Jesus, the Messiah, the beloved Son of God, is dead; executed by pagans, rejected by Israel, abandoned by his disciples. The story of the gospel has reached both its climax and its nadir.
And isn’t it remarkable, that in the midst of these dark and momentous events, Mark inserts a little interlude about Jesus and women. Too easily these verses are skipped over.
But we’ve seen that Mark is much too canny an author to be putting in irrelevant padding. No, these verses are significant. But how?
At one level, like a good story teller he’s setting up the women’s involvement in the burial and resurrection to come.
But at another level, his matter of fact description reveals some fascinating things about Jesus’ relationships with, and dependence on, women.
While Mark mentions three specific women, ‘many others’ were present. These were all Galilean women. And this group of women had had the surprising and remarkable role of basically being Jesus’ ‘ministry support team’ in Galilee.
Luke makes this even more clear in Lk 8:1-3. He also mentions some specific names among ‘many others’ who accompanied and supported Jesus’ itinerant ministry.
1After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
So here we have the Messiah, the Son of God, soon to be revealed as the risen Lord, being supported in his mission to Israel and to the wider world by a fairly substantial group of women.
It is these women who risk being there to be with Jesus as he faces death. It is these women who would be first to minister to Jesus in death, just as they had in life. And it is these women, who would be the first witnesses of the resurrected Lord.
Now of course it is one thing to highlight these facts, it is another to translate them to the contemporary church.
A ‘hard patriarchialist’ might say the women had to stand in because the men had failed! But there is no hint of this here (or anywhere else in the NT). On their own these verses are highly suggestive of the remarkable and vital role of women within Jesus’ mission. Taken with Jesus’ own counter-cultural inclusion of women within the kingdom of God, and the overall thrust within the NT of equality in the new community of the Spirit, this passage forms a piece in the NT jigsaw picture of the honoured and indispensable role of women in the earliest Christian community.
Comments, as ever, welcome.
Women at the cross
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.