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Jerusalem 44 A.D.
She sat outside for over an hour meditating, praying and remembering. The rising sun wrapped her in a warm cocoon that threatened to lull her back to sleep. Mary arched her back and stretched. She ran her hands over the cream-coloured pillow covering her precious bench and yawned. Joseph had surprised her with the bench the first year they were married. They would often sit together in the early morning hours, when the rest of the world was still asleep and the sun was waking up.
How she longed for those times again, when Joseph would take her hand and they would begin the day in prayer and dedication to Yahweh. My sweet Joseph, how I long to hear your voice and feel your embrace once more.
She had known Joseph for most of her life. In a village as small as Nazareth, it would have been unusual if their paths had never crossed. Older than her by twelve years, Joseph had watched Mary grow from a child into a beautiful young woman. With careful planning, he had placed himself in her life with the purpose of marrying her when she came of age. He had called her ‘Little Mary’ and she had called him her ‘Gentle Giant,’ names said with an affection that had grown into a deep and lasting love.
“You’re such a long way up, Joseph!” she would laugh. “I get a sore neck just looking at you, much less kissing you.”
Then one day he had come into the house and said, “Little Mary, I have a surprise for you, but first, you must close your eyes!” Mary obeyed and felt Joseph sweep her up in his muscular arms and place her on something soft and luxurious.
“Open your eyes now,” Joseph said, his brown eyes twinkling with excitement.
“Oh, Joseph!” For the first time in their marriage, she was able to look straight into his eyes.
“What is this?” She looked at her bare feet and wiggled her toes into the cream-coloured pillow that stretched across a new oak bench. A small gasp of surprise escaped her lips. “It is beautiful.” She sighed as she ran her hands along the back of the bench. “Hear O Israel…Oh, Joseph! You have carved the Shema into it. Oh, how precious.” She clasped her hands together and turned toward her husband. “You made me a prayer bench.” Her almond shaped eyes shone with delight.
“Ah, well … my motives are not that pure I am afraid.”
She tilted her head. “Oh?”
“Yes, I was thinking we could use it so you wouldn’t get a sore neck kissing me.” He wrapped his arms around her tiny waist pulling her close. “Or you could use it for praying.” He shrugged and smiled. “Your choice.”
She laughed and wrapped her arms around his neck. “I think for now I shall use it for kissing you and later I will use it for prayer.”
Mary sighed, a sleepy smile lingering on her face. They had dubbed it the kissing bench. They had thought it was something their children would laugh and giggle over in the years to come. What a wonderful life we made together!
It was a good marriage, despite its uncertain beginnings. So many events had happened in those early days that Mary could not imagine which memory she cherished most—the angelic visitation, the birth of Jesus, or his resurrection. The enormity of what had transpired in her life had humbled her more than she realized.
Of course, she would never cherish the memories of what they had done to her firstborn son. Forgiving them was easier than forgetting. She could never forget. How long had it been since that horrible day? She could still smell the blood and hear Jesus’ screams mingled with her own. Her chest grew tight with grief as she closed her eyes to dispel the images that had haunted her for the last eleven years.
She was fifty-eight years old and until six months ago had been with her nephew, the Apostle John, on a brief visit to Rome to strengthen the churches there. When the Emperor Claudius began expelling Jews from Rome, John had decided that she should return to his home in Jerusalem for her own safety.
“Poor John,” she muttered as she recalled the argument she had had with him over returning.
“It’s too dangerous for you in Rome now, woman!” He had pleaded with her all day and finally in anger and frustration gathered up her belongings and started stuffing them into a satchel. “As the mother of our Lord and a Jew, your life is in more danger than mine right now. This discussion is over. You will leave without any more arguments.”
Mary remembered folding her arms across her chest and swallowing the angry words that had threatened to spill from her lips. No one had ever talked to her in such a manner.
“John, if it is dangerous, why are you staying? Should I, the mother of the Messiah, become a coward and run to save my life when others are dying? It is not right. Your brother James was beheaded for proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah. I should do no less.”
“Jesus charged me with your safety, Aunt Mary. Would you have me dishonour my Lord by shirking my responsibilities?”
That was when she had seen the pain and anguish on his weathered face. She had finally understood. He could not bear losing her as he had his brother and so she submitted to his wishes.
He took her to Jerusalem, stayed for a while to help her adjust and then returned to Rome to minister to the churches there. She now spent her days with the other believers in Jerusalem, meeting together regularly for prayer and fellowship. Today she was expecting Luke, a Greek physician led to salvation through the Apostle Paul.
As she waited for his arrival, she kicked off her sandals and wiggled her toes. Although it had rained the night before, it was now a beautiful spring day. Mary loved the earthy smell in the air after a rainfall. It was a combination of mud, water and worms that oddly reminded her of the seaside. Breathing deeply, she leaned her head against the rough stone of John’s home, stretched out her bare feet and plopped them in the nearest puddle.
From the time she was a child, she had often gone barefoot through the hills of Galilee after it had rained, for she loved to squish her toes in the mud and feel the cool blades of grass on her feet. In Jerusalem a plot of grass was hard to come by, which made her miss her home in Nazareth all the more. Joseph had always worried that she might cut her feet on the sharp rocks, or sting them on the nettles hidden throughout the Galilean countryside.
She sighed and closed her eyes. Oh Joseph, my darling, there is no fear of that here.
“He is risen!”
Startled, Mary shielded her eyes from the sun and looked up to see a blonde, blue-eyed man, with a clean-shaven face and strong jaw line.
“He is risen indeed! You must be Luke. John has told me so much about you. Come to check up on me have you?” She smiled, grabbed the bowl of olives that sat beside her and put it on her lap.
Luke chuckled, his dimples showing off his chiselled features. “Actually, I just wanted the chance to meet my Lord’s mother – but don’t tell John. He thinks I’m here to inquire after your health.”
She laughed, her brown eyes sparkling. “You don’t fool me—either of you. John sends so many different people to check on my welfare that it’s a wonder I can remember all their names.”
She patted the bench inviting Luke to sit. Taking some olives from the bowl, Mary proceeded to pit them. Luke watched in fascination at how quickly her slender fingers worked.
“May I help?” He asked.
Raising her eyebrows, Mary stared at Luke for a moment, then nodded and placed the bowl between them. “Jesus used to like pitting olives too. He said he found it calming.” She giggled. “Unfortunately, he ate more than he pitted.”
Luke chuckled as he popped an olive into his mouth.
“I’ll tell you what I told Jesus,” she said, shaking her finger at him. “If you eat more than you pit, then you’ve just had your supper.”
“Well then, I’d best stop eating them, as I’m used to eating more than olives at my meals.”
“Get to work then and I might feed you more than olives!”
Content in an affable silence, they settled into their work. Luke immediately felt welcome, as if he had known Mary his whole life and he told her so. Mary blushed and thanked him.
“Oh, my goodness!” She suddenly jumped up from the bench and ran into the house.
Luke, perplexed at her sudden disappearance, continued pitting olives. He was about to follow her into the house when she returned with a basin of water to wash the dust off his feet. She knelt on the ground and removed his sandals. Embarrassed that the mother of the Lord was washing his feet, Luke swallowed his discomfort and allowed her to minister to him, remembering the lesson Jesus had taught his disciples the last night they were together.
When she finished, she proceeded to wash her own feet and then put her sandals back on. This led her to tell him about Joseph and his fear of her running barefoot.
“He was such a wonderful man,” she said. “He was a man who feared the Almighty, a good man—especially when I found myself with child.” She poured the dirty water from the basin onto the ground and then sat beside him. “You cannot begin to imagine what it was like during those days! I was fourteen years old, betrothed to a man much older than I and with child –but not with his child.”
She grew still and stared off into the distance. Luke gazed at her in silence, revelling in the fact that he was with the woman who had given birth to the Saviour of the world. He wondered how she had handled that night. Where was she when the labour had begun? Who had delivered the baby? Had there been any complications? Luke had so many questions, he hardly knew where to begin.
Mary’s eyelids dropped as she let her mind wander back to the night of Jesus’ birth. She had been surprised at the pain. In fact, she had never realized it would hurt so badly. Afterwards, oh afterwards, the reward of her son was so great that she had thought her heart would split wide open with love. The King of the world had been born to her!
Mary’s eyes flew open. Blushing, she smiled and said, “His birth—it amazes me still.”
“If you don’t mind my asking, what was it like back then? When you found out you were … um … with child?”
“It’s been over forty-four years since Jesus’ birth.” She shrugged. “Aside from my immediate family, I’ve never really talked to anyone about it before.” Mary sighed and pitted more olives as she contemplated how much she should tell the young doctor.
Faith and Family
Read Chapters 1 and 2 of Come to Me.
If you grew up in a Christian home, you probably said grace at your meals, attended church every Sunday, and had regular prayer and Bible study times. If you were like me, however, you only said grace when grandparents came to visit. Growing up, prayer times consisted of “Now I lay me down to sleep…” We learned The Lord’s Prayer in school. All of these things are good, but reciting prayers by rote and getting perfect attendance in Sunday school does not a Christian make. Faith in God and exercising that faith are essential to your Christian walk. So, how do we learn faith? Is it acquired through osmosis just by being part of a Christian family? Is it something that grows over time? How can we grow in faith? More importantly, how do we instill our faith in God in our children and other family members?
In the selected chapters for today, we get a brief glimpse of what married life was like for Mary. We consider her concerns as she thinks about her marriage to Joseph. We see a willing worker and faithful servant of God.
It is eleven years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Come to Me opens with Mary lost in thought as she waits for the apostle Luke to arrive. As you read these chapters, remember Mary lived in a small community of about 400 people. She probably knew everyone in her village. In fact, most extended families lived close to one another. As she reflects on her life, keep this in mind.
Chit-Chat: When you were growing up, who taught you about God? How important was God in your family?
“4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
This is called the Shema. It is a term given to a set of daily prayers recited by members of the Jewish faith. The Shema is recited twice a day, during morning and evening prayers and is the last thing on the lips of the dying. It is considered a commandment, or mitzvah, separate from the commandment simply to pray. Joseph had carved this prayer into Mary’s bench. What do these verses mean to you?
Take a moment to examine yourself. Do you remember what it felt like when you first fell in love? I do. My relationship with my husband was a long distance one, and we ran up some very expensive phone bills talking to each other every day. I couldn’t stand being away from him. He was always on my mind. My heart soared when the phone rang, and when I saw him in person, I was over the moon. I loved my husband with all my heart, soul, and mind. My question to you is this: Do you love God that way?
As the stepson of a devout Jew, Jesus would have been under Joseph’s instruction and that of the local leaders of his synagogue. The Shema would have been one of the first prayers Joseph taught Jesus. As we read further in the verse, we can see why Jesus knew the Scriptures so well. Moses had just given the Israelites the Ten Commandments.
“4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
In addition to loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, what does verse six command?
What does verse seven command parents to do?
Verse eight commands, “Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.” Today you will see Orthodox Jews doing just that. Some wear little boxes on their heads called tefillin. They also wear leather straps on their arms in obedience to this command, all to remind them to love the Lord and obey Him. This is the background Jesus came from. His life was steeped in tradition and the Torah (Old Testament). His parents, who were chosen by God, would have taught him well.
Look at verse seven again. How was Jesus’ life an example of the Shema?
As Mary waited for Luke, she recalled her conversation with her nephew John. You might be surprised to discover that James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” as Jesus called them, were actually His cousins. The next few scriptures will help you discover this for yourself.
“21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matthew 4:21-22).
“These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John” (Matthew 10:2).
What were the names of Zebedee’s sons?
“55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons” (Matthew 27:55-56).
Who was present at the cross?
“40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome” (Mark 15:40).
Look at the previous verse again and then read the one above. What was the name of Zebedee’s wife?
Who were Jesus’ cousins?
As discussed earlier, Nazareth was a very small village and extended family members tended to live close to each other. While this wasn’t always the case – Mary’s cousin Elizabeth lived more than 100 kilometers away from her – it was the norm. Already we see the close family ties Jesus grew up with and how the strong ties of faith in God kept them together.
“1 And God spoke all these words: 2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 You shall have no other gods before me.4 You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments’” (Exodus 20:1-6).
In the novel, Luke is worried that his respect for Mary would turn into adoration or worship. The early converts in Antioch, particularly the women, had this problem, as the book suggests. But what does God say about idol worship?
What do we learn about God from the verses above?
Put yourself in Mary’s shoes. She is a servant of God and a Jewess, brought up to honour God and place Him first. How do you think she would react to people worshipping her?
Is the veneration of Mary scriptural or in any way appropriate for Christians?
Tradition tells us Mary was a young girl of no more than fourteen or fifteen. Some scholars suggest she may have been as young as twelve. Her betrothal to Joseph was not how we view engagements today. It was a binding contract. Most betrothals lasted for a year or more. During this time, Mary was considered by all to be Joseph’s wife, even though she still lived at home with her parents and they had not yet consummated their marriage.
Mary is like any young teenager thinking about her wedding day. Contrast this with the promiscuous lifestyle of today’s teens. What is the missing element in teenage lives today that has led to such immoral behaviour?
What or who are the major influencers of this behaviour?
Having a better idea now of how Jesus was raised, we know how important a role parents have in instructing their children spiritually. Teaching them to believe in God and to obey Him is one thing. Being an example of faith to them is another. What can you do this week to show your children, family, or friends that you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind?
Prayer: Lord, faith and family go hand in hand. Help us give You first place in our lives. Help us be an example to our children and a witness to our neighbours as we live out our faith. Keep us from putting anything else above you. May You find us faithful when You come again. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Laura Davis’ Bio
Laura J. Davis is a former singer/songwriter turned full-time writer. Her first book Come to Me, is a Reader’s Favorite Award Winner for Historical fiction and is an Amazon Best Seller for Biblical Fiction. Learning from the Master: Living a Surrendered Life is the companion Bible Study Guide to Come to Me and makes an excellent resource for Bible Study Groups or Book Clubs when used with the novel. When Laura isn’t writing she loves sharing the Word of God with others and encouraging women in their spiritual growth. You can contact her to speak at your next event through her website.