I’m not a woman.
But I’m guessing some of you are.
With those important facts on the table, I have a handful of things I want to say about … well, women.
First, I have to admit it was exciting to be reminded of some of the accomplishments of women in Canada and around the world during the recent International Women’s Day. I don’t say that to be pandering or politically correct but from a real belief that women are the heart and soul of our culture.
From its inception the Methodist tradition I am from has included women in leadership but I have also been fortunate in that my personal life has been full of strong, intelligent, loving women.
Of course women are every bit as capable of violence, pettiness, and wrong-headedness as men but I have the sense that they are capable of incredible compassion, wisdom, and fire as well.
We really have no reference point for understanding gender roles from the culture and period of history when Jesus lived but suffice it to say that women relied almost completely on men and had few options otherwise. Culturally they were considered a possession for most men: they were to bear sons and keep the home but there were no important social roles beyond that.
But guess who had women as friends, included them in his work, and welcomed their contributions in a time of intense patriarchy? Yep, Jesus.
Stories in the Gospels often describe women in deep conversations with Jesus and he brought an interesting balance of female characters into the parables he told. He even placed himself in awkward social situations in order to talk to them and hear from them (woman at the well).
Not surprisingly, many of Jesus’ troupe of disciples were women.
The fact that Mary sat and learned at the feet of Jesus (Luke 10) was a direct indicator that he included them as students. Unheard of.
Luke speaks about Jesus embarking on a tour which included Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and many others who were supporting his teaching ministry.
Consider the radical pronouncement he makes in Matthew 12:50. “Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘… whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’” What you probably don’t know is that including women like this was never done. It was common for a man to gesture and speak to men about men, but there was no cultural precedent for including women in his remarks.
The word ‘disciple’ is even used in the feminine later on when referring to Tabitha, one of the first pillars of the early church.
But what is truly shocking is the responsibility given to women in the most important part of the Jesus story. Resurrection.
Of course men take front and centre stage during the violence of the trial and Crucifixion but the book of Mark records how Jesus’ mother and other women remained faithfully at the Cross until Jesus finally succumbed. The male disciples had already gone into hiding. When a new believer, Joseph of Arimathea, requested Jesus’ body and moved it to a tomb, we read that Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene watched from a distance.
On the following Sunday some women headed to the tomb at sunrise with spices to appropriately embalm the body. They found the empty tomb and entered it to find a man in white who informed them that Jesus had risen from the dead.
The order of things varies a bit between the Gospels but they share this interesting fact: women go first to the tomb, discover it empty, and run back with the explicit task of spreading the word. Culturally, women were considered ‘unreliable’, yet they were entrusted as the first witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus.
But here is a heartwarming thought. The men who recorded the stories of Jesus went radically against their culture when they gave us the records we have today of women in the church. To their credit, they learned from Jesus’ example and gave equal footing to their sisters in Christ.
The church of Jesus has always had women as its heart but unfortunately that’s a lesson many are still refusing to learn today.
I’m not a woman but we’re fortunate some of you are. We need you more than ever.