As the story opens, it’s a perilous time for the Hebrews, who are slaves to a Pharaoh growing concerned about their increasing numbers. But at least one group of Hebrews isn’t playing by the Pharaoh’s rules. These Hebrew midwives “fear God”—they are so convinced that he is who says and can do what he says that they play by his rules instead of the Egyptian ruler. These women craftily defy Pharaoh’s order to kill all male children as they are born, telling him that Hebrew women bear children so quickly that they can’t get there in time to carry out his orders. Heh. But Pharaoh changes his orders, commanding all male Hebrew infants thrown into the Nile. This is when Jochebed* comes in. I can’t help thinking she’s remarkably like those midwives. (Some Jewish tradition suggests that she was even one of them.) She’s already a mother, with three-year-old Aaron and the prophetess-to-be Miriam (probably seven years old)—a lot to lose if she’s discovered disobeying Pharaoh. But like the midwives, Jochebed is defiant of the Egyptian who dares to kill the babies of her people, the children of the one true God. (And I wonder, just how does this daring mother—this woman who risks the wrath of Pharaoh on her family and friends—come upon her plan? Why the river—the very waters Pharaoh used to drown her people’s sons? Is it an act of blind desperation? Or does she have a dream or vision? Does her prophetess daughter—who herself will grow into a woman with whom to be reckoned—whisper an inspired word in her ear? Perhaps they see the Egyptian princess bathing one day and the plan begins to form. Any way you look at it, the plan is bold and risky, not only for her baby son but herself and her family as well.)
These are dangerous women. They defy a ruler’s order. They act with boldness and wit. They fear God and daringly walk in his ways. And, breathtakingly, the world changes.
I’ve recently mentioned Scot McKnight’s The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus, but it bears quoting again. Here, he’s writing about Mary in the context of her Magnificant—a song she sings after she conceives Jesus. The song is laced with political, spiritual and social declarations that run directly against “the powers that be,” and it’s a song that McKnight points out is to her culture and time as We Shall Overcome is to ours:
The real Mary was a dangerous woman. She was dangerous to the powers that be because she predicted the powers that will be. She was dangerous to the likes of Herod and Augustus, emperor of Rome, because she claimed that her son was born to be king. Her claim meant that neither Herod nor Augustus would be King.Dangerous women turn the wheel of history and threaten the fabric of societies operating without regard or in opposition to God’s rule. Dangerous women trust God. They trust that he is who he says and can and will do what he says he can and will do. They act with a mission and vision that sees what God can and will do. They mind the business of the world as they drip with Kingdom life and living. They are intensely engaged, taut with purpose, actors and forces with whom to be reckoned.
And, instead of sitting back hoping good things would happen for Israel, Mary turned the wheel of history to make things happen for Israel. This made Mary a dangerous woman with a mission to accomplish. As a dangerous woman, Mary threatened the fabric of the Jewish society and (however hard it might be to fathom) the Roman Empire.
Her vision made her dangerous to others, but it also put her life in danger. In fact, her vision put in jeopardy not only her life, but also that of everyone around her. Danger radiated from Mary . . . .
. . . Mary was not a “nice” girl. If “nice” means meek and mild and mind-your-own-business, then Mary was not nice. In fact, Mary scared “nice” passive girls because she was dangerously active. Instead of minding her own business, Mary was minding Herod’s and, as we will see, Caesar Augustus’s. And well into Jesus’ own ministry, we will see that Mary minded Jesus’ business, too.
Mary was not a “nice” girl. But most of us think she was.
McKnight ends his book about Mary with a call to seriously and thoughtfully think on her, to allow her courage and faith and awareness to empower our own faith and engagement with the world and people around us. Indeed, there is a deep part of me that wakens and stirs when I read the stories of Mary and women like Jochebed and the Hebrew midwives. I hear a call to be one of them, to walk beside them as we walk beside God in this world.
Far too often, however, I am distracted—shuffling along, “eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of” me (as Paul puts it Colossians 3:1 Message). But it is stories like these that reawaken me, compel me to “look up” and “be alert to what is going on around Christ” (3:2)—to seek out and join in what God is doing, to throw my entire being into the Kingdom. I find a renewal of purpose, faith and strength in these stories. And I find empowerment to live as they did, a dangerous woman, a woman with whom to reckon.
*There is some debate as to whether or not this is actually the name of the mother of Moses, but for ease of writing, I'll use that name.
(Images: from Pharaos Tochter-Die Auffindung Moses)