Thursday, June 23, 2022

Demolishing the Walls of Suspicion

I recently finished reading one of the most disarming treatments of Mary the Mother of Jesus I’ve ever encountered. Written in 2006, Scott McKnight has won my heart by modeling gentleness and compassion toward those who relate to the Mother of Our Lord differently than he does. In “The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace The Mother of Jesus”, Dr. McKnight simply refuses to look at his Catholic brothers and sisters with suspicion. Surely others have done the same, but I’m not sure they’ve done it quite so well.

As a recent convert to the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic folds, I’ve been questioned about my understanding of Jesus’ mother more than practically anything else. My Protestant brothers and sisters are often genuinely puzzled at certain Orthodox and Catholic practices and apparent beliefs. Perhaps from now on I’ll simply recommend they read this book if they’re open to it, rather than have me try to explain. 

The Real Mary was very easy to read and touched upon so many of the things we can agree upon about Jesus’ Momma. The book dove deeply into scripture to get a sense of where Mary was coming from as a young Jewish girl in the first century. From there it allowed us to imagine how strange Jesus’ approach to being the Messiah must have seemed to her and the other disciples. These are very important things to consider when examining what we know about her from the Gospel narratives.

What really struck me however was when Dr. McKnight turned to the many things about which various Christian communities have come to disagree regarding Mary. What genuine love and gentleness has shone through here! Going even further he couples that with a true desire to put those he disagrees with in the best possible light. In essence he has taken great strides toward tearing down the walls of suspicion that have been built during the past five centuries between Protestants and Orthodox/Catholics. What a gift you have been to us Dr. McKnight!

A mere twelve years after McKnight’s book hit the shelves, another excellent effort at reaching across the Protestant - Catholic divide was published by Dr. Brant Pitre. In his book “Jesus and The Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah” he explains that without an understanding of Mary and Jesus’ Jewishness, we as post-modern westerners have little chance of understanding them.

It is interesting that I read Dr. Pitre’s book about the same time I visited the Holy Land. Our Pastor on that journey encouraged us to read O’Brien and Richard’s book “Misunderstanding Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible”. 

All three of these books affected me profoundly as I toured the Holy Land where everything seems to make scripture pop and come alive. While I certainly cannot completely remove my western tinted glasses or climb into the heart and soul of a first century Jew, these writings took me a few steps in that direction.

Dr. Pitre’s work took what I learned in both of the other titles to an even deeper dive into the Jewish Bible and its supporting literature. I was able to see where my current American cultural norms truly blinded me to things that would have been positively obvious to any first century Jew with even a basic training in the Torah. In fact, it would greatly interest me to know how Dr. McKnight and authors O’Brien and Richard would respond to Dr. Pitre’s work. Sounds like a great YouTube discussion in the making doesn’t it? Well, perhaps only for people like me, fair enough!

The common denominator in all three of these works is a tearing down of the walls of hostility between the various strains of the Christian faith. There seems to be a genuine desire for true dialogue and understanding and I for one welcome it. It seems extremely timely considering the world we live in today. I believe building bridges between the various Christian denominations is more important now than ever, which is why I have been experimenting with tiny ways of doing that and writing about it in the “Building Bridges” section.

I think the Mother of Jesus would approve of these books as well. After all, if God is our Father and Jesus is our brother then in a sense we are all her spiritual children. Mommas love it when their kids get along.

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