Miriam Therese Winter, a Medical Mission Sister, wrote this intriguing “gospel” while serving in Africa in 1992; now Orbis has published this story “of Jesus as seen through the eyes of women” (13). Readers may find themselves surprised, as was this reviewer, to discover that the putative author of this imaginary late first-century gospel is not the mother of Jesus but the invented granddaughter of another biblical Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12).
Mary the Evangelist (Evangelista?) reframes familiar gospel stories to present a woman’s perspective, beginning with a hymn to Wisdom reminiscent of John 1’s hymn to the Word of God. God is “God” or “She” or “Father and Mother” (in the Lord’s Prayer). Male figures from the parables become female, such that the “delinquent daughter” returns to her mother and sister, for example. Rather than the bosom of Abraham it is the bosom of mother Sarah that harbors the poor woman left hungry on the “wealthy woman’s” doorstep. Men, such as Zacchaeus, in the stories of Jesus’ miracles approach Jesus for help at the urging of their wives, and mothers interact with fathers in stories with children (Jairus’ daughter), a trend that includes the profoundly family-focused infancy narratives of John the Baptist and Jesus. Noteworthy here is our Evangelist’s matter-of-fact acceptance of the sexuality of both Elizabeth and Mary. At the same time, it is of interest that Jesus’ teachings and sayings required little alteration. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Sufficient for today are the troubles of today,” or, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavily burdened and I will give you rest” resist gender categorization and have always spoken equally to women and men.
Women, especially Mary Magdalene (described correctly as a woman of influence and not as a prostitute), feature prominently and by name among the disciples. Jesus sends out the 70 women to preach and expel demons, washes the feet of his female disciples and pronounces the Great Commission to them. In a particularly interesting switch (inspired perhaps by the flight of the male disciples from the cross in the Synoptic gospels?) the Beloved Disciple of the Gospel of John becomes Mary Magdelene.
Some readers may quibble at inconsistencies or faint hints of pettiness. At the Passion the men are all cowards and doubters while the women never waiver. The demons and evil spirits that populate the gospels are all mostly invisible although angels do appear. Women are frequently portrayed as food preparers or servers, even while participating in the feeding of the 5000 and the Last Supper, and clean-up duties keep the women disciples from following Jesus to Gethsemane. Nazareth is misleadingly described as just down the road from Bethlehem.
Nevertheless, Winter’s exercise in female empowerment through gospel retellings very often succeeds as prophetic speech; like Jesus and the biblical prophets, she attempts to present the familiar in a wholly new way that inspires the reader to reassess common assumptions and act in new and fruitful ways. Many readers will find compelling truths in this imaginative reworking of the gospels. This small book would generate a lively discussion in a Church reading group.