What If the Wise Men Were Women?
Shortly after Thanksgiving, when Christmas decorations were already in the stores and Christmas merchandise crowding the shelves, my twelve-year-old granddaughter with a twinkle in her eye asked me, “Grandpa, what if the Christmas wise men were women?”
I pleaded ignorance and she was quick to tell me, “They would have asked directions. They would have arrived on time, helped with the birth – and would have brought practical gifts.”
I chuckled and suggested that the practical gifts might be a carton of pampers, a baby rattle and a casserole. Much better, I thought, than frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11) – whatever they are, but gold (also Mt. 2:11) – or a check for that poor couple would be practical.
Let me say up front that this marvelous Christmas story is mythos. It’s not an historical account, but has deeply rich meanings. It contains a profound theological message. It is this: Jesus was fully human. Some Christians blanch at the thought of Jesus in diapers, or Mary nursing her baby at her breast, or giving birth through her vagina. They would like to think that Jesus just popped out of the womb miraculously and never pooped in his swaddling clothes. That’s heresy, of course; Jesus was completely human – and so was his mother.
Some Catholic Christians have made too much of Mary, and their maudlin, sentimental devotions to her are theological nonsense. But Mary’s story has much to teach us. After all she was an unmarried pregnant teenager. There are many families who could relate to that. Then thirty-three years later the state executed her son as a criminal. Too many poor and minority women have experienced that inconsolable pain. Finally, tradition tells us she was a widow – another model for many.
My granddaughter’s question about the wise women also points to something extremely significant: more than two thousand years after Jesus’ birth many Christian churches still have not allowed women their rightful place at the altar. Just think of the tumult today in many churches about ordaining women or allowing them in pulpits. Church sexism is alive and thriving. It’s a shame because women could help pastor a more efficient, compassionate and realistic church.
It’s not only women, however, who can learn from Mary. We all can. She said “yes” to uncertainty, to the unknown, knowing full well what her family and neighbors would think of a young girl pregnant and unmarried. And what would Joseph’s reaction be? The Jewish law at the time could have had her stoned to death.
At times we all wonder what others think of us and how they judge us. Most of us waste too much time and energy on that. What others think of us is none of our business. Too often it keeps us from saying, “yes” to what life and God is calling us to do – and nothing is impossible with God.
Mary did not hesitate. The churches, institutions, and society need more wise women like the mother of Jesus.
Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O’Rourke lives in Cassadaga, New York. His column appears in The Observer, Dunkirk, NY on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Roman Catholic priest. His new book, The Living Spirit is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website http://www.danielcorourke.com/