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MARY ALICE WILLIAMS: Hollywood's cyclical discovery that religion sells is yielding a millennial bumper crop of films meant to push our belief buttons. Most are too violent or raunchy to dodge an R rating, but one airing on NBC gets a B for bravery. "Mary, Mother of Jesus" puts flesh and a distinctly feminist face on an extraordinary woman largely neglected in the Bible. Martha Bayles reports.

Excerpt from "Mary, Mother of Jesus" (Courtesy of NBC): You have found favor with God. You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son. You will name him Jesus.

MARTHA BAYLES: "Mary, Mother of Jesus" is a film about a mother's love for her son. Strong, deep, and beautifully done; the two people most responsible for this film are also a mother and son: Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her son Bobby. To this particular mother, Mary is a woman for all seasons, including our own.

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Ms. EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER: I think the most important thing to remember is, first of all, that she was a mother and she was a teacher, and she raised her son for 30 years in private before he became a public figure.

Excerpt from "Mary, Mother of Jesus": Baptize me, John.

BAYLES: Today, many see mothering in the context of feminism. Here is a scene that appears in all four Gospels, Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.

Excerpt from "Mary, Mother of Jesus": My heart is set on fulfilling your work, wherever it may lead.

BAYLES: This movie adds a twist: Mary gets baptized as well. You won't find that scene in the Bible, but when it comes to Mary, that's nothing new. Of the four beliefs that many Christians associate with her, only one, that she was the mother of Christ, is unambiguously stated in the Gospels.

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Her perpetual virginity, her immaculate conception, her assumption into heaven -- these are beliefs that evolved over time. In the same spirit of evolution, many Christians today cast Mary as a spiritual leader in her own right, not just the model of female perfection but an active disciple, a teacher.

Excerpt from "Mary, Mother of Jesus": Peter doesn't think women should be allowed to follow the master. He said as much to Jesus. What did Jesus say? That women are fit to guide, because they raise our sons.

BAYLES: The question is whether this feminist view distorts Mary. In the Bible, she speaks of her own low estate and says that God will scatter the proud and put down the mighty from their throne. To Christians, Mary is a model of humility. Does this make her also a symbol of women's oppression? Not in this film. "Mary, Mother of Jesus" depicts its heroine as strong, active, wise, but not proud. It's a delicate balance, but it works.

Excerpt from "Mary, Mother of Jesus": Woman! Behold your son.

BAYLES: St. Augustine wrote that all strength is in humility because all pride is fragile. To judge by this modest but remarkable film, Mary still has the power to teach that lesson. For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I'm Martha Bayles in San Fernando, California.

Mary, Mother of Jesus

“Mary, Mother of Jesus,” a movie airing on NBC, puts a distinctly feminist face on an extraordinary woman largely neglected in the Bible.