We’ve heard the stories so many times that their plots no longer phase us.
Five husbands? Sure.
Jewish women publicly washing the Messiah’s feet in costly oil? Why not?
A show-down in the temple between Grace and Law? Yeah, it’s fun when Jesus outsmarts the Pharisees.
A desperately ill woman healed in a crowd with just a touch? Well, um . . . this is the Bible isn’t it?
The Day I Met Jesus opens the imaginary diaries of five New Testament women, allowing us to relive their stories in real time with the benefit of Mary Demuth’s imaginative back story added to set the scene and provide depth. (If you have ever enjoyed reading Ellen Gunderson Traylor, you will find these stories to be delightful.) The actual scripture text follows the story and is then skillfully unpacked by Frank Viola. He alludes to Old Testament background passages, biblical themes found in the story, and helps his readers to place the event in the great arc of redemptive history. Questions have been provided for each chapter to facilitate individual study or group discussion.
I found that my empathy for the five New Testament women was enhanced by reading the historical and cultural context behind their story. In addition, Demuth’s sanctified imagination provided very probable and believable circumstances leading them up to the day they met Jesus:
1. The woman caught in adultery was an abused wife who became a Christ-follower and a witness to the crucifixion, longing to shout, “He who is without sin, crucify this man!”
2. The prostitute who crashed Simon the Pharisee’s party and anointed Jesus’ feet with oil is portrayed as a victim of rape and, therefore, a teenage runaway. She learns of a Man who loves outcasts, and following Him, her hungry heart found hope and forgiveness in His gentle teaching on a hillside. Finally free of her shame, she wanted nothing more than to give Jesus her greatest gift.
3. The early church named the Samaritan woman Photine [Foteenie] which means “enlightened one.” As a result of her divine appointment at the well, this desperate woman who, after six failed relationships, had used up all her chances in life, finally encountered her true Husband — and a Samaritan community met their Messiah.
4. Tradition has christened the woman with a flow of blood Veronica, and, looking over her shoulder as she writes a final letter to her granddaughter, the reader is invited to relive the years of her shame and anguish. Ceremonially unclean and suffering from infertility in a culture where either affliction was devastating, Veronica’s desperation created in her an inspiring (and enviable) depth of faith and determination.
5. Most well-known of the five, but perhaps least understood, is Mary of Bethany who reminds us that even those closest to Jesus are not exempt from disappointment and testing of faith. Whenever she appears in scripture, Mary honors Christ in a way that demonstrates his true worth.
In The Day I Met Jesus, the reader’s eyes are opened to a way of reading the Bible that most of us miss. Spare narratives, nameless characters, and minimal backstory, if taken at face value as mere words on a page, will become “just another story.” With these five memoirs to prime the pump, I’m encouraged to dig deeper into the cultural context, the unspoken motivations, and the presuppositions that drive the characters’ words and actions. Naturally, the point of these five revealing diaries is not merely to record history, but rather to encourage the reader to consider his or her own meeting with Jesus. Is it a warm memory of an event that has little significance in the present? Was it the first meeting in a series of daily encounters that continue to shape your life? Is it yet to occur? Jesus welcomes the powerless, the marginalized, the outcast; the educated, the influential, and the elite. He will welcome you.
This book was provided by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my unbiased review.