Continuing on yesterday’s theme, here is another reflection on how Christ’s death and resurrection lifts up the voice of women and other groups often oppressed.
Your progressive redneck preacher,
It is interesting in this scene right after Jesus’ crucifixion to see whom among the disciples stay faithfully by Jesus: “Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome”, whom the Gospel writer calls collectively “the women”.
There is a practical side to this. Except for ones like Nicodemus (who also stays by Jesus’s side, even contributing some land for Jesus to be buried) who is a secret disciples, all the men scatter. A part of why the women disciples can stay by Jesus’s side is they are not viewed as a threat. The Romans, with their machismo culture, cannot imagine a group of women taking up arms and threatening the status quo even though the Sacred traditions of Judaism describe just such acts – with powerful women of faith like Deborah who organizes the army of Israel to defend against their oppressors, like Jael who like a spy uses her feminine wiles to kill the head of the enemy army, like Judith who likewise uses her gifts as a woman to kill the unsuspecting man. But just like many men of the Jewish culture these women are a part of and many men throughout history, the Romans only expect the male disciples to take up arms, to fight, to be a threat.
In fact, in truth, too often we ignore these female disciples altogether, acting as if the only people taught the way of Jesus by Christ are the 12 male apostles, and that only they go out with Christ’s messages as missionaries, teachers, servants in the New Testament. But the New Testament and the early church is littered with accounts of women of faith who speak with power and authority, who serve with love and justice, continuing the work of Jesus in the world. I think of Lydia. I think of Mary Magdalene, remembered in many Christian traditions as a teacher and apostle in her own right. I think of the “beloved mother and her children” that the elder John writes to in one of his letters, who appears to be a woman who pastors a church that meets in her home in Asia Minor. I think of Priscila who, together with her husband, teach the Scriptures in the book of Acts. Her name is listed first, a key sign that she is teacher and her husband follows her lead. Her teaching helps Apollos, a Jewish student of John the Baptist, come to understand the role of Christ in his life. God uses her to educate, inform, and correct a man.
Perhaps one of the most interesting accounts of such women is the Syrophoenician woman whos child Jesus heals in the Gospels. Jesus adamently, perhaps rudely, lets her know his mission is to Israel and his own people. She corrects him, telling her story. Jesus appears shaken by this, heals her and then begins to go among the non-Jewish communities in Israel teaching and healing, just as much as he does the Jewish communities. This woman’s words teach the ultimate Teacher, show God as man with men & women to dwell more clearly his path. Seeing how Jesus is willing to be taught by a woman from a culture his community despises, shows me the ways in which our history of devaluing women dishonors the God who made them and the Jesus who both chose them as his disciples and was willing not just to let them sit at his feet and learn, but also to sit at their feet and learn from them.
And so these women stay by Jesus’s side, remaining faithful to this one who had believed in them in a world that did not believe in them. Is it no wonder then that they are the first ones to experience resurrection, discovering his tomb emptied and his body no longer present and somehow witnessing Jesus transformed from dead teacher to risen, living, undying Christ. They became the first apostles, which means ones sent forth with Good News. Though full of fear they boldly will proclaim after that experience “He is risen!”
The male disciples will at first not believe, but later open up as those women had remained open, so that they too can experience resurrection and in their souls have the veil pierced enabling them to see too that the Jesus they loved has transformed from failed reformer, dead and buried, to risen Savior, living Christ, who is even now gone ahead of them continuing His work of transformation and inviting them and us to such work.
Growing up I was a part of a religious tradition that somehow overlooked this message. It taught only men could speak and lead in the church. It taught a woman’s place was in the home, submitting to her husband. And instead of saying submission was a mutual practice of husband and wife putting each other’s needs on equal footing to their own, they taught submission was a woman quietly obeying their husband’s will. They taught rules about what a woman could wear, how she could do her hair, how she could dress, which I imagine must have taught women to view their bodies with shame and fear. I have since found this is all very common in conservative religious communities of all denominations and faiths, where the focus of religion is not spiritual communion with inner & social transformation, but adherance to rigid external rules.
When I began to read the Gospels for myself, I began to see the liberating example of Jesus who continually broke glass ceilings, recognizing the value of women, their worth and power. I saw the way the Holy Spirit, whose name “Spirit” in Hebrew is feminine and is pictured as a mother bird taking us like her chicks under her wings throughout Scripture, continues to liberate women, helping them discover their power, and causing them to shine.
And I remember my upbringing – and the heartache I’ve seen such abusive approaches to women experience. I think of women I met battered emotionally, with physical scars from hands roughly beating them, when I worked at a domestic violence shelter. I hear in the news of the horrible plight so many women & girls go through every day. I see folks in power trying to clamp down on centers which protect women’s health, give women options, and support mothers, daughters, and children. And I realize Jesus’ work of helping women discover their worth, their power, their voice is not over.
I am reminded I am called to go forth with the risen Christ as He goes ahead with the Mothering Spirit’s wings about Him to cooperate with Jesus in that work. We are all so called. I also need to learn to shut my mouth at times, like the Syrophoenician woman shut Jesus’ mouth with her words, and like Christ listen to the voice of women, hearing their wisdom and not assuming I know their needs. I and other men need to learn that humility.
Let us hear the Spirit and Her wisdom, no longer being barriers to each other, trusting the Spirit to be able to give women the wisdom, power, words, and strength Scripture shows us the Spirit always does.
Let’s do it together.
And I sure ain’t whistling Dixie,
Your progressive redneck preacher,