Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character. — 2 Timothy 3:16
My home church in Poplar Bluff was putting on a Christmas pageant. I was asked to narrate it. As a teenager deeply involved in church, and planning on entering the ministry, I was delighted.
It was a great experience, and I still remember it whenever “What Child Is This” is sung. That was the carol we sang at the end, when the scene was complete with all the main characters and the lights were lowered.
Afterward, the mother of the Virgin Mary and I were talking. She laughed, “My daughter didn’t do too bad, for being a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Virgin Mary, did she?”
That’s the first time I’d realized that. It didn’t dawn on me that probably the farthest thing from the way the real Mary appeared was not Scandinavian blonde and white. She had Palestinian black hair and eyes, and dark skin.
Reflecting on that incident decades later, it’s a perfect illustration of what we naturally do. We read the Bible from our perspective and assumptions. From my vantage point as a newbie Christian, since Scripture was about the eternal plan for salvation, its historical context wasn’t as important as its chiseled-in-stone teachings that must be believed or else. Mary could be blonde or redheaded for all I cared.
It would take years to discover that the true power of the Bible lies in humbly entering its world instead of demanding it conform to ours. What were people thinking and feeling? How did culture, power, and politics play into their lives? How did God break into and through human life? How does this relate to us today? Where can we see God working today because we’ve truly, clearly seen where the Lord was working millennia ago?
The real, dark-haired Virgin Mary got it right. God was doing a new thing, and it would shake her world as well as ours. Her humble response was, “Let it be with me as you’ve said.” Reading Scripture with that same openness enables us to glimpse God still doing new things, in ways we’ve never imagined.
If I was shocked that the real Virgin Mary looked more Palestinian than American, then I really got the Christmas narrative wrong. What else have I gotten wrong about the Bible?