SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING MESSIAH
These are my teaching notes for the Cornerstone Church on Sunday, February 17, 2019.
SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING MESSIAH
Part 2 of ENTOURAGE. Luke 8:1-3.
JESUS, THE SOCIAL REVOLUTIONARY
Last Sunday, we looked at the twelve men who were in Jesus' inner circle. I said that we're all invited into Jesus' inner circle. Today, I want to make it clear, just in case there are any doubts, that Jesus' inner circle is open to women.
Here's my goal for today: I want to make it clear to everyone that women are 100% full participants in Jesus' Kingdom mission, equal partners with men in that mission, and totally welcome in Jesus' entourage.
In Jesus' day, the inclusion of women in the entourage of a traveling rabbi would have set off a social tsunami. It broke customs and even laws in some states. Jesus was a social revolutionary. Let me explain.
THE SOCIAL SITUATION OF WOMEN IN JESUS' DAY
In the Jewish and Greco-Roman context of Jesus' day, women were always at a social disadvantage. Laws and customs, which were set by men, dictated a woman's place in the home, the synagogue, and the community. Patriarchy is not right, but it was and is real. Here are some examples:
The daily prayers of Jewish men included, "Praised be God that he has not created me a woman." Women were expected to stay home, cooking and raising children, except when walking to synagogue. In the synagogue, women were to be silent and could not touch the scrolls. Men were not to speak to women in public. Rabbis refused to teach women. Women did not go to school. At the temple, women were restricted to the court of women. And on and on.
But Jesus defied the unjust laws and conventions of male dominated society.
JESUS AND THE WOMEN HE MET
Here are just four of several "shocking" examples of Jesus' lack of compliance with unjust laws and customs:
In John 4:1-26, Jesus carried on a lengthy conversation with a Samaritan woman. He dialogued about Bible and theology and promised her the Holy Spirit. He showed her respect. His disciples were not happy about Jesus talking to a foreigner and a woman. Jesus didn't care.
In Luke 13:10-17, Jesus healed a woman who was crippled by a demon for 18 years. He called her a "daughter of Abraham." This is an unusual title. Men were called 'sons of Abraham' to assure them they were in covenant with God. But women were never given that assurance. Jesus didn't care.
In Luke 8:40-48, Jesus did not rebuke a ritually 'unclean' woman (Leviticus 15:19-33) for touching him (thus defiling him). Instead, he publicly commended her faith and announced that she was healed and saved. And he blessed her with peace. By custom, the woman should have been chased off, but Jesus did not care.
In Luke 7:36-39, a so called 'sinful woman' (the euphemism for a prostitute) knelt behind Jesus who was reclined at the dinner table. She let down her hair, which in that culture, that was the equivalent of appearing topless. She wept copious tears onto his feet and wiped them off with her hair and rubbed perfume into his feet. Jesus told her that her faith had saved her. He blessed her as I do you every Sunday, "Go in peace." She broke so many customs and shocked so many 'decent' people. And Jesus did not care.
These stories combine to tell us one thing for sure. If you are a woman, Jesus welcomes you.
The stories also tell us that Jesus does not follow unjust customs that exclude people from access to God's love and healing. Jesus receives the outcast, the foreigner, the weak, the broken, the defiled, the sinner. These are the 'poor in spirit' who, if they will turn to him in faith, are welcomed into his inner circle and into the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 5:3).
THE ORIGINAL SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING MESSIAH
In Luke 8, we find three very important insights into the women who followed Jesus. They ignored male dominated social conventions to be full members of Jesus' entourage. This was the original sisterhood of the traveling Messiah.
(Luke 8:1-3) After 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.
Many women followed Jesus as disciples. The passage only names three, but then it says, "and many others." Luke's language is intentional. He wants us to know that women were members of Jesus' entourage. They traveled with him on his ministry tours. They received his teachings and watched his miracles. Jesus was preparing them for his Kingdom mission.
Many women received Kingdom life from Jesus. Again, the passage is short on details. It says, "The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases." Then it lists the three women - Mary, Joanna, and Susanna. I believe the passage means that the healings were NOT limited to those three. The "many others" also received healing and deliverance. In any case, the message is clear: Jesus brought the fulness of the Kingdom into women's lives. Jesus gave women access to his Kingdom mission.
Many women worked with Jesus on his Kingdom mission. The passage ends with, "These women were helping to support them out of their own means." Jesus and his disciples relied on donations for their support and these women - who knows how many? - helped with that. Joanna was probably wealthy - her husband was a very high official in the royal household - and she may have had access to funds. We don't know where the other women got their money. It's possible that Jesus and his entourage were supported by many small donations.
I was 'gob-smacked' by something I read this week and I'm a little embarrassed to tell you what it is because it seems so obvious. I was reading Professor Joel Green's excellent commentary on Luke and he wrote that women were part of the second inner circle known as the 'seventy-two' (Luke 10). Jesus sent them out to proclaim and heal.
CONCLUSION: WOMEN, STEP UP!
Women played a significant role in Jesus' mission. They were in his entourage. They travelled, received his teachings, watched his miracles, went out on ministry tours. They spoke the words and did the works Jesus taught them. It all defied the social conventions of the day in a shocking way. Jesus did not care.
But it gets even better. Women were the last disciples at the cross and the first disciples at the empty tomb. Women were the first to see the risen Christ and Mary Magdalene was the first disciple commissioned to proclaim the resurrection:
(Matthew 28:5-10) The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
(John 20:16-18) Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”). 17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.
New Testament professor, Aida Besancon Spencer writes,
Female disciples, like the males, had spent time with Jesus and were sent out to preach God’s reign. They were with Jesus, learning from his teachings to seek God’s reign, selling their possessions and giving all to the Lord’s ministry, as they were taught by Jesus (Lk 12:31-34; 18:22). The women from Galilee may not have been part of the Twelve, but they certainly were part of an inner circle that was trained in all ways as the twelve men were. They had been with Jesus since Galilee (Mt 4:23; 27:55; Mk 15:40-41; Lk 23:49, 55). Since the angels reminded the women that in Galilee Jesus had told them he would suffer, be crucified and be raised (Lk 24:6-8), this suggests they were present in Matthew 17:22, Mark 9:31 and Luke 9:18-22. Mark tells us Jesus wanted to be separated from the crowds because “he was teaching his disciples” (Mk 9:30). These women would have heard Jesus’ teaching to “deny themselves and take up their cross daily” (Lk 9:18-25); thus they denied themselves by giving generously to Jesus’ mission (Lk 8:2-3; Mt 27:55).They recognized, accepted and honored the forthcoming suffering of the Messiah by anointing Jesus before the crucifixion and being present at the cruci- fixion (Mt 26:6-13; 27:61; Mk 14:3-9; Lk 23:55; Jn 11:2; 12:3-8). Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, having understood that the Messiah would be crucified (Jn 12:3-7), a lesson Peter did not understand until later (Mt 16:21-23; Lk 24:33- 49; cf. 1 Pet 2:19-24).
From: Jesus' Treatment of Women in the Gospels, chapter 7 in Discovering Biblical Equality, pages 137-138.
What does Jesus' contact with women back then say to all of us today? Women, step up! Men, don't get in their way!
Step up to follow Jesus as his disciple; learn from him - his Kingdom words and works. Be like Mary, who sat at Jesus' feet to learn from him (Luke 10:39). Jesus commented, (Luke 10:42) "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
Step up to receive Kingdom life from him: salvation, forgiveness, healing, deliverance, anointing, mission. Wait for him in his presence.
Step up to work with him on his Kingdom mission. Put his anointing to work however the Spirit leads and empowers you. Live your life on mission with Jesus. Speak his words and do his works.
Men and women, this is Jesus' loving invitation to you today: Whatever you do, do not hide in the shadows. Refuse to sit on the sidelines. Don't let your past, or human customs, or your nagging doubts, or negative people exclude you from your full role in the church and the Kingdom of God.
Women, step up!