Jesus was surrounded by strong, courageous, generous, faithful women who were eager to learn about and serve the coming Kingdom. It could be said that without them there would have been no mission.
The Christian Tradition has a mixed history when it comes to recognizing and celebrating the role of women in the faith and in the world generally. In Jesus’ day women were generally prevented from owning property and from holding leadership positions either in society or in the religious community. Women were more likely to be found guilty of sexual impropriety in an illicit affair or even in an abusive situation. And Jesus did not directly challenge these cultural norms through his teaching. He did not make public statements about the fair and equal treatment of women as we might wish he had.
Even so, Jesus demonstrated in his personal and ministry a very high regard for women, to the point of risking his own reputation and safety on their behalf. Jesus followed his mother’s stubborn guidance at the Cana wedding, even though he initially resisted her point of view. Jesus welcomed Mary (and Martha too) as equal students with the men sitting at his feet. Jesus stood with the woman caught in adultery and turned the judgement back on her accusers. Jesus spoke with women he shouldn’t, welcomed those he ought to reject, and accepted challenge from them when his compassion seemed to waver. Jesus honored his mother by ensuring she was cared for after his death.
And the women themselves demonstrate courageous faith. They follow him also, which was likely a disturbance to their cultural norms. They provided for Jesus and the apostles “from their substance.” They repeatedly welcomed Jesus and his followers into their homes, despite the fact that it was personally disruptive, socially awkward and potentially dangerous to do so.
Of course, it was the women who were steadfast watching the crucifixion and death of Jesus. It was the women who first went to the tomb on Sunday morning, to grieve and to finish their sacred task of preparing his body for burial. The fact that this was their cultural role in no way diminishes the faithfulness they exhibited in going to a tomb guarded by Roman centurions. To associate themselves publicly with Jesus who was executed as a traitor was a great act of courage. True, Jesus’ mother and sisters at least once tried to rein him in. Perhaps they were protecting him, or the family generally, or both. Even this was an act of concern, of maternal nurturing care.
How might we better celebrate the gifts and graces and presence of women in every area of community and congregational life as Jesus seemed to do? Where might we follow his lead?