Leslie Cannold makes some important points in The Da Vinci sisters. However, there are gaps in her thesis. So often these days, I think of the gaps – the gaps in the Biblical stories which do not include things that are important to us to-day and yet are not transient but have always been there.
Cannold writes about the sisters of Jesus and throws in a mention of Mary Magdalen. Clearly, Cannold’s familiarity with the Christian Gospels is minimal because she left out women – some named, some nameless – who I consider rather vital to the public ministry and advocacy of Jesus and whose type still abounds in Christian communities of all types and sizes across the world to-day.
The women I speak of are named/mentioned in Luke 8:23 – the verse following the one that names Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out. They are Joanna and Susanna and we are told there were many others. These women provided, we are told by Luke, out of their means for Jesus and The Twelve as they moved about the cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.
Joanna was the wife of Chuz, the steward of Herod….yes THAT dreadful Herod.
These women have fascinated me for a long time. They followed Jesus out of gratitude for what He had done in their lives. But their devotion went further than that. These women seem not to be poor, penniless women. They are women with “means”. We don’t know whether this is their own private “means” or the means belonging to their husbands. I wonder about Joanna’s means which may have come to her indirectly from the persecuting, ambitious, collaborating, murderous Herod into the promotion of a way of life which is the very opposite of the qualities describing Herod.
I look at the women in my lifetime who keep the Christian church going through their means, their organisational skill, their energy, their love, their gratitude. Women love Jesus – because He first loved, listened to, and respected them. The women mentioned in Luke Chapter 8 were among the first women to have experienced this face to face, person to person. They didn’t forget and they expressed that remembrance together with their gratitude in real and practical ways.
Just like women to-day: the women who make jam for stalls to raise money for poverty stricken schools in Papua New Guinea; the women who populate the halls of peace to abolish and have removed the land mines of war; the women forbidden ordination by their tradition yet minister to whole parishes without priests; the women who have wielded the paintbrush to freshen the fabric of the church when no bloke was there to do it; the women who form communities which example for us something of how the kingdom of God might look and how it might be experienced.
Mary Magdalene and Joanna and others were at the tomb when The Twelve and other males had gone to ground. They were the eye-witnesses of the Resurrection. Not The Twelve. Women were the first to bring the Good News that Jesus lives. Church tradition refers to Mary Magdalene as Apostle to the Apostles. And yet….and yet many traditions do not open to women the fullness of Christian work and experience possible for males. Just as there are gaps in the biblical record, there are gaps between the experience of being male and being female in the Christian church.
In the Orthodox tradition, these women are remembered for their first Easter work as the “myrrh-bearers”. I can’t help feeling, though, that this is merely a pious token of their presence at the tomb. It is high time their substantial role in the extension of the kingdom of God was recognised by extending to their sisters in Christ from henceforth every right and entitlement within the Body of Christ that is extended to men.
Lastly, I can’t let the opportunity go by to express my gratitude to Luke, the Beloved Physician, my brother in Christ. Luke, tradition has it, was very close to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and much of the gospel carries stories of peculiarly female experience. I am indebted to Luke for undergirding my kingdom experience with his gospel recording.