the target on his own back.

 

The woman was laid bare for all to see. The man that she had committed adultery with was nowhere to be seen. No one stood in her defense. She was to be used and then killed. Humiliated and then cast aside. The pit was about to engulf her.

 

And then, and then…Jesus.

 

I don’t know in those days if they used the analogy of a knight in shining armor sweeping in to save the damsel in distress, but that’s essentially what happened. The woman certainly did not expect to be rescued. She would have been as stunned as you or I would be if Superman turned up to rescue us from deadly peril. Jesus’ intervention in her story literally saved her life.

 

But not only did Jesus save her physically, he took the accusations and anger aimed at her and turned it on himself. In humiliating the Pharisees, he drew their gaze and their wrath. Initially, she was the object of their scorn and ridicule. By the end of the encounter, the Pharisees had completely forgotten about her – Jesus was the irritation they determined to be rid of. It was grace upon grace. The Pharisees would come back for Jesus, they now had him firmly in their sights, but she was free because of his costly sacrifice.

 

The third act of grace in this story is perhaps the most remarkable. Jesus was the only one that could have thrown a stone given the requirements he stipulated for qualification, but he didn’t. Instead, as William Temple says, “It was not a formal acquittal, it was a refusal to judge…He alone was entitled to condemn; and he did not. But neither did he condone.” Instead, he left her with a challenge to walk away from the sin that nearly cost her life: “Go now and leave your life of sin.” It owes you nothing – it owns you no longer.

 

Jesus saved her life, he took the accusations aimed at her upon himself, and he freed her soul. He offered her grace upon grace upon grace.

 

We don’t know what happened to the woman, she is not mentioned again in scripture. We don’t know how she reacted to her encounter with Jesus. But I think that’s a telling part of this story. It’s not about what SHE did, it’s all about what Jesus did. He offered her grace – not dependent on her status, perceived worth or reception – but grace that was unmerited, undeserved and unlimited. Freely offered, no-strings-attached, intoxicating grace. It cost her nothing. It cost him everything.

 

This story tells us how Jesus reacted to one soul in deep need, standing, literally stripped bare before Him. It tells us that he sees our deepest shame – the guilt we hide behind closed doors, the wrong we willfully do – and still, he offers grace.

 

So be brave. Take heart. Lift your face and simply receive.
Grace washes over you – not condemning, not condoning – Grace frees you.

 

 

 



 

[1] NIV Study Bible notes, John 8:6

[2] Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes

[3] Everyday Life in Bible Times

[4] Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes

[5] Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

 

 

 

 

 

To read more blogs from Nicky check out:

Scandalous Love

Your worth is not what you do!

Posted by Nicky Geldard

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CANCER WILL NOT HAVE THE FINAL WORD FOR MY DAUGHTER!

Written by Carrie Kittinger  | 

I am so pleased to shine the spotlight on my dear friend and fellow blogger Carrie Kittinger from Tulsa, Oklahoma! We met at the 'She Speaks' conference in North Carolina a few years ago and I loved her straight away! She is an incredible woman of faith who leaves you inspired and encouraged after every conversation PLUS she has a mischievous side which is so important in a friend! This is her story of courage and faith in the face of cancer.

Steph xx

 

CARRIE'S STORY

On January 31, 1997 we welcomed a precious baby girl into our family - Kellie Ann Kittinger. We were thrilled to have a daughter in addition to our son and I loved being a mom.

One of my struggles in life has been fear - especially fear of sickness and death. My biggest fear as a mom was facing a life threatening illness or accident with my kids. When Kellie was eleven years old we were at a routine visit to her pediatrician who found a nodule on her thyroid. After a series of tests, an endocrinologist informed us - in front of Kellie - that due to the size of the nodule and her age that the risk for cancer was high and surgery was needed.

The "C" word. Cancer. What? My daughter?

In the few weeks prior to the surgery we had such peace, especially as we heard great reports of so many benign thyroid nodules. After all, Kellie was a beautiful, precocious and healthy eleven year old. Our faith was high and many surrounded us in prayer.

I picked her up from camp the afternoon before her surgery without any looming fear - but nothing prepared my husband or me for the 6 hour surgery on July 3rd, 2008. What we thought would be 2 hours turned into 6 hours and our minds couldn't help but go to all of the potential hazards of the surgery.

Was it cancer? Was a nerve severed? Were her vocal chords damaged? Would she need a tracheotomy?

We were the first to be in the waiting room that morning yet we saw at least 4 other surgeons come in to tell other waiting families that all was okay and they could go to their child in recovery. When our time finally came Kellie’s surgeon didn't come out to speak with us. He sent a nurse to inform us that he wanted to meet with us in a back room.

The walk to that back room was the longest walk of our lives.

When Danny and I sat down the surgeon said, "It was cancer and I had to do a total thyroidectomy. I took some surrounding lymph nodes that are being tested to see if the cancer has spread. You can go see your daughter in recovery." Although those words were difficult to hear, we were thrilled that the surgery was successful and that there weren't any complications!

We had decided not to tell Kellie about the cancer until she was home and settled but the first words out of her mouth were, “Was it cancer?” We couldn’t lie, and she was devastated. “Why? We prayed it wouldn’t be!” Those are tough questions to work through with anybody but especially with a child.

When we found out that the cancer had spread to some lymph nodes, we felt blessed with the opportunity to get Kellie into a specialist at Boston Children's Hospital. A silver lining is that my parents live less than an hour from the hospital, especially since we live about 1,600 miles away. Of course, we saw many children there with worse situations but our daughter still had to walk this diagnosis out and questions still loomed in her mind.

I can honestly say that The Lord has provided for Kellie every step of the way. It has not been easy. It has not been convenient or pleasant. She has missed out on quite a bit for several summers when treatments were given, scans needed to be made, medicine had to be stopped and a very restricted diet had to be adhered to. But Each time, Kellie made it through and grew deeper in her walk with The Lord.

A passage of scripture that kept coming to me was from I Peter 1:6-7, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

A year after surgery, The Lord spoke very clearly and powerfully to Kellie's heart while at summer camp. She sensed very strongly that He had touched her and that she wasn't to worry any more about the Thyroid Cancer resurfacing.

The following summer we were in Boston for the typical medical routine. Kellie was counting the days to get back to a normal routine of eating and taking her medicine. Because she has no thyroid, being off of her medicine for almost 3 weeks is very taxing on her body. We were not prepared when her doctor called in 3 additional doctors to observe her scan and re-scan several areas. A few spots were found that they were concerned about. It was decided to keep her on the special diet and off of the medication for a few more days - not to mention the decision to endure a second treatment.

What? The Lord had clearly spoken that she was not to worry about the cancer returning and now disappointment and questions were flooding her heart and mine.

I had been reading earlier that week in Luke 1:45, “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” Just a few days later, this scripture flooded back to my mind as I began to encourage Kellie . She had heard from The Lord the year before at camp and He would accomplish what He had spoken to her. She was to trust that the Lord was working, regardless of the current situation.

On the way back to my parents from the hospital, Kellie was in the back seat in tears. Her teenage friends were vacationing and attending church camp and she was scheduled to endure another treatment. Reality had to be faced, but our focus needed to shift from the natural to the supernatural. Our hope had to be in The Lord and in His power to accomplish what He had spoken.

Our daughter amazed us that week. Kellie made a shift in her focus. She WALKED THROUGH with faith in her Lord to accomplish what He had spoken. It was and still is a process of walking it out - not of everything hard and difficult being instantly removed.

I have to trust that The Lord has been working something beautiful in my daughter through this process of Thyroid Cancer and subsequent doctor appointments and treatments. Strength and beauty have become the fruit of the difficult places in Kellie’s life and in mine.

Although I faced one of my biggest fears, I was able to walk through with unbelievable peace because Immanuel, God with us, was with me! Cancer did not and will not have the final word in Kellie’s ongoing story. She now faces her appointments with amazing bravery and a focus on the Lord’s promises to her. She faces them with a peace that can only come from knowing that the Lord is with her every step of the way. She now has a story to tell of the faithfulness of her Lord and Savior through the mountains and valleys of life.

Kellie Ann was rightly named. We had no idea what the meaning of her name was when we chose it over seventeen years ago, but now we know that we were declaring who she was created to be. Kellie means “brave, warrior woman” and Ann means “favor”. She can be brave because of the favor of the Lord upon her life!

In the first chapter of Luke we see that Mary chose to believe the angel’s words to her: she was favored of the Lord, He was with her, she was not to fear and she would be with child for “nothing is impossible with God”.

Whatever you are facing - you too are favored. The Lord is also with you. You are not to fear. Your situation is not impossible WITH God. Dare to take Him at His word. Dare to believe that He will accomplish what He has spoken. Dare to be brave!

 

 

 


To find out more about Carrie Kittinger or to subscribe to her blog check out her website carriekittinger.com

Posted by Carrie Kittinger