Jesus and the Dignity of Women
They are the first to find it empty. They are the first to hear: “He is not here. He has risen, as he said”… They are also the first to be called to announce this truth to the Apostles. Mark reports that at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus all his male disciples had fled.
But there were some women watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdala, Mary who was the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and look after him when he was in Galilee. And many other women were there who had come up to Jerusalem with him (Mark 15: 40). Here Mark uses the same expression for “following” Jesus as he does in the case of the disciples. Women were disciples in the same way as men. That was new for the world of the time. In the circle of Jesus’ disciples women were on the same footing.
What moved Jesus to gather women around him in the same way as men? Evidently as a man he had no fears about coming into contact with women. All the Gospels report that it was the women who had persevered by Jesus’ cross. The woman “who had a flow of blood” (cf. Mk 5:25-34), who could not touch anyone because it was believed that her touch would make a person “impure”. Each of them was healed, and the last-mentioned – the one with a flow of blood, who touched Jesus’ garment “in the crowd” (Mk 5:27) – was praised by him for her great faith: “Your faith has made you well” (Mk 5:34).
The Gospel of St. Luke pays special attention to Jesus’ relationship with women. He tells how Jesus on his wanderings was accompanied not only by the twelve but also by” certain women whom he had cured of evil spirits and ailments: Mary Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza. Susanna and many others. They provided for Jesus and his disciples out of their own resources “(Luke 8: 2). So when Jesus was wandering around the country, there were always women around him with whom he had a personal relationship.
He had healed them, touched them, raised them up, and freed them from demons, i. e. from patterns of life which restricted them, from disparaging and condemning themselves. He had restored their dignity as women. And these women weren’t just recipients: they also gave something to Jesus in return. They served him not only with their resources, but also with their capabilities, with the inner and outer gifts at their disposal. The Greek word for” serve “really means serving at table. The women served at table, they served life.
They aroused life in Jesus and his disciples. They created a sphere in which life could flourish. In the house of the sisters Mary and Martha, who have given hospitality to Jesus (Luke 10: 38 – 42), Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet. The phrase used to describe this posture is one typically used of discipleship. It is similarly said of Paul that he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel and had been instructed in the law of the Lord (Acts 22: 3). So this woman is just as much a disciple as the other disciples of Jesus.
Whereas Martha serves Jesus and his disciples at table, Mary just sits there and listens to Jesus and tells him that he should ask Mary to help her. But Jesus takes sides with Mary. She has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her. The scene in which Luke portrays Martha shows how open Jesus was in his dealings with women. He claims their hospitality, but he also takes them seriously as disciples. He instructs Mary in what matters most to her. And he joins in the clash between the two sisters without hurting one of them and without allowing himself to be taken over by the other.
He makes a clear stand, but in such a way that neither feels scorned. Yet another scene in the Gospel of Luke seems to me important in shedding light on Jesus’ relations with women. The angel by the tomb says to the women who are to be the first witnesses of the resurrection, “Remember what he said to you when he was still in Galilee” ( Luke 24: 6). For the angels, the women are witnesses not only to the resurrection but also to the words which Jesus has spoken to them. Jesus proclaimed his teachings not only to male disciples but also to female disciples.
They bear witness to his teaching on an equal footing. They hand on his words. They recall these words and keep them in their memories. And as with Mary, these sayings go round and round in their minds, penetrating into them more and more deeply. So the interpretation of the message of Jesus isn’t just given by the men, but to an equal degree by women. When Luke narrates a scene with a man as the chief character, it is immediately followed by another with a woman in the main role. A parable about a woman is played off against a parable about a man.
Luke believes that he can speak rightly about men and women at the same time. Unfortunately the church didn’t draw any conclusions from this. For too long, only men interpreted the message of Jesus. The deepest friendship with a woman is that which associates Jesus with Mary of Magdala. Jesus drove seven demons out of Mary Magdalene. She owed him her life. When Jesus died, her world collapsed. But her love outlasted death. Her encounter with the risen Christ is another beginning for her life story.
When she saw him, she’s completely transformed, and says to him, “Rabboni” (My Master) (John 10:16). In the history of Christianity many women have lived as friends of Jesus like Teresa of Avila and Hildegard of Bingen. Jesus of Nazareth confirms this dignity, recalls it, renews it, and makes it a part of the Gospel and of the Redemption for which he is sent into the world. Every word and gesture of Christ about women must therefore be brought into the dimension of the Paschal Mystery. In this way everything is completely explained.