The Gospel lectionary reading for today comes from Luke 8:1-3....Sacred Space offers these comments on this passage....
Soon afterwards Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
- Saint Luke always speaks favourably of women, and highlights their positive response to Jesus. He is the only evangelist who gives us this detail of the women who travelled with Jesus.
- The scene gives an image of the infant church. It is on the move, and is made up of ordinary women and men who are centred on Jesus. This meant they had to give up their previous settled ways of life. They were bringing with them ‘the good news of the kingdom of God’ not only by words but by being a close-knit community in which each shared whatever resources they had. How fragile a start for the Church!
- In these times I may experience the Church as fragile and ill-equipped for its great task of spreading the Good News. I pray that God may bless my efforts to bring good news to those I meet.
The picture that Luke gives us here of women accompanying Jesus and the Twelve as they travel around together is indeed fascinating. As Sacred Space points out, Luke emphasizes the role of women in the kingdom of God in a very positive way. But one wonders if the fact of these women traveling with these men was viewed in a scandalous fashion by outsiders. Think of how the male disciples were surprised to find Jesus talking alone to the woman at the well in John 4. It seems to me that the picture Luke presents here would have been outside of the Jewish religious norm for the first century. We know nothing of these women being married to any of the disciples. Presumably these women were married, otherwise from whence came their wealth? The idea of women providing for a group of men, financially, also seems outside the norm for first century Palestine. Then, on top of everything else, Luke tells us that demons had been cast out of some of these women, in particular, Mary Magdalene. Was Mary a former prostitute? If so, we have another point of potential appearance of scandal.
I am not suggesting that there was in fact anything scandalous about these travel arrangements or the inter-relationships among these female and male disciples. But the situation certainly could have been viewed that way by outsiders. After all, in a later period, outsiders thought the Early Church engaged in orgies because of the "holy kiss" exchanged in the worship services. Perhaps that is why we only shake hands in church today.
At any rate, Jesus appears to care nothing about what outsiders think. His ministry is one of proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God to others. Such good news was often brought to bear through healing and exorcism. It seems Jesus could hardly prevent those who had been healed from devoting their lives to physically following him wherever he went. No wonder!
Furthermore, Jesus appears to welcome the teamwork of these women. His merry band of male disciples might not have survived financially without the shared gifts of these women. And remember, the women were the last at the cross and the first at the empty tomb. The women were in fact the first witnesses of the resurrection, commanded to go and tell others the good news. This seems to me to be a very strong argument for women and men working equally together in the ministry of the church.
What a terrible thing it is when we reject the gifts of people whom God wants to use in his kingdom. Mary Magdalene, for one, could easily have been rejected because of her past. Many congregations in our time would probably find difficulty accepting her, let alone allowing her to serve in any kind of leadership role. But I think the example of Jesus shows us what a mistake this is. We need to welcome the gifts of all who want to serve in God's kingdom, trusting the Holy Spirit to work through each one by his healing, life-giving power.