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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Hidden Women of the Gospels

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.

“As a blind beggar, Bart made a decent living…” (Photo by Timur Weber – Pexels)

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.

“Part of me wants to see things as freshly as he does–even insects…” (Photo by Pixabay)

For reflection:

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….


18 Responses

  1. Good morning Melanie well today’s blog really sending me the thoughts of women in the Bible I never thought of those women but it gives me something to think about this week and I love the song that really was good. Thanks so much and God bless you

  2. Thank you for this interesting book I will have to purchase!!! I like to sit at night before getting in bed reminiscing on things like this. And what Mary went through on her 7 Sorrows?!? Its hard to imagine. Thank you sooo much for your blog.
    Always fascinating.

  3. Years ago, Cathy Coffey gave a talk during a Women’s Retreat at our church. The midrash technique she taught us helps to deepen my understanding of a story.

    Francesca Battestelli is one of my favorite contemporary Christian artists because her lyrics describe common real-life situations that I can relate to. “This is the Stuff”, “Don’t Miss It”, “Behind the Scenes” and others pull me into the song in a way that is not unlike Cathy Coffey’s stories.

  4. I love imagining what else could have been in the Bible stories, particularly from a woman’s point of view. Helps us take a deeper dive into the Living Word.
    And the song is great! I added some of Francesca’s music to my playlist. God IS good. Thank you for helping share his goodness, every week!

  5. A friend and I discussed Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead. We wondered if people shunned him or welcomed him? If he was employed, did he get his job back? How did people respond to the mourning rituals? What were his response to being alive again? What physical changes happened to him?
    We never did have any answered but it was interesting to put that incident to up to date times!

    1. I can’t wait to get the book. Thank you. SR MELANIE
      YES as the song said, “God is Good”. As a former SNDdeNam, I think every day that God is Good. I will continue to look for how God shows, even in Lady bugs.

  6. And how did Herodias’ daughter feel about her mother after relaying her request? Was she scarred for life?
    Thank you for always giving us thought-provoking ideas.

  7. I don’t remember ever hearing about the Midrash technique when reading scripture. Will definitely explore this a bit today.
    The story you shared reminded me a bit of those women who live with alcoholism praying for their husbands, fathers, or children to stop drinking and then find the change just as challenging when they do.

  8. Good morning, Sr. Melannie…
    Good morning, all…

    I am a big fan of the midrash technique. I have used in writing several of my poems. I like it because it unlocks my spiritual imagination. In a way, we become storytellers of the story.

  9. I really related to this song. 3 years ago my husband had his leg amputated for vascular disease and has been in a wheelchair ever since. We made the necessary adjustments in our lives and have learned to cherish every day that we have together. He truly inspires me in accepting all his limitations now and his lose of independence. At 81, he is teaching sign language to seniors and taking ulelele lessons. God is indeed good.
    Thank you for your wonderful blogs each week… I look so forward to them.
    Gail Checkett

    1. Gail,
      I just couldn’t help smiling about your husband taking ukelele lessons at 81 and teaching sign language. What a beautiful way of adapting to a new reality in his/your lives. My husband was that kind of man, as well, although he was only able to be here till 79….he was always eager for something new.

      God bless you both,

  10. I never new my pondering. was called the Midrash Technique. I’ve always wondered about the cousins, John the Baptist and Jesus, getting together in their youth. Maybe only meeting 3 times a year in Jerusalem with their families.

  11. Good afternoon to all,

    I have done this type of reflecting on the widow who put in all she had to the coffers at the synagogue. Having had the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I pictured her living several miles out in some of the arid desolate area, in a tiny hovel where she had a few chickens from which she was able to collect and sell eggs for a living and every sabbath she trudged into the synagogue to share what she had with the people of God……walking up with humility to add her contribution. She has always been an inspiration to me.

    It makes the scriptures more real and alive for me.

    God IS good….always, even when “good” looks very unrecognizable to us!

    I wish you all the joy of lying in the cocoon of God’s love,

  12. I’ve not heard of midrash, however, this sounds a lot like what St. Ignatius calls imagination/contemplation of scripture, when you do something similar and look at some of the “other players” and wonder what they did, how they responded, etc. One example I had was the feeding of the 5,000, what ever happened to the boy that had the loaves and fishes? why did he have them? What happened when he got home without them? I never thought about it that way, and yet, he was a key player, but goes unnoticed……………which is of course what most of us should do, decrease so Christ can increase. Thank you for this today

  13. Hi Sr.Melannie

    One of the best courses I ever took was called “The Gospel of Mark as Literature” where everything was looked at as if the Gospel was read as a novel. All of the similar questions in the blog were asked and discussed in great detail …certainly helped understand the other characters in the Gospels when one was thinking about these people! I often used these in class to get the students thinking……
    I’ll have to get the books

  14. I’d never heard of midrash but what an interesting and refreshing way to read Scripture. It surely puts a new and refreshing slant on the stories. In reality, all any of us have is our stories.
    Loved the song!

  15. Has anyone been watching a show called The Chosen? It’s about the humanity of Jesus, highlighting His life as it might have been during His time. Absolutely beautiful, showing Jesus as a person as well as God. It’s being streamed (for free) on BYUtv.

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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