Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, Mary. These women, all listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew, are the inspiration for Chester Brown’s latest graphic novel, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus: Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible (Drawn & Quarterly, 280 pgs.). Like one of my favorite new comic books, The Goddamned, Mary Wept invites us to return to familiar biblical stories for new (at least to many of us) interpretations. While many of Brown’s conclusions will shock some readers, he can’t be accused of ignorance as his extensive notes (over 100 pages of them) prove that he’s as well-read as many “official” biblical scholars and perhaps more than most pastors.
In Mary Wept, Brown collects several of the most popular Biblical stories in short, comic strip form. There is a minimalist style to his approach, which echoes the lack of narrative components (character or setting descriptions, for example) in many of these stories while simultaneously forcing us to consider the theological, ethical, and moral implications of them without getting too caught up in or distracted by a more outlandish style. While Brown focuses on Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary (mother of Jesus), whose inclusion with one another should give us pause (as it did the author), he also includes other narratives like Cain and Abel, the parables of the talents and the prodigal son, and even his own take on Matthew’s decision to include women in his genealogy. These stories focus on the theme of obedience and how it colors humanity’s relationship to the Divine.
Brown asks some important questions, and not a few provocative ones either, especially pertaining to popular opinions on sexuality and prostitution. He also asks us to consider God’s relationship to us through the law (or any rules that govern morality). What does God love more, a person who begrudgingly obeys all the rules or a person who bends (or breaks) them with a lust for life and love of self and neighbor? Brown’s interpretations of these stories (shaped by rich Jewish and Christian tradition and scholarship) leaving a lasting impression…or will if readers take him (and the medium) seriously. Mary Wept should leave us all re-evaluating the heroes and antagonists of scripture and where we position ourselves in the stories. As one of my pastors recently said, “If you see yourself as the hero in Jesus’ parables, you’re probably not reading them correctly.”
Below are excerpts from the graphic novel, which you can purchase on Amazon.