In the Jewish culture of Jesus’ time and in some of our African cultures, the place of women was not equal to that of men. In other words, the patriarch rules and oppresses women. Women were regarded as inferior in almost every area of life. Most could not inherit property, and their word was not permitted as a witness in a legal matter. No rabbi of Jesus’ day would have included women among his disciples. But in order to show that God views women and men without distinction, Jesus included women in his circle of followers.
Jesus Welcomed Women
We know Jesus’ twelve disciples by name. But we do not always notice the names of his devoted female followers. Though he touched and healed many, there were some who followed him closely, played a significant role in his ministry, and “supported him out of their own means”.
Jesus included women in his circle of followers.
One such woman was Mary Magdalene who was rejected by most people. Jesus had cast out seven demons from her. She and many other women went with Jesus to nearby towns and villages as he announced the good news about the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1-3). She remained totally committed to him and was one of the first witnesses of his resurrection.
Women Made Jesus’ Ministry Possible
There were also other women who followed and supported Jesus, such as Joanna (the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household), Susanna and many others who took it upon themselves to pay the bills and accompany Jesus and the Twelve as they travelled from place to place. That married women would be travelling with Jesus’ group is significant. Jesus considered people in terms of their relation to God, not in terms of their gender, age, or marital or social status. He treated each person with compassion, dignity, and respect.
Jesus loved Mary and Martha from Bethany (sisters of Lazarus, whom he also loved), and considered them his friends. Their home became a place where he could find rest and quiet away from the crowds that followed him (Luke 10:38-42).
Jesus considered people in terms of their relation to God.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a part of his first public miracle (John 2:1-11). After Jesus’ resurrection, Mary was counted among those who were close to him (Acts 1:14). The ministry that women provided in the days of Jesus was powerful.
Different Roles, Equal Value
Many communities in Africa have clearly defined roles for men and women. Among the Kalenjin of Kenya, when a man walks into a homestead and sees only women, he will ask in a loud voice, “Is anybody home?” The women will tell him whether there is a man at home. No offense is intended. Likewise, when a man visits a home and there is no woman present, the owner of the home will say to the visitor, “There is nobody home.” He means, “There is no one to take care and make food for us”. No explanation is necessary. From their perspective, the home belongs to the man. The community sees it as his home. The woman sustains the man’s home. Both have significant roles.
Women have worth and value equal to that of men.
Jesus, by his teaching and actions, affirmed the worth and value of women as persons. He showed that both women and men are called to love God and serve him. African Christians should embrace God’s view that women have worth and value equal to that of men. The gifts, experiences, perspectives, and participation of both women and men are needed in the church and in society.
Gospel Stories About Faithful Women
Women supported Jesus until his death. At his crucifixion, some of his followers fled—especially the men—while women went through the experience, right up the the resurrection. Standing at the foot of the cross we see Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph), and Salome (the mother of Zebedee’s sons) (Mark 15:40-41; Matthew 27:55). They were filled with sorrow. They were helpless. But they were present.
Both women and men are called to love God and serve him.
Three days later, these three women and Joanna were the first to realise that Christ had risen from the dead. “But the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it” (Luke 24:11). The women, however, believed and immediately ran joyfully to spread the news of the risen Lord. When Mary Magdalene found the disciples, she told them, “I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
Today, Jesus still sends women as well as men to tell others, “I have seen the Lord”. In conclusion, our churches are full of women as majority members, with fewer men. Maybe this culture or tradition was inherited from the cross.