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I’d like to thank Future Church for making available their materials on the often forgotten women in Jesus’ ministry. Throughout the bible the positioning or overlooking of women has occurred for many reasons, among them the cultures in which the women lived and their economic level. What we learn from the New Testament and more current documents is that several women traveled with Jesus and the male apostles from his early ministry. Among them were his mother, Mary; Mary Magdala; Mary, wife of Clopas and mother of James and Joses; Joanna, wife of Herod’s steward Chuza; Susanna; Salome, wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John, two of the apostles. Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus of Bethany were among close friends of Jesus, but not mentioned as traveling with the group. Mary and Martha are among the women listed below.
Women are recorded in the Old and New Testament, but as time passed, reference to them was left out in church readings, homilies and even prayers. Future Church is committed to bringing these women into their rightful place in the church by familiarizing us with them and bringing attention to them in Church services. In some instances, you’ll discover that the gospel reading starts lines after a reference is made to a female’s accomplishment, or stops short of including it. There is also a tendency to make original gender-inclusive words like assembly into male specific words like brethren.
The reasons for these decisions and much more are presented in Jesus and Women Updated!, written by Sr. Christine Schenk csh, Director of FutureChurch, who has a master’s degree in midwifery and theology. You can get this interesting brochure by e-mailing: email@example.com or on their website: http://www.futurechurch.org.
There is also a new publication from Hudson Press called Women of the Bible in a beautiful full-color magazine format that has added more detail to the women who traveled with Jesus.
WOMEN OF THE MYSTERY OF GOLGOTHA
Mary of Nazareth, and Her Cousin Elizabeth
It is impossible to grasp The Mystery of Golgotha without beginning with Mary, Jesus’ mother and establishing her relationship to Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger), tells us that “Mary’s Yes when the angel Gabriel asks if she will consent to become the mother of the Messiah, may well be considered the beginning of the New Testament.
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold
Mary was the cousin of Elizabeth, a descendent of Aaron and wife of Zechariah who belonged to the Abijah section of the priesthood. Elizabeth was barren and they were both advanced in years when the Angel Gabriel announced to Zechariah that “Elizabeth is to bear you a son and you shall name him John. He will be your joy and delight and many will rejoice at his birth for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must drink no wine, no strong drink: even from his mother’s womb he will be filled with the Holy Spirit…” Zachariah responds, “How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is getting on in years.” “The angel replied, I am Gabriel, who stands in God’s presence, and I have been sent to speak to you and bring you this good news. Look! Since you did not believe my words, which will come true at the appointed time, you will be silenced and have no power of speech until this has happened.” (Luke1)
The Annunciation of Jesus to Mary
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, Rejoice, you who enjoy God’s favor. The Lord is with you. She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, ‘Mary, do not be afraid, you have won God’s favour. Look! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David: he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.
“Mary said to the angel, ‘But how can this come about, since I have no knowledge of man?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.’ Mary said, ‘You see before you the Lord’s servant, let it happen to me as you have said.’ And the angel left her.” (Luke 1:26-38)
Mary Visits Elizabeth
Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, “Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. Why should I be honored with a visit from the mother of the Lord? Look, the moment your greeting reached my ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. Yes, blessed is she who believed that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Luke 1: 39-45)
Elizabeth is in the sixth month of her pregnancy and is delighted as her son quickens in her womb. She is no longer feeling humiliated as she has been by barrenness. Zachariah and Elizabeth are described in Luke as “upright in the sight of God and impeccably carried our all the commandments and observances of the Lord. Therefore, he was held to a very high standard and his doubt was punished by silence.” Or perhaps he was silenced until the birth of his son to prevent doubtful words from reaching Elizabeth and their unborn child.
Mary’s reaction to the announcement that she is to become the mother of the Messiah shows her to be wise beyond her years and the perfect reflection of one made in the image and likeness of God. Though awed and frightened by the angel Gabriel’s greeting, she quickly regains her composure and questions how her motherhood is to come about, “since she has no knowledge of man.” She ponders the angel’s response and gives her answer, humbly accepting God’s will for her. “She freely gives her yes.” “And the angel departed from her.”
Mary of Magdala: First Witness of the Resurrection
Scripture shows that Mary Magdala traveled with Jesus and the Galilean discipleship. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John contrast Jesus’ abandonment by the male disciples with the faithful strength of the women disciples, who first watch the crucifixion from a nearby hill. After Jesus death, Mary Magdala accompanies Jesus’ mother to the foot of the cross. John’s gospel also names Mary of Magdala as the first to discover the empty tomb and shows the Risen Christ sending her to announce the Good News of his Resurrection to the other disciples. This prompted early church Fathers to name her the Apostle to the Apostles.”
Early non-canonical Christian writing indicates that faith communities grew up around Mary of Magdala’s ministry, where she is portrayed as understanding Jesus’ message better than did Peter and the male disciples. Often maligned, nowhere in scripture is she identified as a public sinner or a prostitute.
Joanna, Susanna and Salome
Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, were early disciples in Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Together with Mary Magdala, they provided financial support to Jesus’ Galilean ministry, an indication that all three were women of generosity and means. They traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem with Jesus, watched the crucifixion and were with Mary Magdala at The Empty Tomb after the Resurrection. “On the first day of the week at dawn, they went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb–but on entering they could not find the body of the Lord Jesus…Two men in brilliant clothes said to them”He is not here, he has risen. And they returned from the tomb and told the Eleven and to all others.” The women were Mary of Magdala, Joanna and Mary, wife of Clopus and mother of James, one of the apostles, and Joses, and Salome. “And the other women with them also told the apostles, but this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe it.” (Luke 24:11)
Salome, the wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John, two of the apostles. “And many women were there watching (at the crucifixion), when suddenly the veil of the Sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth quaked,the rocks were split, the tombs opened and the bodies of many holy people rose from the dead…The centurion, together with the others guarding Jesus, had seen the earthquake and all that was taking place, and they were terrified and said, “In truth the man was the son of God. And many women were there, watching from a distance, the same women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and look after him. (Matthew 27:51-56)
Mary and Martha, Sisters of Lazarus
Luke shows Mary at Jesus’ feet. One interpretation is that she has taken the place traditionally reserved for male rabbinical students. Martha, as often happens even today among women when the rules of patriarchy are challenged, protests. But Jesus praises Mary’s thirst to learn more about God: “It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her. ” (Lk 10:38-42)
The Unnamed Women
The Samaritan Women becomes a missionary bringing her whole town to belief in Jesus. “As Jesus was passing through the town of Sychar he stopped at Jacob’s well…when a Samaritan women came to draw water Jesus said to her Give me something to drink. You are a Jew. How is it that you ask me, a Samaritan, for something to drink?’ Jesus replied to her:’ If you only knew what God is offering and who it is that is saying to you, Give me something to drink, you would have been the one to ask, and he would have given you living water. After a brief time, in which Jesus told her things about herself she had not mentioned, the woman said to him “I know that the Messiah–Christ–is coming, and when he comes he will explain everything. Jesus said, ‘That is who I am, I who speak to you. So when the Samaritans came up to him, they begged him to stay with them. He stayed two day and many more came to believe…(John 4: 1-42)
The Canaanite Women’s fierce love for her daughter succeeds in broadening Jesus’ own understanding of to whom the Good News is sent. (Matthew 15:22-28)
The Widow of Nain, meets Jesus as he falls for the second time on the road to his crucifixion. “In Nain you reached out to me, a widow, about to bury my only son. Your heart was broken,and you told me not to cry. Then you bid my son, dead in the coffin, to rise. When he began to speak, you handed him over to me and all who were there praised God, knowing they were standing on holy ground…(Luke 7:11-17)
Veronica is the name by which an unknown woman was distinguished and comes from the words vera and icon, meaning true image. As Jesus bears his cross, a brave and compassionate women pushes through the crowd to offer him comfort. She wipes the sweat from his face with her veil. Touched by her empathy, Jesus Christ leaves his image on the veil. This is said to be the only authentic picture of the face of Jesus Christ. The woman’s true name never was discovered. Over time, she became Veronica and is canonized Saint Veronica by the Catholic Church.
The Weeping Women of Jerusalem who mourned and lamented him on the way to Calvary. (Luke 23:26-31)
Wife of Pontius Pilate, Claudia Procula – According to Bible Study Resource: Women of the New Testament, Pilate’s wife is unnamed in the gospels, but “in later centuries she was given the name Claudia Procula, but it is impossible to tell whether this was her real name, or an invented one.” It is told that acting on a disturbing dream, she tried to convince Pilate to do no harm to Jesus. In her dream, she had seen Jesus as an innocent man and tells her husband that to harm him will ultimately come to a bad ending. Pilate subsequently did everything he could to remove himself from making the final decision about Jesus fate. He sent him to Herod for a decision, since Jesus was from his jurisdiction. Herod did not find Jesus guilty of any wrongdoing and sent him back to Pilate. At the last minute, when Pilate could have let Jesus go free based on a holiday amnesty provision in the law, he chose instead to open the decision to an incited crowd, who were presented with Jesus and Barrabas. The crowd chose to let Barabbas, a criminal, go free and sealed Jesus’ fate.
Women at the Resurrection
Women’s equal call to discipleship with their brothers is most evident in the Resurrection accounts, for it is upon the testimony of women that the proclamation depends. All four Gospels show Mary, mother of Jesus, Mary Magdala, Mary, wife of Clopus, Joanna, Salome and other women disciples accompanying Jesus to his death, anointing and burying his body, viewing the empty tomb, and experiencing his risen presence. That the message of the Resurrection was first given to women is regarded by biblical scholars as compelling evidence for the historicity of the Resurrection accounts. Had these texts been fabricated by over zealous male disciples, they would not have included the witness of women in a society that rejected their legal witness.
Watch for these women in our new audio presentations for Holy Week, beginning with Palm Sunday. Barbarah