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The Myrrh-Bearer's Gospel

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Joanna was fourteen years old when she met Mary for the first time. She was crying in the street and everyone else was simply passing by, paying no heed to the hungry orphan, when all of a sudden this beautiful woman, richly dressed with beautiful long dark hair, kneeled down next to her. "Why are you crying, child?" she asked.

Joanna found herself unable to answer, overwhelmed by the woman's beauty. Intuiting what Joanna needed nonetheless, Mary wordlessly handed over a roll to Joanna, who fell on it at once and consumed it.

"Are you still hungry?" Mary asked once the last crumb had been swallowed.

"I'm always hungry," answered Joanna truthfully.

Mary nodded as if she expected no other answer. "Come with me," she said, extending her hand. "I know someone who will make you full."

Joanna took the older woman's hand, a thrill passing through her as skin touched skin.

Joanna was fifteen years old when she watched the Nazarene named Jesus suffer death on the cross. She watched in horror, unable to look away. Mary said nothing, but slipped her hand into Joanna's reassuringly and, somehow, that made things just a little easier to take. "Watch over each other," Jesus struggled to command the two of them, through his labored, heavy breathing, from the cross. "You're family now."

After Jesus died, an Arimethean named Joseph, a member of the Sanhedrin who had Pilate's ear, brought Jesus' body to the disciples. "It's almost sunset," Mary said, looking to the sky. "There's not enough time to finish preparing the body before the Sabbath."

"Do what you can now," suggested Joseph, "and the rest will wait until Sunday morning."

Mary nodded somberly and set about the work of preparing the broken body of her lover, with Joanna assisting. None of the men offered to help.

Sunday morning they took the spices they would need to finish preparing Jesus' body and took them to the tomb, but when they got there, they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, and when they went in, the tomb was empty. "Where is it?" Joanna asked, turning to Mary. "What did they do with him? Why?"

Mary's face was ashen. "I don't know," she answered. "I don't know."

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?" a voice asked them.

Joanna turned to see two men, both dressed in white. "He is not here, but has risen," one of them said. "Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again?"

Joanna looked to Mary. "He did say that, didn't he? I had forgotten that, but he's right, Jesus said that."

Mary nodded slowly. "I remember," she said.

Joanna was sixteen years old when she and Mary left Jerusalem for Magdala. It was Mary's hometown, and while there wasn't anything in particular Joanna or Mary could point to that the male disciples had done to make them feel unwelcome, still Joanna had the distinct feeling they were relieved to see the two of them go. Even when Jesus was alive there was a not-exactly-hidden undercurrent of resistance to the fact that they (and Mary and Martha of Bethany, too, and Elizabeth of Samaria, and half-a-dozen other incredibly awesome female disciples) were so close to the Teacher. And now that Jesus was dead, it was as if they were worried Joanna and Mary, who had known him so intimately, would be a threat to their authority.

As if either of the two women cared in the least about authority. As if Jesus had ever cared in the least about authority.

"You can stay here, if you want," Mary told her. "I'm sure Thomas would look after you."

Joanna looked up at Mary and quoted, in the flawless Hebrew that Mary and Jesus had taught her, "Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from following you, for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. So may the Lord do to me and so may He continue, if anything but death separate me and you." Switching back to Aramaic, she added, "He said we were family."

For a moment Joanna thought Mary was about to cry, but Mary only said, "So he did." There was a moment of silence, then Mary added, "Come here, sister," and pulled Joanna into an embrace. She kissed Joanna on the forehead, her lips lingering against the skin of Joanna's scalp. Emboldened, Joanna looked up at Mary, then brought her own lips to the other woman's.

Mary--sister, mother, friend, lover, wife, family--gave into the kiss, her arms squeezing Joanna's torso all the harder.

Joanna was nineteen years old when Thomas visited for the last time. He was the only one who ever visited, the only male disciple who didn't seem glad to be able to forget Mary and Joanna had ever existed. "I'm traveling to India," he announced to them. "To spread the good news there."

"You're needed here in Judea," Mary pointed out softly.

"There are other disciples here," answered Thomas. "Peter. Nathaniel. This new guy, Paul. Someone needs to tell the people there the truth, to steer them away from their pagan gods."

"Cannot the truth be sent to their own people and through their own gods, as it has been done to us here in Judea?" Mary asked

"There is only one God, Mary," Thomas replied, accusation in his voice.

Mary met his eyes. "Then what does it matter what they call Him?" She turned away. "If you go to India, Thomas, you will die. Such I prophesy. So I beg you, as a friend, to stay here in Judea."

"If that's your prophecy, Mary, then it's all the more the reason I must go," answered Thomas. "How can I give up the chance to die a martyr, as Christ did?"

"Of all the things Jesus did and said, that's what you chose to emulate?" Mary exploded incredulously. "Christ." She spat the Greek word as if it were a curse. "Maybe your King would have you die, Thomas, but I think Jesus--your friend--would want you to live."

Thomas didn't say anything for a moment. When he did speak, it was a nonsequitor. "You know I regret the way things fell out between you and the other disciples. We could have used your wisdom. But it was so hard for so many of them, to have to hear it from a woman. Especially Peter. He couldn't help but see you as a rival. I suspect that if Jesus had asked, Peter would gladly have gone to his bed in your place, Mary." He laughed, weakly. "You know he asked Jesus to make you leave?"

"Oh?" said Mary, feigning disinterest as she picked up a dishrag and wiped the table. "And what did Jesus say?"

"That he would make you male so that you could enter the Kingdom of Heaven."

Joanna laughed. "And what if we like being female?" She would not like for Mary to have to become male in order to enter Heaven, she reflected. She liked Mary being female just fine.

Thomas just shrugged.

"It was nice of you," Mary said, the dismissal clear in her voice, "to visit us before you left for India."

Once he had left, Mary sat down and took a deep breath. "How long is it," she asked, "until a religion for which a man would die becomes a religion for which a man would kill?"

Joanna didn't say anything at first. She didn't have any answers. "I love you," she said at last, because it was the only thing she could say, the only thing which could stand against the foolishness and pettiness of men.

Mary relaxed. "I love you, too," she said, and then Joanna leaned in for a kiss, to take all thought of men's troubles off of Mary's mind.

Joanna was almost fifty years old when she first read the exploits of Jesus written down. Or what claimed to be the exploits of Jesus, at least; she found they bore only a superficial resemblance to the events as she remembered them.

"'"But who do you say I am?"'" Joanna read out loud to Mary, who at the age of eighty had far too weak eyesight to be able to read. "'Only Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living--"' Mary, you said that, not Peter. I remember; I was there."

"Yes," agreed Mary. "But I'm not the one writing the gospel, am I?"

"You should," said Joanna. "Tell the real story, the way it really happened. Even when these guys--these Matthew, Mark, and Luke guys, whoever the hell they are--get things right, they still leave out the important parts. That last Pesach meal, they make sure to mention those strange body and blood comments Jesus made--but there's no mention of the really important thing, where he washed our feet, told us to serve our neighbors."

"Of course not," laughed Mary, whose memory was as quick as ever. "Do you remember how Peter responded? It'd make him look bad." She paused, then added, "The chest near the bed. Look in it."

Joanna followed Mary's instructions, found a few pieces of parchment with writing on them. "Will matter then be destroyed or not?" began one of them.

The Savior said, "All nature, all formations, all creatures exist in and with one another, and they will be resolved again into their own roots. For the nature of matter is resolved into the roots of its own nature alone. They who have ears to hear, let them hear."

Peter said to him, "Since you have explained everything to us, tell us this also: What is the sin of the world?"

The Savior said, "There is no sin."

"It's just fragments," said Joanna, looking them over.

"I never knew how to begin it," agreed Mary. "I had bits and pieces, but I couldn't figure out how to put them together in a whole."

"Start at the beginning," Joanna said.

"But when's that?" complained Mary. "Would I start with his birth? Or when I first met him? Or with--"

"No," interrupted Joanna. "The beginning." She continued in Greek: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of humanity. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it."

Mary shook her head. "You have a gift, Joanna. You will write the gospel I could not."

Joanna smiled. "Is that a command or a prophecy?"

Mary smiled back. "Both."

Joanna was fifty-five years old when Mary died. Her gospel was only partially completed, but those parts she had completed she had read aloud to Mary, and Mary had never tired of hearing them. "Such poetry," she had sighed. "Your words will last forever, Joanna," she said. "People will still remember them millennia from now."

"Good," said Joanna. "I wouldn't want you to be forgotten."

It was just a little solace, as Joanna stood over Mary's grave, to know that the world would remember such a dynamic, vivacious woman, how beautiful and respected she had been. "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried," she quoted, once again, in Hebrew.

They had been married, given to each other by Jesus, for forty happy years. So many people around her did not so much as live that long. Jesus himself had not. She thanked him for the gift he had given them even as he had suffered a painful death on the Cross. Thank you, Jesus, she prayed, for my wife. For my everything.

She would finish her gospel, as she had promised Mary she would do, and proclaim Jesus' glory to the world.

Joanna was seventy-five years old when she completed her gospel.

"This is the disciple," she wrote, "who testifies to these things and who wrote them down."

We know that her testimony is true.

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.