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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"The Day I Met Jesus" (Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth)

TITLE: The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels
AUTHOR: Frank Viola and Mary DeMuth
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2015, (208 pages).

History is very much a storytelling of the past. In some sense, Bible paraphrases do try to reveal past stories using modern language and contextual understanding. With imagination and prose, stories in the Bible can be given a dramatic re-telling without losing their theological significance. In this book, authors Viola and DeMuth retell the stories of five women from the gospels. Frank Viola is no stranger to storytelling, having written books like "God's Favourite Place on Earth" which retells Jesus' journeying in and out of Bethany. Mary DeMuth is a long time blogger and author who had written much about brokenness and abuse, and shares a unique perspective with regards to brokenness, regrets, hurts, and shame. It is one thing to read the gospel stories according to the perspective of the gospel writer. This book reveals the stories from the perspective of the five women. With DeMuth's expertise as a Christian fiction writer, the authors selected:
  1. The woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11)
  2. The prostitute who loved much (Luke 7:36-50)
  3. The desperate Samaritan woman (John 4:1-42)
  4. The woman with a flow of Blood (Matthew 9:18-22, Luke 8:42-49)
  5. The woman that Jesus loved (Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-7, 17-44)

Apart from a gripping re-telling of the stories, with many fictional details added in to make the scenes as realistic as possible, I find the lessons very helpful. In the story of the woman caught in adultery, readers will be appalled to find the deploring status of women in society. Why only the adulterous woman? Isn't adultery an act between two persons? What about the man? How is it fair for woman to be punished while the guy goes scot-free? Jesus cuts through all these prejudices and cares for every person, both male and female.  While he does not condone sin, he demonstrates compassion and bucks the status quo.

The second story of the prostitute begins with how the lust of men degrades the worth of women. Needing acceptance, the women instead found themselves being used as objects for the pleasures of men. Readers learn about the dangers and hypocrisy of self-righteousness. At the same time, there is the bountiful grace of Jesus that forgives. With a dramatic reverse of the ways of the world, Jesus gives us assurance that when the kingdom comes, all things will be made right and become new.

The third story retells the story of the woman at the well, and how Jesus stood tall despite the cultural scandals of the day. With Jews not supposed to speak with Samaritans, share a common cup with them, much less for a man to talk to a woman, as far as Jesus is concerned, a soul is a soul, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or citizenship. Viola and DeMuth even wrote a poem to celebrate the love of Jesus for this woman.

The fourth story of the woman with a tissue of blood begins with the woman unable to heal from her health issue despite going for various medical treatments. With the disease, compounded by poverty, the woman was lonely and rejected. Then, one day, filled with conviction that only Jesus can help her, she urged forward with determination, a faith so deep that all she needed is to touch the garments of Jesus, and she would be healed. From the tradition of the early Church, the authors called this woman, Veronica, whose name is associated with things of "faith, risk, and determination."

The final story is a touching story of what moved Jesus to tears. This is also where Viola shines in terms of his insights on Bethany, and the sisters Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus. Mary exemplifies the life of a disciple, one who is humble, teachable, and submissive to the calling of God. Mary's actions speak louder than words. She broke the alabaster jar to anoint Jesus. She sat at the feet of the Master. She wept uncontrollably when she met Jesus after losing her brother Lazarus.

So What?

Often, we would breeze through the stories of Jesus' encounter with the various women of the Bible, focusing on what Jesus is doing. What about understanding the unique positions of these women? Thankfully, this book is not like many other Bible study books that simply skim over the surface of the emotions of the women. Perhaps, it is because many of the study guides or commentaries are written by male authors, who are unable to empathize as much from a woman's perspective. This is why I commend Frank Viola for taking the initiative to invite Mary DeMuth as a co-author. Even if Viola is able to see from the woman's perspective, having a lady co-author will lend more credibility to a book of this nature.

If you are someone feeling downcast, unwanted, unaccepted, or simply lonely, let the stories of the five women in the gospels be an inspiration. More importantly, no matter how depressing or discouraging one's circumstances are, Jesus's love and compassion will break through in ways we can never expect. Just like the women had met Jesus in totally unexpected ways, perhaps, readers in our modern age can encounter Jesus uniquely.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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