The Ladies Tell Their Story of Jesus: a book review

Frank Viola enlisted the help of Mary Demuth for his follow up to God’s Favorite Place on Earth. The earlier book focused on the city of Bethany, a place where Jesus was accepted and loved and where Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived. That book told stories from Jesus’ life, narrated by Lazarus. In Viola’s follow up, he wanted to present some of the significant interactions Jesus had with women he encountered but didn’t feel, as a man, he should write the narrative sections from their perspective. So he enlisted DeMuth to bring these women to life.

The Day I met Jesus profiles five women: the woman caught in adultery, the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet, the woman at the well, the hemorrhaging woman and Mary of Bethany (a story in three acts). The first three of these women struggled in the area of sexuality, the hemorrhaging woman struggled with a physical problem. Mary of Bethany is exemplary in her devotion to Jesus. All of them are transformed by their encounter with Christ.  These women give us a window into the power of God to set us free and fill us with Joy.

Demuth’s narrative sections are the heart of the book and she does a really good job of telling these stories. I didn’t necessarily envision each story as she did, but in storytelling you make your exegetical choice and commit. I think she gave these women life and made their choices understandable. Demuth did a fantastic job. Following the narrative sections were a section that explored the meaning of the biblical passage, offering some exegetical insights and some practical takeaways. I think generally this was the work of VIola but there are some creative elements here too. These are also interesting but I was less enamored with them.

To me, I wish the book did one or the other. If story is powerful and evocative then tell the story. If you need to explain the significance of the story you just told, then you don’t really trust the power of story. This might be my own hobbyhorse, and I will happily admit as much. A number of readers do appreciate the mix of fictional and non-fictional elements that Demoth and Viola bring. But for my money, I want the narrative told without an editorial essay on the ‘moral of the story.’ I think Viola said some great things in his commentary sections, I just wished those were more thoroughly encapsulated in the stories they shared. Story is show and not tell. This book was more than half tell. I give it three stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Baker Books in exchange for my honest review.

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