Women and The Resurrection
The Bible tells us that Jesus was counter-cultural. His Jewish upbringing and the mores of his day tell us that he lived in a world with many boundaries between races, religions and also gender.
The life of women in Biblical times was oppressive. In this patriarchal society, they were considered inferior and under the authority of men at all times—both before marriage to their father, and after marriage to their husband. They were essentially confined to their father’s or husband’s home, and their status was scarcely above that of slaves. They were second-class Jews, with no access to religious teaching and excluded from the worship of God. This makes the way that Jesus demonstrated God’s view of women even more stunning.
Jesus was radically inclusive and respectful of women. They were accepted into his inner circle. Luke 8:1-3 lists some of them by name and adds “and many others.” He overthrew centuries of Jewish tradition when he taught Mary, Martha’s sister, at his feet in Luke 10:32. Mark 5:25-34 recounts his healing of a woman suffering from chronic menstrual bleeding, when it was a huge transgression for a man to interact in such a way with a woman and ignore ritual impurity laws. His words treated men and women as equals, such as when he called the woman who he had healed from satanic spirits “a daughter of Abraham” in Luke 13:16—a phrase found nowhere else in the Bible and implying she had equal status with the sons of Abraham. And in John 4:7—5:30 we read of Jesus’ conversation with a woman of Samaria, when men were allowed to talk to women only within their own family.. And she was doubly unclean, being both a foreigner and a woman.
Matthew 27:55-56 and Mark 15:40-41 tell us that it was mostly women who followed Jesus from Galilee were present at the crucifixion; most of the men had fled from the scene. Later in the New Testament, we can talk about Phebe, who Paul refers to as “deacon” and a patron of many, and who was his emissary to the church in Rome. And Priscilla worked and traveled with Paul and her husband as an evangelist; her name is mentioned five times in the book of Acts—very unusual in a male-dominated society. What we see here is a woman who was a full partner in Gospel work, and not confined to her prescribed role or someone’s property. We can also talk about Junia, who was “outstanding among the apostles” (Romans 6:17) and Lydia, a businesswoman who opened her home to the disciples and encouraged them, in the narrative of the growth of the early church.
But the story that grips my heart and is personally compelling more than any other is of women and the resurrection. In this most spectacular event, on which all of Christianity hinges, and which is the centerpiece of our faith, Jesus appears to these faithful women. They were the ones he chose to first see an empty tomb—the place of death, transformed into a place of life. They are the first to meet Jesus and experience him in his resurrected state. And stunningly, to them is entrusted the task of going and telling the others the Good News. In that world, in which women could not testify in court, this takes my breath away. It’s breathtaking because the implications to me are enormous.
I may not be living in a time and place of the type of severe oppression in which women did in Jesus’ time. But, sadly, many Christian women, and particularly women with leadership gifts—myself included—still experience the crippling affects of patriarchy in the church. In few evangelical congregations are women allowed to serve to their maximum potential, with limits on their leading, with rules against them being pastors, elders, deacons and teachers. Parameters exist, defining ministries in which they may be involved (women and children, primarily) with discrimination in the seminary setting, in their lack of invitations to speak at and participate in theological conferences, et al.
How Jesus treated women goes a long way in showing us that these rules of patriarchy are the constructs of man, rather than the will of God. If the Son of God would in his sovereignty choose women to be the ones to first witness and proclaim the most pivotal of all historic events, we must see the misalignment of patriarchal thinking with what the Word of God sets forth via the life of Jesus, our example in all things, and in women’s roles in the spreading of the Good News of the resurrection. This story is not a mere footnote, but placed in Scripture for a distinct purpose, as is all of Scripture, and is meant to legitimize the important role of women in his kingdom’s economy.
What it means to me today is that in God’s kingdom, women’s voices matter. They are to be heard and believed. The are to be entrusted with proclaiming the Gospel. Great value should be placed on their gifts, abilities and contributions as equal to that of men. What it means to me is that Jesus powerfully demonstrated God’s heart when he crossed over the prescribed gender roles of his time. It shows that, in the words of Carolyn Custis James, “Patriarchy is the backdrop of the Bible, not the message of the Bible.” Therefore, no boundaries should be placed on women relative to what they can and cannot do in God’s kingdom. They should not be confined to serving the coffee at the Board meetings, but given a seat at the table. It’s not about power. It’s about calling. It’s about gifting—given by the Holy Spirit. What it means to me is that there is an army of qualified leaders, just waiting to be mobilized to do the kingdom work that is so very needed in our world—a very dark place desperate for all the light that we can shine in it. Why would be hold them back? What is there to fear?
This is the power of the story of women and the resurrection: it can set us free from the bondage of patriarchy and release all believers into the freedom of maximizing their gifts for God’s kingdom.