The Followers of Jesus – The Women

Posted: 21 November, 2010 in Messages given in church
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Thank you God for not making me a Gentile [dog], a woman or a slave. Talmud – Shabbath 86a-86b.

So in this daily prayer from the Jewish Talud of the early second century we see a reflection of the role and something of the status of women in the period of Jesus ministry.

Yet women are an integral part of the Gospel narrative.  From Mary the mother of Jesus to Mary Magdalene in the Garden, women feature in the story of Jesus.  It is not so much what they do or say it is more the fact that they are recorded as being there in the first place.    An argument could probably be put that if not for Jesus scandalous association with women and the early churches radical acceptance of women as equals in faith and life all the women here would probably be segregated from men other than their fathers and husbands, confined primarily to the home and wearing veils when in public.

By the time of Jesus Greek and Roman culture had, to some small degree, provided some freedom for women, but then only among the elite classes.  Ordinary women were the possession of their fathers or husbands if they were married.

Yet as we read through the gospels we continually read of women who come into contact with Jesus.  We also need to note the scandalous nature of Jesus interaction with those women.  Jesus defied the social order of his day and related to women as equals and encouraged others to do the same.

Jesus’ radical treatment of women:

Christ overthrew many centuries of Jewish law and custom. He consistently treated women and men as equals. He violated numerous Old Testament regulations, which specified gender inequality. He refused to follow the behavioural rules established by the three main Jewish religious groups of the day: the Essenes, Pharisees and Sadducees. “The actions of Jesus of Nazareth towards women were therefore revolutionary.” Some examples are:

He ignored ritual impurity laws.

He talked to foreign women.

He taught women students.

He used words and images that regarded women as equal to men.

He accepted women in his inner circle.

Mostly women were present at Jesus’ execution.

He told parallel male/female stories.

He expressed concern for widows.

He argued in favour of women in relation to divorce

Our bible reading for today is Luke 8:1-3

Soon after this, Jesus was going through towns and villages, telling the good news about God’s kingdom. His twelve apostles were with him,  (2)  and so were some women who had been healed of evil spirits and all sorts of diseases. One of the women was Mary Magdalene, who once had seven demons in her.  (3)  Joanna, Susanna, and many others had also used what they owned to help Jesus and his disciples. Joanna’s husband Chuza was one of Herod’s officials.

 

Mary Magdalene –

The only person in the gospels to be named at the crucifixion, burial and discovery of the empty tomb.  She is the first witness to the resurrection in all four gospels and in both John and Mark it is to Mary that Jesus first appears alone.   Given that women were not able to be witnesses in Jewish culture this also is significantly counter-cultural.

Joanna the wife of Chuza –

Chuza was the manager of Herod’s household; a position of great importance.  Herod was the Tetrach of Galilee and son of Herod the Great who had tried to assassinate Jesus in childhood.  Some people have linked Chuza with the official’s son who was healed in Capernaum.  Manaen, Herod’s foster brother, became a follower of Jesus and was one of the ‘prophets and teachers’ in Antioch along with Saul and Barnabas.  It could be that he was impacted by the faith of Chuza and Joanna.

Joanna is possibly the Junia mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans –

Romans 16:7   Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and fellow prisoners, noted among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me.  (Translations that refer to this person as Junias, a male name, are ignoring the understanding held in the early church communities for the fist 600 years)

Susanna –

The name means ‘lily’ and apart for her mention in this list and the meaning of her name who know no more of her, yet she is mentioned in the scriptures and, no doubt, was known or know of by the original readers of Luke’s Gospel.

And these three women are those named from among many others who supported Jesus and his twelve mates as they did a preaching tour of Galilee!  I suppose they were the first women’s auxiliary supporting missionary work.  But they were certainly more than that and their existence means certainly more than that.

These women were there at the crucifixion while the disciples themselves, apart from John, had fled in fear.

These women showed their devotion to Jesus by preparing his body for burial.  This was normally women’s work but this was done to one who had just been executed as a criminal, dying a shameful and humiliating death and was under the scrutiny of the religious authorities.  They bravely aligned themselves with Jesus in life and death regardless of what other people thought of them.

While Jesus had scandalised the religious culture of the day by associating with women, these women were no less scandalous by associating with Jesus.  They were prepared to be just as counter-cultural as he was – and they were women!

Have you ever considered that Jesus calls us to be counter-cultural; going against the flow of the cultural in which we find ourselves?  Why is it that churches are seen as the bastion of conservative values and culture?  What has happened to the radical nature of the call to discipleship found in the Gospels and the actions of the early church?

It is time that we rediscovered our radical call to counter culture: the values of the Kingdom of God rather than the values of the Empire of this world.

To be people of:

Generosity rather than accumulation

Contentment rather than a grasping for more

Restorative justice nor merely retributive justice

Living in community rather that self centred isolation

Seeking accountability not a law unto ourselves

Offering forgiveness rather than breaking of relationships

Scandalous associations rather then maintaining the status quo

Radical discipleship rather than easy belivism

Challenging hospitality rather then a  ghetto mentality

Purity and chastity instead of the unbridled satisfaction of our desires

Hope instead of fatalism

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