BECAUSE SHE WAS A WOMAN

“Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (Matthew 26:13 & Mark 14:9). 

by Rev. Erahvilla Maga-Cabillas

 Introduction

 Thousand of years had passed since the resurrection event took place, as  Christians, many of us take pride being Christ followers and being true to the Gospel message.  No one could refute anyone how he/she declares his/her faith in God. It is everyone’s religious rights.  But neither one could refute nor question any woman when she affirms that God has given her equal opportunity to claim her share in God’s ministry and thus she want to live out her faith in serving God’s people. Consequently, it is beyond religious rights when women of faith exercise their gifts of womanhood, leadership, ordination and service.

We heard and read many stories and life experiences of the daring acts of women, courageous women whose faith is lived-out in total service. The Bible has a lot of stories of women of faith both the known and the unpopular ones.  The history of the struggles of the Filipino people could never put women participation and contribution into oblivion.  Many can attest to the braved spirited women together with the men who continuously offered their lives in defense of life and human dignity as their life-offering responding to God’s call.

The Women in the Bible

 We are indebted to our forbears, the faithful and strong-willed women who dare to teach us to re-read the Bible from a woman’s perspective.  The methodology helps us to relate and identify the many women in the Bible giving due recognition especially to the unheard ones but whose life exemplifies courage and faith exercising leadership and total service while celebrating their gift of womanhood at the same time.  We would be greatly helped that from our own rank we do start rectifying the way they are introduced to us and affirm their leadership and service.

  •  Miriam who had been viewed as secondary to her brothers Moses and Aaron rather than the first woman mentioned in the Bible whose interest was national and whose mission was patriotic.
  • Jael who was unknown to us but remembered for her act of heroism during the time of judges by killing a general who caused forty years of Israelites’ oppression.
  •  Judith who liberated her people from Assyrian siege by chopping off the head of the army general.
  • Mary of Magdala or Magdalene who is known to be a prostitute rather as leader, companion and supporter of Jesus during his ministry and the first to reveal the good news of the Resurrection.
  • Esther, who was part of King Ahasuerus’ harem and later became queen; used her beauty and position to intercede the lives of her people.
  • Rahab was a harlot who sheltered two of Joshua’s men when they came to spy Jericho defying the king’s order and by deceiving his soldiers and help the Israelites to escape.
  •  Queen Vashti who had been regarded as disobedient by refusing the king’s order to parade her beauty for his drunken guests rather than as a woman of dignity and self-respect who refused honor but chose deposition and banishment  instead.
  • Bathsheba was known to be a seductive woman who lure the king but never as a raped victim by King David and who became the mother of King Solomon.
  • Jochebed who was the daughter of Levi was the mother of Aaron, Moses and Miriam and despite of her longings for her children she dedicated them to serve God.
  • Anna was the widow serving at the Temple when the Child Jesus was brought by his mother Mary, who was the first to announce Israel’s liberation and who preached that the miracle made flesh on the day she saw the Child.
  •  Prisca (the wife of Priscilla) who both supported Paul’ ministry in time of the persecutions of the early Christians and in all Pauls’ greetings she was mentioned first, a sign of prominence in a culture where it is contrary to social mores.

The stories where these women were involved are about life, a life not for themselves but for others. How they faced death, expulsion, disgrace, humiliation, persecution, as second class citizen but never did they stop because they were committed — what they are doing would bring something good — a transformation from old to new, a life over death — a liberation.  This is what the good news of the Resurrection Event brings to us as exemplified by Jesus Christ himself.

 The Gospel Accounts

 Despite of their differences in presentation or the way the story is told, the Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke and the Johannine Gospel (John’s Gospel) reflected the same basic story about the woman who anoints Jesus.   The version of the Markan (Mark) and Matthean (Matthew) Gospels of the passion accounts of Jesus, had similar accounts.  The woman who anointed Jesus’ head (Matthew 26:7) with a very costly ointment of nard (Mark 14:3) received approval by the Lord.  The disciples scolded the woman for such a waste of money. Instead of selling the ointment for large sum and be given to the poor, it was wasted by pouring the ointment to Jesus’ head.  Jesus being aware of what they did to the woman rebuked the disciples. For Jesus, the woman has performed a good service as a way of preparing for his coming burial. Thus, addressing to the disciples, Jesus said:  “Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (Matthew 26:13 & Mark 14:9)

The Fourth Gospel or John’s Gospel identifies the woman as Mary of Bethany, a devoted friend of Jesus who shows her love by anointing him.  However, Luke’s Gospel shifts the focus of the story (from the woman who receives Jesus’ approval and who will always be remembered) into a woman in the city who is a sinner, who anoints Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:37-38) and was forgiven for showing great love, saying to her: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:47-50)

Of the four accounts about the woman who anoints Jesus, regardless of the way the story is being presented, it is very remarkable that at the end Jesus always uplifts the status of the women against protest, rejection, arrogance and discrimination from the male disciples. According to Elizabeth Fiorenza in her book In Memory of Her, if the original story had been just a story about the anointing of a guest, who was Jesus, it is unlikely that such a commonplace gesture would have been remembered and retold as the proclamation of the gospel.  Therefore, it is much more likely that in the original story the woman anointed Jesus’ head.  Since the prophet in the Old Testament anointed the head of the Jewish king, the anointing of Jesus’ head must have been understood immediately as the prophetic recognition of Jesus, the Anointed, the Messiah, and the Christ. As far as the four accounts are concerned, they are very clear that it was a woman who named Jesus by and through her prophetic sign-action.

In Jesus’ time, when Israel was under the Roman Empire, to proclaim someone to be the Christ, the liberator of the people from the yoke of the Romans always invite trouble because it means disobedience, defiance or rebellion against the present rule.  What the woman did to Jesus, anointing him as Messiah, was a bold and daring act done by a woman in Jesus’ time. The action itself was a political statement.  And foretelling the action-event of what the woman has done is in fact a politically dangerous story!  And Jesus has commanded that wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what the woman did to him will always be told in her memory, in remembrance of her.

But it is very sad to note that while the stories of Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial are imprinted in the memory of Christians, the story of that courageous, nameless woman who prophesied  Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, the Liberator is practically forgotten if not deliberately erased from the accounts of Jesus’ passion narratives. Even her name is lost to us. That the woman’s prophetic-sign action did not become a part of the gospel knowledge of Christians.   The writers of the Synoptic Gospels: Mark, Matthew and Luke never knew her name and it was only in John’s Gospel that identified her as Mary of Bethany.  Nameless as she was to the Three Gospels, it is unlikely not to wonder how come the woman was nameless and unknown during Jesus’ time when in fact she was bringing a very expensive kind of ointment and poured it to Jesus’ body to the anger of the disciples as a waste.

No such an ordinary economically poor woman could buy expensive ointment during Jesus’ time and even in our own context, without being recognized.  How come she is forgotten when Jesus commands the opposite? “Truly I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (Matthew 26:13 & Mark 14:9).  That leads us to question WHY.   The name of the betrayer and the one who denies Jesus are remembered, but the name of the faithful disciple who braves herself to a very courageous act is forgotten…why? Is it because she was a woman?

The Affirmation of Women

 It is difficult to speculate then that IT IS BECAUSE SHE WAS A WOMAN, she is forgotten and has never been given due recognition.   However, it seems there is some truth in the statement.  The Church seems to forget

That is why, it takes for all women the courage and the strength to recognize, to affirm the story and to start remembering her as commanded by Jesus that what she has done will be told in her memory.  It will take all women the commitment to follow what she has done by living out the gospel imperative: to proclaim the good news and to serve the least of our brethren as exemplified by Jesus in his ministry and to actively participate Christ’s mission through his Church.

As women, created in the image and likeness of God, we have our responsibility to take part in the ministry of the Church as the embodiment of Jesus Christ by being an active member of where we belong.  Now that we know our calling and are informed the need to actively participate, we should not wait to be invited or to remain silent, unconcerned, indifferent, relaxed and undisturbed to what is happening around us: inside our homes, in the church, in our workplace, in the community, in the society and in the whole world.

Women can not remain silent and blind to the plights of all the women: the Filipino women especially the migrants, the urban poor women, the peasant women, the woman laborers, the indigenous women, the churchwomen, and all the women around the world.  Women can not remain unaffected to the cries, moans, and shouts of other women and the children especially the stateless children and all the victims of oppression, injustices, and all forms of dehumanization where people are denied to live a dignified life and to experience life abundance.

Women should not linger anymore by just waiting what will happen next or just hang through catching the fragments patriarchal society left behind. The strong currents of change continue to challenge the relevance of our faith and service to God’s people.  Women must act in order to affirm her womanhood to service, the total servanthood in participating God’s mission.

Affirming women’s contribution to God’s mission and as partners in the ministry shall lead us to one sensitive issue that has been debated in the churches for many years.

Women in the Sacred Ministry

 The ordination of women into priesthood has always been a debate in the Church. There are even women who can not accept woman priest celebrating mass or doing other church functions like the ordained men. On the other hand, many women welcome women ordination, and recognize the potentials and partnership of woman priests in the church and ministry.  They willingly give their supports to ordained women. As woman priest, it is just right to be aware that some of the parishioners/congregation and even the male clergy might have difficulties in carrying this out.  Nonetheless, it is a blessing from God that there are others, those who consider the full participation of women in the church as truly Scripture based.   It is a matter which deeply touches our Christian faith.

The New Testament model of the church clearly expresses and demonstrates the partnership of men and women in God’s ministry in preaching, in church leadership, in prophesying, in teaching and in caring for the needy. We cite the stories of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18 and 19)  Lydia (Acts 16.40), Phoebe (Rom 16.1), Philip’s daughters who prophesied (Acts 21.8-9), Euodia and Syntyche (Phil 4.2). Following the model of Jesus Christ we see the importance and urgency of partnership of women and men. Both women and men should have equal opportunities to participate in God’s mission according to the gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit. So women and men should be equipped with theological education. Equal opportunities of service include ordination of women.

Now we can say that the ordination of women emerged as an important issue in the agenda of partnership most especially in the Church. Although our church, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente has been ordaining women for  almost two decades now, still the discussion on the ordination of women has yet to be on the right framework the way IFI understand ordination, and how to treat the office of the woman priests.

The hierarchical and authoritative status given to ordained male clergy for centuries was highlighted and become a hindrance to creating new models of ministry in the church which are inclusive and empowering to the congregations and the clergy themselves. Implicitly, this raises questions as to how we equip the whole people of God for ministry through theological education and ministerial formation both at the seminaries and in the congregations. Because the way we equip the people of God for God’s mission has a direct impact in the way we understand and live partnership in church and society. In other words, theological education and ministerial formation are some of the aspects that demand an on-going dialogue among and within the whole IFI.  And as we continue to study the biblical model of mission, we feel the need to redefine and re-evaluate our understanding of priesthood, disciples-ship, and our view of the Church mission and in particular, the IFI Mission.

 Conclusion

 All Christian women must remember always that from the conception of Jesus to his presentation at the temple, in his earthly ministry to the anointing of Jesus by the woman as the Messiah, at the foot of the cross to his burial and to the resurrection event, women had been part and were always present very significantly until the great commissioning.

Jesus consistently opposes Jewish tradition and the very low regard the men had for women by uplifting women status in the society.  When he discourses with the Samaritan woman (John 4: 1-42) at the well and was cautioned by disciples about her personality Jesus’ rebuked them.  Jesus has always exemplified affirming women’s courage, strength, commitment and the exercise of great love.  In our capacity as women, Jesus the Messiah, the Anointed, the Christ always recognize our contributions even how small it would be. This is more than enough not to be challenged and be more responsive to God’s calling through priesthood.

As woman priests of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, celebrating the “Decade of Women Priesthood” and now the Second Decade of Woman Priests, the more we take pride of being God’s servants.  Responding to God’s call is our witness.  It is our offering to God who bestow us the gift of life.  It is our humble response of witnessing by exercising our gifts of womanhood, leadership, ordination and service. The first New Testament community will always enlighten us, as we follow the example of the Lord Jesus in his ministry. Uplifting women from there lowly places in the society like:

  1. converse publicly with the Samaritan woman
  2. touch the unclean woman without prejudice
  3. entrust the message to women to tell the good news of the Resurrection as Mary of Magdala did; and by
  4. counting Martha and Mary (Lk. 10.38-42) to be among his disciples accompanying him in his ministry

These are some of  the few biblical frames of Jesus’ regard of the women during his time. Our prayers then that all women and men will soon realize the participation of women in all aspects of life, in the ministry of the church and as partners and co-workers for the realization of SHALOM will be a joy to celebrate.  It manifests in the recognition and acceptance of women in church leadership and in the ordination ministry.  It is one step forward in realizing the full community of women and men in the church.  As woman priests, we commit ourselves to be instruments to wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, like what the woman has done will always be remembered.  She will always be remembered because she is a woman of courage and of faith, a woman who has discerned of what it meant to be a servant of a liberating God, the God who is risen, the God who never submit to suffering and death but come out to be triumphant.

 References:

Woman Word by Miriam Therese Winter

All Women in the Bible by Herbert Lockyer

Women of Faith: Defend Life and Human Dignity, NCCP Publication for 2006 International Women’s Day

1996 Women Consultation for the Middle East, Ayia Napa Conference Centre, Cyprus

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