Set forth below is the text of a talk I gave on Mother’s Day, May 8, 2022, in the Sacrament Meeting of the Arlington First Ward, Arlington, Virginia.
When Margaret was expecting our first child, a colleague of mine asked whether we were planning on a natural, drug-free birth. That was our original intent, I told him, until I learned she wanted me by her side in the delivery room. There was no way I could endure the ordeal of child birth without a couple of really stiff drinks and a valium beforehand. [Pause till laughter subsides.]
As much as Margaret would love to be the subject of my talk, I have been asked to speak on women in the Old Testament. This is a vast topic about which many books have been written, so I will focus my remarks on the way women in general were regarded in the Hebrew Bible and on experiences in the lives of a few of them.
A story’s title can prompt the reader to focus on certain aspects of the tale at the expense others, potentially masking its actual meaning. And when the author of the story is not the person who names it—as is the case with Jesus’ parables—the risk of misinterpretation increases. A careful reading of The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard reveals that its title is, indeed, a misnomer:
For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
Throughout history, most societies have embraced the notion of an afterlife where the spirits of the dead reside. Such a belief frequently spurs the living to find ways to stay in touch, or otherwise maintain a connection, with those who have gone before. And some cultures do it in unique ways.
Mormons, for example, perform religious rituals in their temples on behalf of their ancestors, believing those ordinances will cement familial bonds through the eternities. The Catholic Church—until the Reformation quashed the practice—offered intercessory prayers and elaborate masses for the departed. Today, adherents of Catholicism frequently look to those beyond the veil (Saints) for assistance with matters in their daily lives.
As a passionate student of the American Civil War, I have visited many battlefields and other historical sites where the Bellum unfolded. But still on my list—until the fall of last year—was Charleston, South Carolina, the location of Fort Sumter, where the War Between the States formally began on April 12, 1861. I went there primarily to pay homage to Major Robert Anderson, the commander of the U.S. forces stationed in Charleston and perhaps one of the most important unsung heroes of our country’s fight for survival.
Major Anderson was ordered to assume command of two companies of Federal soldiers stationed in and around Charleston in November 1860, shortly after Lincoln was elected President. Tensions were high and talk of secession was rampant, creating a hostile environment for anyone sporting the uniform of a U.S. Army soldier.
The Healing of the Syrophoenician (Canaanite) Woman’s daughter, chronicled in both Matthew and Mark, is an episode in Christ’s ministry we tend to pass over or sweep under the rug because it is embarrassing and difficult to explain. The challenges posed by the text, however, are no excuse for leaving it out of a manual or treating it superficially. Indeed, ignoring inconvenient scriptures or ones that fail to reaffirm our beliefs shows an unwillingness to engage with them on their own terms and infantilizes both the teaching and learning process.
Towards the end of his ministry, Christ is around the Sea of Galilee where he performs many miracles and continues to preach his gospel. But he becomes so fatigued by the relentless crowds that he decides to get out of Dodge. He heads north to the region of Tyre and Sidon—the major seaports of Syria and Phoenicia—in search of privacy, solitude and rest. But, no sooner does he arrive than he is accosted by a mother seeking help for her sick child: