Book of Mark

The Women of Team Jesus (Mark 15:40-41) #BibleStudy

Trung Pham, "Expectancy"
Trung Pham, “Expectancy”

Pray

Blessed are you, O God,
who created the world with a word
and who fashioned your people
from dust and from delight.
In our waking, may we know you
breathing in us,
breathing through us,
creating us anew
with your longing and love.*

Read

We are back to Mark today! Since it’s been a while, you might want to glance at the passages leading up to today’s passage, just to refresh your memory on the context (it’s important). But today’s passage for reflection is Mark 15:40-41:

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. (Mark 15:40-41, ESV)

Reflect

Oh, how I love this passage. I literally want to put my arms around this passage of scripture and hug it, it encourages me so.

You see, I have grown up in the church. And the church is not always an easy place for a woman to be. I got my first glimpse of this truth when I was seventeen years old and a senior in high school, and I applied to preach the sermon on Youth Sunday (the one day each year when high school students led the Sunday worship service). It was our church’s tradition that a senior in high school preach the sermon that Sunday. My two older brothers had preached when they were seniors in high school, and I was excited about the possibility of doing it as well. (I loved listening to sermons back then, and I love listening to sermons now. I regularly download sermon podcasts and listen to them while I work or clean or cook.) Because my parents have always demonstrated gender equality in our home, and because my dad always taught me that I could do anything I set my mind to, and because my parents did not come from a church tradition that taught that men and women had different roles in the church, it never occurred to me that this would be a problem.

I was the only person who applied to preach that year, already possessing a love of scripture study and public speaking. But there were a number of people (men and woman) who believed that God frowns upon a woman in the pulpit. With my application, and none other, being submitted, they had to deal head-on with something that they had never had to deal with before: the actual and real possibility of a woman in the pulpit.

A ruckus ensued for a few weeks, with special meetings called so they could figure out what to do with the fact that the only person from the senior class who applied to preach for Youth Sunday was a girl—and not only a girl, but one of the most active members of Youth Group, president of the Youth Choir, regular church attender, and earnest Bible-lover. (In other words, there was no good reason, besides my gender, that they could turn me down.) One woman, who had been my beloved Sunday school teacher and friend of the family, whose house I had been to for sleepovers and Bible studies, announced that she would “boycott” church that Sunday if they allowed a woman (that would be me) to stand in the pulpit.

I cried like a girl.

It wasn’t pretty.

I was seventeen years old. I loved Jesus. I loved scripture. I loved church. And I learned for the first (but not the last) time that, to many people, including people who I loved and respected and looked up to, my gender made me unacceptable for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ publicly in mixed company.

But I also learned that, in God’s mercy and kindness, God often brings around advocates to walk beside the disenfranchised and powerless. During that season in my church’s history, we were going through a time of transition. Our pastoral staff had all left and we were being led by an interim staff, which included my brother, Rob, as youth minister and a retired pastor named Rolen Bailey. Together, these men championed for me and cheered me on.

(Rev. Bailey died in July of this year. If Southern Baptists canonized saints, I have to believe would now be under consideration. He was a dear man and a devout follower of Christ. I thank God for him!)

When the Youth Committee came back with the decision to open up the preaching slot to juniors in high school, so some of the guys in the youth group (many of whom often spent the Sunday school hour wrestling and making farting noises) could apply, Rev. Bailey exercised his executive power and overruled their decision.

And then he mentored me in preparation for preaching my first sermon.

To this day, I believe that I am the only woman ever to preach at the church where I was baptized.

# # #

I have many other sad stories where I have been told that my gender (and sometimes my marital status, back when I was a single woman eager to serve in worship leading ministry) made me unqualified for church leadership and meant that I did not have permission to question church authority. I once had a pastor say I had a “Jezebel spirit,” because I questioned his theology and pushed back on things he said that I didn’t think reflected good exegesis. Another pastor once compared me to Miriam, who, with her brother Aaron, spoke against Moses for marrying a Cushite woman and was struck with leprosy. I had questioned his leadership, and soon after that became sick with bronchitis. He actually suggested that God struck me with bronchitis because I challenged his authority.

I love both of these men (and others who have hurt me), and I have many more good memories from my experiences with them than bad. But these memories—these wounds—go deep. And while I am now serving in a stream of the Christian church that practices a totally “egalitarian” approach to gender in leadership—men and women are treated as total equals, welcome to serve according to their gifts rather than their gender—I still carry sorrow in my heart whenever I consider these snapshots from my journey.

Which brings me to today’s passage.

Let’s consider it again. Slowly.

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.

Can you see them? I hope you went back and skimmed the passages leading up to this, so you could see what these women were seeing: Jesus delivered to Pilate. Jesus delivered to be crucified. Jesus being mocked. Can you hear the nails being driven into his hands? Can you smell the smoke of bonfires in the courtyard and the animals in the streets? Can you feel the chill of the cold night air, as the hours dragged on and on? Can you feel the hunger pains—surely these woman did not pause to eat as their Lord, their friend, was being tortured so. Or perhaps they felt no hunger pains. Perhaps their appetites were gone altogether.

When I imagine the women—those who are named (Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, Salome) and others who were among them—I imagine myself there too. I imagine that we are standing together hand-in-hand, arm-in-arm, holding one another, comforting one another, praying together. The Bible does not say a lot about Jesus’ female disciples, but it says enough—enough for us to know they existed, and enough for us to know that they were a vital and integral part of Jesus’ ministry on earth. For,

When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. (Mark 15:40-41, ESV)

and

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3, ESV)

Not a lot. But enough.

Jesus had no problem whatsoever with women being right there beside him in ministry. He welcomed them as disciples. He welcomed them as traveling companions. He humbly accepted their provision for him (putting to rest any suggestion that it is a man’s job to provide financially. Jesus depended on the provision of women, “who provided for (him and his disciples) out of their own means.”) Jesus turned the idea of male and female roles on its head, both in practice and in theory. For,

…now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:25-29, ESV)

In the context of an ancient patriarchal tradition, sons had a bigger inheritance than daughters. Daughters had a dowry, a bride price, but not an inheritance. But the gospel tells us that in Christ, women are given the same status as sons. Think about that. We are not being told that we have the status of a beloved daughter (though we are loved as daughters), but that we are given the inheritance of a most beloved son. This means total inheritance. More than a bride price, we are heirs according to the promise made to Abraham.

And going all the way back to the very beginning,

God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:1, 27)

Women are created in the image of God. Men do not reflect the image of God more accurately than women (nor vice versa). While there have been inequalities and injustices untold committed by God’s people ever since the very beginning, and every stream of the church has their explanations for these things that ultimately support their specific “take” on gender roles in the church, the bottom line is that we girls are made in God’s image, and we girls are welcome to be part of Team Jesus.

This is huge, especially for any of us who have struggled under an interpretation of scripture that places parameters and limits on what God can do through women.

Read it again and let it sink in:

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. (Mark 15:40-41, ESV)

 

Apply

I have wrestled through many Bible passages that deal with men and women, roles and authority and submission and humility. I have listened to good, godly teachers expound on these passages and draw disparate conclusions. I have nursed wounds (and held grudges) against people who have used my gender as a means of limiting what God might want to do through me because I am a woman, and, by the grace of God, I have forgiven those folks (though some pain remains). This is not a simple thing. Anyone who tries to make it simple is not reading the whole book.

But one thing that is simple is this: we girls can be joyfully assured that Jesus loves and accepts us as women and that we all have a vital and integral role to play in his ongoing work on earth. Just as it was “when he was in Galilee,” we women still to this day are welcome to follow him and to minister to him and to be his hands and his feet and his voice here on earth. 

So let’s get busy doing that, shall we?

# # #

*This prayer comes from the book In the Sanctuary of Women by Jan L. Richardson.

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