Story from the Book
Woman to Woman (Mary of Nazareth)
By Claire Rudolf Murphy
“Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Christian Bible, Luke 1:41-42
“My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” Mary whispered as she walked along the dusty road. Ever since that morning two weeks ago, those words had been emblazoned on her heart. She paused to breath in the warm spring air and gazed in gratitude at the cultivated fields and vineyards that once more dotted the land. For eighty miles the caravan had trudged by dry, sun-burned hills.
Finally, the Holy City beckoned. Mary and her fellow travelers from Nazareth were tired from nearly four days of walking. But as they spotted the tall buildings of Jerusalem, their steps quickened. Mary ran to keep up with her friends. She knew the crowded streets, hugs from relatives, and aroma of spices in the marketplace would soon invigorate her blood. Right now, however, something else coursed through her veins. Ruth and Abigail waved at her to come along. “Isn’t it exciting?” Ruth called out. “Will we see you in Jerusalem or will you take all your Passover meals with your betrothed, Joseph?” Ruth and Abigail laughed and waved her to come along. Her friends’ laughter swirled around the thoughts in Mary’s whirling mind. She stopped and squinted her eyes. In the midday sun, the Temple looked hazy, like a mirage in the desert. She knew the Temple was real. But perhaps the angel had been a mirage. Maybe she was not carrying a child. Maybe her elderly cousin Elizabeth was not with child, either. How was she to know? Her mind flashed back to that morning when the Angel Gabriel appeared. “Greetings, Favored One,” he had said. Mary couldn’t believe her eyes. An angel encircled in glowing light stood before her.
Esther: Return to Hadassah
“Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace … And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” Hebrew Scriptures, Esther 4:13-14
Esther stared in the mirror at the coiffed hair piled high on her head and crowned with a diadem of rubies and sapphires. Oil of myrrh, jars of the best perfumes and spices, and royal gowns awaited her pleasure. As the chosen queen of King Ahasuerus, for five years her every desire had been fulfilled. Except one.
She yearned to return to her youth, when her days were filled with her friends’ laughter, walks with her mother, visits to the Shushan synagogue with her father. When she was known as the lovely Hadassah, the Jewish girl with the smooth, copper skin and dark hair to her waist.
Removing the headpiece, Esther whispered to the mirror, “Only in the presence of the king will I wear this heavy crown.”
In her sitting room, she pulled away the curtain and stared out. Her Uncle Mordecai walked back and forth in front of the palace. Every day he stood guard, one of the king’s protectors. Esther knew her uncle came every day to watch out for her. How she longed to talk to the man who had been her guardian since her parents died of fever. At the palace everyone knew that Mordecai was Jewish, but they had no idea that Esther was also, or that she and Mordecai were related.
Five years ago the king had commanded all young maidens to appear at the palace because he wanted to choose the most beautiful woman in all of Persia to be his new bride. Mordecai knew that having a Jewish woman so close to the seat of power could help – even save – his people. But he also knew that King Ahasuerus would never marry a Jewess, no matter how captivating.
So he had counseled his niece, “From this day on, you will be known as Esther,” Mordecai took her hand and placed it on her heart. “Hadassah can only live here now. If the king chooses you, you will be able to do great things for your people.”
Hadassah took a deep breath and smiled. “I’ll do my best, Uncle.”