Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday and the Role of Women

Holy Saturday is a day to reflect on the death and burial of Jesus and the circumstances surrounding that event. Given the tensions in our Church community about the role of women in ministry (should they be allowed to preach? to be ordained? to hold leadership positions?), I was drawn to the several references to women in the gospel accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection. Matthew 27:55 says: " Now there were many women there, afar off, watching, women who had followed Jesus all the way from Galilee, serving him." The Gospel writers all make it clear that the men, who get most of the press (not all good) in the Gospels were no where to be found when Jesus needed them the most. In their absence, the women kept showing up. They are at the crucifixion, the burial and they are the first witnesses of the resurrection ( it must have been their witness to the Gospel writers that helped them get their facts straight - interesting because they were not considered reliable witnesses in the society of their day). That women appear at all in these Gospel accounts and then that they are presented as witnesses attest to the credibility of the accounts themselves. It would have made sense to leave them out since their testimony was considered unreliable at the time. Apparently, God cares little for social convention.

They were not left out of the story because they were there, when the male disciples were not. In verse 55, Matthew says they "followed", using the Greek word for discipleship and they "served" using the word for diaconate. Women were not allowed to serve or even be in the presence of traditional rabbis. Although the presence of women is not mentioned often in the gospels (but see Luke 8:1-3), here we learn of a group of ministering women. In a culture and at a time when the place of women was very much in the background, Matthew lets us know that in Jesus' circle women were accepted as disciples and leaders. In fact, a case can be made that they were more faithful than most of the men. Mary Magdalene is one of the most faithful. Her name appears in verse 56. From an early date Mary Magdalene was honored in the church as "isapostolos" or "equal to the apostles" (see 28:7,10 where she is one of the first commissioned proclaimers of the Resurrection gospel). She turns up again at verse 61. She is "there" at the funeral for Jesus. One of only two, women.

In the Gospels women are "there" at the most significant places. Men had the dominant role in their culture but Jesus did not "see" women in the same way the culture did. In his circle of disciples they had opportunities to "follow" and to "lead". On Holy Saturday, some of the women turn up as the most faithful of all his followers.

Some in the church continue to "see" women in the same way as Jesus' culture did. They can serve in the background but they should not lead, or teach, or preach. They cannot be ordained to the ministry. This is at a time when the leadership skills of women are accepted in every other vocation. It is bewildering, to say the least, how this situation can persist. Women's gifts and skills are marginalized in some parts of the church. Are they second class citizens in the kingdom? Hardly. It is time for the whole church to recognize the place of women as co-leaders, co-deacons, co-pastors and servants of the Body of Christ.

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