Photo Credit: Tami Zacharias
Women in the Bible.
The reclaiming of women as evangelists, in the person of Mary, carrying good news to others is probably one of my favourite scenes in all of Scripture. John paints it well, this edenic moment, where recognition and identifying, witnessing, sending and relaying truth are all powerfully packed in. The invitation into the story of resurrection-life shifting the whole world on its axis as we see the first true man, the first truth-telling woman rightly relating in a hair-raising, spine-tingling moment of deepest acknowledgement. Whatever else came before: Jesus is Alive and the witness of that sparks a righting into a new imagination of life. I love John 20 and 21 for all its strong stories of all things being made knew, but the role of Mary in John 20 makes my heart leap. The mystery and hope embedded in these moments of connection, the possibilities of her mad rush (my interpretation of ‘went’) to the others, where the declaration of her encounter is the first heralding of what the others discover to be truth.
When I think about the framing and oppression of women as inconsequential to the story, or as incapable of speaking, preaching, leading, I draw my attention back to Mary and Jesus.
But, I’m equally struck by another women who leads the church into new territory. The encounter with the God-fearing, open-hearted woman Lydia, a ‘leader’ in her won right, a savvy dealer, a ready hearer for good news. With strength enough to lead her whole household into the faith: a hospitable, persistent woman. Her home becomes a place of faith and refuge- a sanctuary for the fledgling faith and the place of peace after the prisoners Paul and Silas were set free: a centre of hope for a community of believers. The new European trajectory for the church begins with the receptivity of a woman who leads.
Why do these two stories resonate with me? They intertwine in my mind as setting the direction for the church to hear and acknowledge women as godbearers, good-news carriers, recognised by name, open-hearted and declaring and living out the truth of their experience of encountering God. Both are storied for us, different women, different experiences, one, powerless without Jesus, yet a speaker-for-him, the other powerful, yet hospitable enough to shape her power for Christ’s sake.
The other factor that makes me pause is that Jesus names Mary. He sees her. Acknowledges her. And, we hear Lydia’s name: Paul and Silas trust her. She’s acknowledged. Seen. She’s a central figure in receiving and empowering the church. I think that these samplings from the earliest texts that shape us should encourage us. To meet Jesus and hear our names on his lips, folded into the story of new life that we prophetically declare. We’re also to announce good news whether others believe we can or not (Mary’s not heard well necessarily), to creatively receive the good news and then create spaces of sanctuary so that the essence of hospitality, inclusion, welcome can be repeatedly expressed to those who are in trouble. I think these stories can worm their way into our deepest places and form us, confident that the pattern of Scripture is one that has women firmly woven into it.
Revd Dr Deirdre Brower Latz is Principal of Nazarene Theological College, Manchester. She loves thinking alongside others and engaging in the area of social justice: exploring theology, hospitality, mission as justice, engaging with poverty and deepening our call to be fully Christ-like in relation to others.