What happened to the daughter of Herodias after she received the head of John the Baptist on a platter? Did she ever dance again? Did the blind man, Bartimaeus, have a wife? If so, what did she think of her husband’s sudden ability to see? Was she overjoyed or disturbed? And if Zacchaeus had a daughter, did she climb up the tree with her dad to see Jesus that day? If so, what did she think of Jesus? The award-winning writer Kathy Coffey explores these questions and many more in her new book, More Hidden Women of the Gospels. (Coffey’s earlier book, Hidden Women of the Gospels, was a best seller.)
The book has been described as “a book of contemporary midrash.” Coffey ponders a story from the gospels and imagines what the hidden women were thinking, doing, and feeling. Such imaginings help us to dig deeper into these familiar stories and connect the characters to our own lives. Using this Midrash technique is another way of reading the scriptures that can be refreshing and inspiring. Let me share just one of the chapters with you here, the one on Mrs. Bartimaeus (Mk. 10:46-52).
When her blind husband, Bart, calls out to Jesus from the crowd, Mrs. Bartimaeus is embarrassed. In fact, she tries to shush her husband, thinking, “Why couldn’t he hide (his need) politely, as all the rest of us had learned to do?” When Jesus calls him to come forward, Bart throws aside his cloak and leaps toward Jesus. His wife wonders, “Was he crazy to think this guy might help him?” She can’t bear to see her husband being “shamed and disappointed in front of a crowd,” so she leaves and goes home. Only a little later does she hear of Bart’s healing.
That’s when she begins to worry about many things. Now that her husband can see, will he be disappointed in her? After all, she’s changed so much since he last saw her as a young woman. She’s put on weight, her hair is gray, her face is wrinkled. But when Bart appears at their door, he rushes toward her eagerly and draws her into his arms “as though I were his bride.” He kisses her hair, telling her how beautiful she is.
Despite her husband’s affection for her, Mrs. B. is still disturbed. When Bart was blind, he had made a decent living as a beggar. Now what would they do to support themselves? Would he expect her to start some sort of career? Furthermore, for years she had been her husband’s eyes. He had relied on her to get around. Now that he could see, would he still need her? She adds, “We had a system for coping; now he’d wrecked it.”
Over time, Mrs. B. gets used to her husband’s “wild enthusiasm for everything he can see.” He takes nothing for granted—vegetables, sunrises, the stars, the patterns in the clouds, and even insects. She says, “Part of me wishes he’d shut up, but another part wants to see everything as freshly as he does.” In the end, she is “tempted to echo her husband’s words to Jesus, ‘Master, I want to see.'”
In her commentary on the story, Coffey raises questions about our human resistance to change, the “cost” that is often involved in healing, and Jesus’ attention to individuals. At the end of the chapter, she has excellent questions for reflection and discussion.
In her introduction to the book, Coffey says she was pleased that her first book appealed across denominational and gender lines. The universal appeal of her stories recalls the words of Fr. Anthony de Mello: “…the shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story.” If you are a human being and you are seeking Truth, Coffey’s book, More Hidden Women of the Gospels, might help you in your quest.
Did any words in this reflection stand out for you? If so, which ones and why?
Could you identify with any of Mrs. Bartimaeus’ thoughts and feelings with regard to her husband’s cure?
Did any of the pictures grab your attention?
Do you ever use the Midrash technique when you ponder the scriptures? If so, has it enriched your pondering?
PS #1: Some of you have asked about retreats and talks I will be giving. I will lead a virtual retreat sponsored by the Portiuncula Center for prayer in Frankfort, IL on Feb 11-12, 2022. Check the information at the right of this page and their website for details. As soon as I have finalized my other talks and retreats for this year, I will post them on this blog. I thank you for your interest!
The song today is a new one by Francesca Battistelli entitled “God Is Good.” Those three words were one of St. Julie Billiart’s favorite sayings. (Julie is the “Spiritual Mother” of my congregation.) It’s easy to say “God is good” when things are going our way. How much harder it is to believe those words when we’re experiencing major challenges or heart-wrenching losses in our lives. The song reminds us, “There is beauty in it all… you just have to look… God is with me through it all.”
I welcome you to write a comments below on anything that struck your fancy as you reflected on today’s post….