Women - Earliest Witnesses of Jesus' Resurrection
Samuel Thambusamy’s interests are in Popular Culture, Theology and Politics. He has a Master of Theology (M.Th) degree from the Senate of Serampore University. He has served in a wide range of ministries such as children, youth, church and development ministries. He is now involved with Wisdomtree and reaches out to young people through cultural apologetics. He lives with his wife Lanusenla and daughter Vandana Yujasola in Chennai, IndiaView all articles by Samuel Thambusamy
The passion accounts display a marked emphasis on women. Suddenly, they become ‘visible'. They are not hidden under the rubric of ‘crowds'. They now have ‘names' - Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary. They meet us as real ‘persons'.
These women - Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary - who couldn't bear to see Jesus' suffering, followed Jesus all the way to Golgotha. They were also the first eye-witnesses of Jesus' resurrection and more importantly, they were ‘sent' to the rest of the disciples with the message of Jesus' resurrection. In my view, these women equally qualify to be ‘apostles'- a title that later became a sole male preserve. Contrast them with the Jesus' immediate male disciples and you can easily tell the difference. The disciples' mind space was filled with fear, deep sense of failure and frustration. They refused to believe in Jesus' resurrection and rubbished the claims of these ‘women. Worse still, they returned to their old professions (cf. John 21).
Women (Mary, Joanna, Salome and Mary Magdalene along with other women) appear to be the earliest witness of Jesus' resurrection. In rabbinic Judaism, women's testimony did not have any credibility in court. Therefore, the portrayal of women as key eye-witness of Jesus in the biblical narrative is a re-assertion of the value of women - it is reflective of the commitment of the early Christian community. Agreed, these women did not go to the tomb expecting to see Jesus alive but the fact that they were there before day break demonstrates their courage, concern and commitment. They had come to the tomb to do just the ‘routine' - bringing spices they had prepared for Jesus. But, tell me why were the disciples not accompanying these women to the tomb? Were these women risking their lives to protect the disciples. I think, God valued the deep devotion of these women and bestowed on them both the privilege of encountering the risen Jesus and responsibility of telling others.
Even today, women through their deep devotion encounter the living Jesus in our midst (while we are busy with committee meetings, church politics and church administration). The role of women in the different ministries of the church is crucial - they teach our children at the Sunday school, they are involved in outreach ministries, they raise funds for Church projects, they enhance the aesthetics of our worship halls, they sing in the choir, and they participate in cottage prayer meetings, bible studies, mid-week meetings etc - yet they go ‘unnoticed' and ‘unrecognized'. In fact, there's a whole list of things that women do in our churches that is taken for granted. Ironically, it is through their seemingly ‘lowly' ministries and yet faithful service in our churches that they encounter the living Jesus present in our midst. The risen Jesus continues to honor their faith and women encounter him. Women continue to follow Jesus and remain faithful to him, despite their ‘invisibility' within church structures. Not surprisingly, women are greatly used by God to undergird the church's life and Mission.
The passages also record the difficulties these women faced as they shared their experience to the other disciples (in all probability men). To the rest of the disciples it was ‘non sense'. The disciples were unwilling to appreciate and give credence to their experience, not just because it didn't agree with ‘logic' and ‘reason' but also because it made them uncomfortable. The unwillingness may have been partly because they were ‘after all women'. Their male ego wouldn't allow them to accept it and so these women were incriminated and their experience (words -feelings included) was ruthlessly rubbished. Even today, women's words - experiences - feelings are not taken seriously. Most men believe that women are ‘emotional sort' and therefore can be easily manipulated, misled and mesmerized. At best, they are only taken to represent lower levels of spirituality.
We do not listen to women's spiritual experiences, let alone learn from them. Our collective male-ego constructs roadblocks for any learning from women's experiences - be at home or at the church. But, women encounter the risen Christ and their perspectives are valuable to our spiritual journey. Encouraging and enabling women's way of
reading -- feeling and perhaps leading can definitely add to our perspectives and enrich our collective understanding of the risen Christ. Who knows, it can even provide a corrective to our understanding of faith. The task, then, before us is to listen to women - co-travelers in out spiritual journey - and be continually challenged by the reality of the risen Christ.
Speaking out on women's issues, in many quarters, has become the flavor of the month. More often than not, it is for reasons of ‘political correctness' and not because of spiritual conviction. What we need today is more than just a few ‘empty' words and mere ‘cosmetic' touches to our church structures. The risen Jesus challenges us to re-affirm our commitment to women. We must to effect attitudinal changes at the congregational level to create a positive environment where women's experiences and contributions are valued and recognized.
The Risen Jesus chose to bestow women with the privilege of encountering Him and the responsibility of telling others. Like then, women bring to us their experiences with the risen Jesus. We must be willing to listen and learn from them.
(Mt 28: 1-10; Mk 16: 1 - 11; Luke 24: 1-12; John 20: 1-2 )