Uniform Lesson for February 14, 2021
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:40; John 20:10-18
Our past two lessons have confirmed that women may qualify for the office of prophet and may carry on a conversation with Jesus (as long as Jesus later has the privilege of testifying for himself), but what about a more consistent and daily presence with the Messiah? Does Jesus have room for women is his circle of disciples or followers? It would be helpful if we could state that the Jesus movement, from its inception, was a co-ed cooperative — but the testimony appears a little mixed.
Luke 8:1-3 — As well as some women
The good news is that early in Jesus’ ministry, there were some women who, like the disciples, were with him. No, they didn’t make the cut of the Twelve, but they were, early on, listed as part of his grassroots movement. Here, they even receive names (something the Samaritan woman never achieved). There’s Mary, called Magdalene, who is identified by her place (Magdala) but not by her father or brother or husband. There’s Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, who does require identification with a male (who, even though a steward, earns the right to a name). There’s Susanna, who (thank you very much) is able to stand on her own, without any further identifiers. And there are “many others,” a fairly extraordinary statement given the way Jesus’ followers are often depicted in stories, art and film. Though “many” is an imprecise measurement, it surely must be at least as many as 12. So, Luke implies that at the early stages of Jesus’ ministry, and certainly at the end (see Luke 24:10), this was a majority female movement, though most are forced to remain anonymous (a fate well-known in other histories to this day).
However, note that at least some of these women are characterized as in need of curing — of “evil spirits and infirmities.” Indeed, Mary of Magdala is cited as the leader in that she was the one “from whom seven demons had gone out.” And so, the stories and the traditions commenced, spinning lurid tales of the exorcisms and eccentricities of this band of women, none of which we hear about regarding the Twelve. Come on! Do we not think that Judas carried some demons in his soul? Does Peter come across as a person devoid of infirmities? Isn’t it interesting that there are no tales of competition and back-biting among these female disciples as there are with the males? Surely the good news of the gospel is that Jesus came to cure all – male and female – who are sick with sin and selfishness and sloth.
Luke 8:3 — Who provided for them
One thing, however, is perfectly clear. While the Twelve seemed to have left their possessions and livelihoods behind in order to follow Jesus, these women brought all of their resources along for the ride. They were not only the bread-bakers but the breadwinners of the group. While we may wonder why the writer felt compelled to list these women’s possessions (regarding cures), we must stand amazed that the same writer remembers their possessions (regarding capital), which they were willing to use for the provision of food, drink and sustenance for the disciples. In this sense, they were already modeling a communitarian spirit that later became a key marker of the early Christian communities (cf. Acts 2:45). They may have had their infirmities and their demons, but they were all in for this effort, else this early male-led movement would have probably gone bust.
Mark 15:40; John 20:10-18 — The demon of fear
Even more remarkable, our other readings lead us to the end of this story, where Jesus is crucified and buried, and the Twelve head for the hills. Everyone else who saw the spectacle of Jesus’ death “returned home, beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48). While Joseph of Arimathea stayed behind to see that Jesus was properly buried, so too did these women (Mark 15:40-47). From this group of women, Mary of Magdala is selected to be the first conversation partner with the resurrected Lord (in John’s Gospel), a scene that concludes with Jesus calling her by name. She then becomes the first evangelist (in this version of the resurrection), providing the “infirm” disciples the first news of the cure this Jesus has come to usher in.
For discussion: Who do you think were the more “possessed” in Scripture — the women, or the men?
RICHARD BOYCE is the dean of the Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary, and associate professor of preaching and pastoral leadership. He is a minister member of the Presbytery of Western North Carolina.
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