May 20, 2005

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Jesus in the Gospels: His women followers

See Luke 8:1-3

It must be said frankly that the evangelists would be considered male chauvinists in our culture. Perhaps we can pardon them, though, because they were products of their time, i.e., the first century. However that might be, we just don’t get the full story of the roles that Jesus’ women followers played. We get intimations, but we have to fill in the blanks.

Only Luke’s Gospel tells us that, when Jesus and his Apostles journeyed from one Galilean town and village to another, women accompanied them. We learn only three of their names—Mary Magdalene, Joanna (the wife of Herod’s steward, Chusa) and Susanna—but the evangelist says that there were also “many others.”

Not only did these women accompany the men, they also “provided for them out of their resources.” Perhaps some of them, or their husbands, were wealthy. We can also be sure that they did the cooking for the group.

James and John’s mother, the wife of Zebedee, must have been among the women, at least during their trip to Jerusalem, because Matthew’s Gospel tells us that, during that trip, she approached Jesus and asked if her sons could have the highest places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom.

Joanna was one of the women who went, with Mary Magdalene, to the tomb on the morning of the Resurrection. Of course, Jesus’ mother, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the wife of Clopas, were all standing by the cross as Jesus was dying, and many other Galilean women were watching from a distance.

Mary Magdalene was undoubtedly the leader of the women, mentioned prominently by all the Gospels. If there were “many other” women traveling with Jesus, someone had to organize the group when they stopped for the night, and Mary Magdalene probably filled that role. Jesus had cured her of some sickness, perhaps a mental illness since Luke says that seven demons had gone out of her. However, there is no reason to think that she had been a prostitute, as she has been depicted through the centuries.

Luke’s Gospel introduced her after the incident of the unnamed sinful woman who tearfully anointed Jesus’ feet from an alabaster box, so many people have surmised that that woman was Mary Magdalene. If so, why didn’t the evangelist say so?

Mary Magdalene has also been confused with Mary of Bethany, the sister of Lazarus and Martha. It has even been theorized that the three siblings might have moved from Magdala in Galilee to Bethany in Judea because of Mary’s shameful life before her repentance, and Jesus visited them in Bethany because they had been friends in Galilee. Although this is possible, it seems pretty far-fetched.

There was, though, a special relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene since she is the first one Jesus appeared to after his resurrection. It’s ridiculous, though, to suggest, as the novel The Da Vinci Code did, that they were married.

It’s true, though, that Jesus had devoted women followers even if we don’t hear much about them in the Gospels. †


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