The Day I Met Jesus: A Conversation With Mary DeMuth



Mary DeMuth and Frank Viola have written a fascinating book — The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels (Baker Books 2015). Recently I was able to interview Mary about this book and also ask her some questions about the role of women within Christianity and the church. Here is our conversation.

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BZ: In The Day I Met Jesus you tell fives stories of women who encountered Jesus. You do this in the form of first person diary entries. I love this imaginative approach. Could you talk about your process of creating the back-stories for these five women?

MD: Sure, first off, this idea was Frank’s. I’m grateful he pulled me in on this project. As a novelist, I tried to walk around in these women’s sandals, hoping to understand their dreams, the possible plight they were in, and what it must’ve been like to actually meet Jesus in the midst of their stories. I also did research about First Century Jerusalem as well as biblical research about the five women. And then I prayed. Actually I prayed throughout the entire process. What resulted? Gritty, real stories about actual women who were never the same after they encountered Christ.

BZ: Do you feel that the evangelical church has perhaps under appreciated the power of story?

MD: I think we’re getting better about this. Things like Donald Miller’s Story conference and the proliferation of YouTube (where we see millions of stories) encourage me. And when I go to church on Sunday I’m seeing more pastors tuck story into their narratives and theology. The human heart and mind better understand truth when wrapped in a story.

BZ: It’s clear in the Gospels that Jesus was elevating women and breaking certain social taboos to do so. Historically has the church been faithful to Jesus in this respect?

MD: No. We see the marginalization of women in this century all around the world, even in the church. Imagine the implications of Jesus’ surprising behavior. He has the longest recorded conversation in Scripture with the woman at the well (not a male disciple). He appears resurrected first to a woman. He touched “unclean” women and dignified them. He welcomed Mary of Bethany as if she were equal to men in terms of learning from Him as Rabbi. And yet, women are often relegated to support roles (not that supporting is bad), and are not permitted to have a voice. Strange, since Jesus valued their voices. He dignified their stories.

BZ: Are there some women from the Old Testament who capture your imagination?

MD: So many women were marginalized yet still managed to find a way in the midst of it (Esther, Deborah). This encourages me. Sarah suffered in numerous ways, yet she became the mother of a nation, even after laughing at the absurdity of a potential pregnancy. I sometimes think about how the wives of famous OT men must’ve fared, and how they had to learn to live and thrive and find a way when they were one of many. I also consider the unnamed women who no doubt influenced history but we don’t yet know. I look forward to having long conversations in heaven with ancient women who were faithful to God in difficult circumstances.

BZ: Who are some of the writers you admire? Who are some of the writers who have influenced you?

MD: As a novelist, I’m currently crushing on Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See). He wove a beautiful two-story historical novel in present tense over a dizzying array of flashbacks. I love Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River that gave me permission as a novelist to write literary suspense. I’m grateful for C. S. Lewis who danced both lines of nonfiction and fiction, helping me to attempt a similar feat (I write both). It’s really hard to answer this question because I’m reading all the time. In terms of nonfiction, I admire Jon Krakauer immensely because he does what I cannot do: investigative nonfiction (as does Dave Cullen).