Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Matthew, Mark, Lucy and Joan: Women in the 3rd and 4th Gospels

I'm not actually saying that Luke and John were written by women, but I have noticed in them a more pro-women stance than is evident in the other two gospel accounts, and indeed much of the bible at large.  Below are some examples I've found....
  Luke and Matthew between them furnish us with all the details of our nativity. But look at whose side they tell it from. Matthew - maybe this is a Hebrew thing - makes it all about the man, Joseph, with Mary at his mercy (remember, he plans to divorce her quietly, to spare her public disgrace, or indeed stoning!). Luke, on the other hand, majors on Mary,with barely a mention of Joseph. Mary is here cast as a heroine of faith, with her iconic Magnificat (some great women of the Old Testament also had songs, like Deborah, Hannah, Miriam), and her ready acceptance of God's will (contrast that with Zechariah, priest and, well, man).
  Strong and independent women are a feature of Luke's Gospel. Take 8:1-3, where we meet the women who support Jesus (and the disciples?) in his ministry.  Perhaps this meant providing food and shelter, opening up their homes. It also meant paying for their keep and their work. Granted, in some cases the funds were probably their husbands' (eg, Joanna).
  Perhaps the most controversial detail in Luke's treatment of women comes in chapter 10, when Jesus visits the home of sisters Martha and Mary. Again, they have opened their home, possibly offering Jesus a place to stay. Much has been said about the exchange between Martha and Jesus, and 'traditional' gender roles may be at stake here, but the most significant detail in the story is this: Mary "sat at the Lord's feet" (Luke 10:39). Let's skip ahead to Luke's second volume, Acts. In Acts 22:3, Paul tells a Jewish crowd that he was "brought up... at the feet of Gamaliel". That's a way of saying he was a student of the great rabbi Gamaliel. And the same language is used of Mary with Jesus. She is his student, his disciple. This puts her in the same category as great men like Peter, James and John.
  That brings us to the 4th Gospel which, as we might expect, takes a more "theological" angle in its treatment of women, and there are two examples I want to look at. The first is short and simple. In John 11, we read the cycle of the illness, death and raising of Lazarus. Lazarus had two sisters, Martha and Mary (yes, them). But the striking detail in this account is what Martha says in 11:27. The other 3 gospels, known as the Synoptic Gospels because they see (broadly) the same way, each have accounts of 'Peter's Confession of Christ'. They tell it with slight nuances of detail, but in all 3 Peter says that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah, adding "of God" (Luke 9:20), or "the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). John, as so often, departs from this tradition. In John, it's not Peter who makes this confession. It's the equally headstrong woman, Martha: "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah [or, Christ], the Son of God, the one coming into the world."
  The final point I want to pick up is big. It's all about Easter Sunday. Rob Bell has pointed out that John is keen to tell us Easter Sunday happens in a garden, and the risen Jesus is mistaken by Mary Magdalene for the gardener. It seems that this whole episode is re-creation, it's Genesis again, in a new garden of Eden. And Jesus is the new Adam, made perfect and complete. And that makes Mary the new Eve. But this time, instead of being cast as the harbinger of sin and death (that's all pinned on Eve in Genesis 3)' the bringer of bad news - she is now the bearer of good new, the Good News, of life and salvation, as Jesus sends her out with the message. She's the first one to proclaim the resurrection in John. And so Eve, the woman, is redeemed.
  Finally, then, to summarise, from Luke and John we can suggest that women are as much a part of salvation history as men (logically that's a no-brained, if we take salvation history as involving a people or a family); that women, even married women, can not just support and resource, but actually fulfill any ministry in the church; that women can and should be disciples to the same extent as men, with the ministry and mission implications that entails; and, that longstanding efforts to silence and oppress women on the basis of Eve's sin in Genesis are not valid, not theologically sound, and have no place in the church and in God's new creation.