WOMEN WHO CARED
Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. (Matthew 27:55)
Women are drawn to him. It’s not that he’s extra good-looking or well-built. And it’s not that he’s a big financial success. He has no money to speak of. He doesn’t even have a place of his own. And yet women are attracted to him. One by one, for a variety of reasons, they’re drawn to the wandering Teacher from Nazareth, and they become Jesus’ friends.
For one thing, Jesus treats every woman he meets with love, not lust. He’s interested in who these women are as persons, not just what their bodies look like.
Also, he treats women with respect, not condescension. Most other teachers in the area refuse to instruct women–they figure women should stick with having babies and doing housework and leave the thinking to the men. But Jesus is different. He’s more than happy to associate with women, and he discusses his teachings freely with them.
He’s even willing to depend on them as partners in his work. A number of women are grateful for the friendship and help he’s given them, so they decide to help him in return. Jesus and the twelve men he’s appointed to help spread his teachings are travelling around telling people the good news that God’s reign is very near. The women want to support this work, and Jesus isn’t too proud or macho to accept their help. So the women make all the necessary arrangements and pay the bills from their own purses (Luke 8:1-3).
These women are drawn to Jesus and they care about him very deeply. It’s not just that they think his general attitude toward women is the right one. They love Jesus because he’s helped them personally and given them a new future.
Healed of Illness
Many women have been healed by Jesus. For example, a woman is subject to bleeding for twelve years. She uses up all her savings on various doctors, but none of them can help her. She feels weak all the time, and to make matters worse, her bleeding makes her ritually unclean. The physical problem is bad enough, and then she has to deal with the shame as well. One day she spots Jesus walking along surrounded by a huge crowds of people. She threads her way through the mass of bodies till finally she’s close enough to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. At that moment, she’s instantly made well.
She shyly melts back into the crowd, but Jesus suddenly stops walking and says, “Who touched me?” Jesus’ friend Peter says, “What do you mean, who touched you. All kinds of people are crowding around and bumping into you.” Jesus says, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.” Finally, the woman comes forward trembling and falls at his feet and tells why she touched him and how she’s been healed. And what does Jesus do? He affirms her for her faith. “Daughter,” he says, “your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
Why does Jesus make her identify herself? Not to embarrass her or scold her, but to affirm her. He doesn’t want her sneaking around feeling ashamed any longer. He wants her to go in peace, rejoicing in her faith, secure in the knowledge that Jesus thinks of her as his precious daughter. His touch heals her bleeding body, and his Word heals her bleeding spirit (Luke 8:43-48). And she’s just one of countless women that Jesus heals of various illness.
Rescued from Evil
Then there are those he rescues from the power of evil. Mary Magdalene is possessed by seven demons before she meets Jesus. She has no control of her moods or her actions. She’s dominated by dark and destructive powers. Nobody can help her. Nobody gets close enough even to try. Who wants anything to do with a weirdo like Mary? And then she meets Jesus. Instead of avoiding her or speculating on what horrible sins opened her to demonic control, he drives out the demons. He restores her sanity, and shows her how to live under God’s control. No wonder Mary Magdalene loves Jesus and wants to support his ministry!
Each person who meets Jesus finds that he’s more eager to give her a new future than to write her off for her past. Wherever Jesus goes, he accepts one sinful woman after another. Sometimes he even points out in public how many prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God (Matthew 21;31). His circle of friends soon includes many women with a sorry history. That doesn’t sit well with some folks, but it’s good news for any woman who’s longing to make a fresh start.
One day Jesus is having dinner at the home of a very respected, very religious man named Simon. A woman who’s lived a sinful, disgusting life hears that Jesus is having dinner there, and she crashes the party and makes a big scene. She throws herself on the floor by Jesus, weeping, and the tears dribble down her cheeks onto Jesus’ feet. She wipes the tears away with her hair and then puts some perfume on his feet. Simon’s eyes narrow as he watches all this. He knows the woman’s reputation, and he thinks to himself, “If this man [Jesus] were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.”
But just as Simon doubts that Jesus is a prophet with supernatural insights, Jesus reads the mind of Simon himself. He tells him, “Simon, I’m supposed to be your guest, but you’ve hardly treated me like one. This woman has been showing me a lot more kindness than you have. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus says to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:36-50). Instead of trying to impress a self-righteous stick in the mud. Jesus gives this woman a new future.
He does something similar when a woman caught in adultery is dragged before him by some of the religious elite. “Should we stone her to death?” they ask. Jesus replies, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” That gets rid of every last one of them. Then Jesus turns to the woman and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11)
Jesus would rather give a woman a new future than condemn her for her past. He’d rather give a person the help she needs than explain why she doesn’t deserve help. Many people who consider themselves holy don’t want to be dirtied by contact with sinners. But Jesus is different. He accepts sinners, and it doesn’t make him dirty; it makes them clean.
Women of All Kinds
Jesus is the friend of the woman in the gutter, but he’s also the friend of the woman in the palace. Take Joanna. Her husband, Cusa, manages the household of King Herod. That sounds like an enviable situation, but life can be sad and lonely at the top: a husband who’s never home because he’s too busy, and few friends. Most people steer clear of the power elite out of fear, and not to mention the fact that most of them can’t stand anyone with any ties to an unpopular ruler like Herod. But despite Joanna’s ties to Herod, Jesus accepts her, and she becomes a loyal and generous supporter, a partner in Jesus’ ministry, along with Mary Magdalene and many others (Luke 8:3).
Jesus attracts women of all kinds, and he inspires a tremendous loyalty in them. Quite a number travel with him to the different towns in Galilee to help his ministry, and when Jesus leaves Galilee and heads south for Jerusalem to accomplish his greatest mission, those same women are right there with him. They’re determined to follow him no matter where he leads, to care for his needs and advance his cause no matter what it takes. He’s done so much for them that they want to do something for him. His love is so great that they can’t help loving him in return.
The love of Jesus attracts many people to him, but they don’t always understand him or realize what it means to follow him. Before Jesus and his fellow travelers leave for Jerusalem, Jesus tells his disciples that he’s not headed for acclaim and power but rather betrayal and suffering. But it doesn’t seem to register. It’s hard to absorb something you don’t want to hear.
Take Mother Thunder, for example. Her name is Salome, wife of Zebedee and mother of James and John. Salome is a woman who follows Jesus and helps support his ministry. She’s also a proud mother. Her boys aren’t obscure fishermen any more. James and John, along with Simon Peter, seem to be the big three among Jesus’ disciples. Who would have imagined it? Her sons are the right-hand men of the greatest teacher in Israel, the Messiah, the one anointed to reign on God’s behalf.
James and John are quite a pair. They were born the sons of Zebedee and Salome, but Jesus called them the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), and they live up to their nickname. They’re about as aggressive and forceful as two men can get. The Sons of Thunder come by their nature honestly. They get it from Mother Thunder. Salome isn’t exactly the timid type.
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus sends messengers ahead to make arrangements, but at a Samaritan village, their plans hit a snag. Samaritans don’t like Jewish people to begin with, and they especially hate anybody who makes pilgrimages to Jerusalem, so they tell the messengers to get lost. They want nothing to do with Jesus and his entourage. Well, the Sons of Thunder aren’t about to take that lying down. They ask, “‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus rebukes them, and they go on to another village (Luke 9:51-56). The Sons of Thunder want to kill their enemies. Jesus intends to die for his enemies.
As Jesus continues toward Jerusalem, he again tells the Twelve that he will be condemned and mocked and flogged and crucified, and then raised to life again on the third day. But once again, it goes in one ear and out the other.
Mother Thunder comes up to Jesus with her two sons and asks a favor. She says, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” She thinks the way of Jesus is glory and power, and she wants her boys to share in his destiny. Jesus says, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink.”
“Sure we can,” they reply.
“You will indeed drink from my cup,” answers Jesus. “As for who gets the top positions in my kingdom–that’s up to my Father.” Salome wants her boys to be first in line to share the Lord’s destiny. Jesus replies that they will share his destiny, all right. Like him, they will serve and suffer. As it turns out, later on James does indeed get to be first among the Twelve–the first to be martyred, that is (Acts 12:2). He gets his head chopped off for being a follower of Jesus.
When the other disciples hear what James and John and their mother were asking for, they’re indignant. They’ve been wanting the top positions themselves. But Jesus tells them that they don’t understand God’s brand of ambition: In the world around them, people like to lord it over each other and boss others around. “Not so with you,” says Jesus. “Instead, whoever wants to be great must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:17-28).
Mother Thunder and her sons are perplexed. Why doesn’t the Master wipe out his enemies in a blaze of fire? What’s so great about being a slave? And what’s this about their Master serving and giving his life as a ransom for many?
As the group gets near to Jerusalem, Jesus decides to stop in the village of Bethany. There he’s invited to a dinner in his honor at the home of some dear friends: Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus, whom Jesus earlier raised from the dead. As they’re eating, Mary does something that’s not very practical or proper. She takes of bottle of extremely expensive perfume and dumps the whole thing at once over Jesus’ feet. Then she lets her hair down like a woman of the street and uses it to wipe Jesus’ feet.
The men in the room are scandalized, especially Judas. He’s the one they’ve put in charge of their financial affairs, and he speaks for all of them. How could Mary be so careless with her money? That perfume was worth a year’s wages! That money could have helped a lot of people. Why waste it on a sweet smell, when it could be used to fund a soup kitchen? Judas talks like the efficiency expert he is, and the other men all agree. Judas certainly makes a lot more sense than Mary.
Only one man approves of Mary’s silliness, but he’s the only one that matters. Jesus likes this wonderful waste. True, the soup kitchen will have to get funding elsewhere for today–but doesn’t the room smell wonderful? While everyone else is calculating costs and thinking about proper etiquette, Jesus is enjoying the fragrance of Mary’s extravagant love. He’s thinking that her perfume is preparing him in advance for burial.
When Judas and the others complain and criticize, Jesus rebukes them, and he blesses extravagant Mary. But Mr. Efficiency isn’t finished yet. Judas stops thinking how much the perfume was worth and starts estimating how much Jesus himself is worth. He goes to Jesus’ enemies and sells his master for the bargain price of thirty silver coins.
Mary’s not as practical as Judas. She doesn’t place top priority on how much things cost or on getting things done. A while back, Mary sat and talked with Jesus while her sister Mary was busy being a good hostess. Mary’s sister Martha criticized her for sitting around rather than helping out and doing something productive. But at that time Jesus sided with Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Now Mary is criticized again, this time by Judas and the other disciples, for being so wasteful and impractical. But again, Jesus sides with Mary. He seems to think some things are more important than hard work and careful spending and good manners. Loving him unreservedly is more important than all these things.
Cross and Tomb
From the dinner in Bethany, the group travels with Jesus to Jerusalem. When they get there, however, they’re in for a shock.
Jesus is arrested, beaten, and nailed to a cross. The women who cared for him can only watch in stunned disbelief. The One who loved them is hated. The One who encouraged them is mocked. The One who accepted them is rejected. The One who forgave them is condemned. The One who healed them is wounded. The One who brought them life is dying. He saved others, but he does not save himself.
Most of his male disciples have disappeared. They’re keeping a low profile. But the women are there at the cross, watching through their tears. Mary Magdalene and Salome and many other women who cared are there right to the very end, unwilling to abandon their beloved Lord. They didn’t expect this, they don’t know what it all means, and their future with Jesus seems to be dead. But in spite of their sorrow and shock and bewilderment, they can’t stop loving him.
Finally it is over. There he hangs, limp and lifeless. When the women see Jesus being taken down from the cross, they decide to do one last thing for him. They’ve cared for Jesus in life, and they’ll care for him in death as well. In spite of their shock, their heads are clear enough to take note of where he is buried. Then they hurry off to prepare spices for the body.
At the end of the Sabbath, early on the first day of the week, several of them hurry to the tomb in order to lovingly anoint his mutilated body with their precious spices. When they get there, however, they are in for another shock. And their discovery shocks the world and changes it forever.
The tomb is empty! The Savior is alive! The women are the first to find out, and Mary Magdalene is the first to actually see the risen Lord. The women’s journey with Jesus has led them through some puzzling situations, right up to the dreadful shock of Calvary. On their journey with Jesus, almost nothing turns out the way they expected. But it turns out all right in the end. And ever since the women made that discovery, people who walk with Jesus discover that there is a joy in the journey.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the joy we can have in walking with you. Thank you for paying the price of our sin on the cross, and for shattering the power of death through your resurrection. Thank you for your love and your compassion, for healing hurts and rescuing from bondage, for pardoning our sinful past and drawing us into a new and glorious future with you. As you rescued Mary Magdalene from Satan’s grip and made her the first witness of your resurrection, so transform all of us.
Today we thank you especially for all that you have done for women, and for all that you’ve inspired godly women to do for you. Help all of us, male and female, to rejoice in you, dear Jesus, and to be one in you.
By your Spirit, teach us what you taught Salome and her sons, that godly ambition is not to dominate but to serve, that true courage is not in the willingness to kill others but in the willingness to die for them. Give each of us the generosity those godly women of Galilee had, to share our resources for the sake of your kingdom in this world. Give us the extravagant love that your friend Mary of Bethany had, to pour out ourselves for you without regard to the cost. Give us the courage to stand with you in the time of sorrow as the women stood at Calvary, that we may also be there to rejoice with you in the victory of resurrection and life everlasting, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.