“There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him.” (Matt. 27:55)
We all know the joy of reading a great book for a second or third time. Perhaps when we first read it, we were young and didn’t pick up on some of the nuances or subplots. Then when we read it again, when we were older, we were able to appreciate a lovely turn of a phrase, the deeper meaning of a word, or a plot twist which we did not understand. Many of our students, for example, first read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis when they are in primary grades. They see it as a wonderful mythological adventure full of talking animals and animated creatures. Later, when we re-read it in middle school, the students are amazed that they missed the entire Passion narrative which is woven through the book. There are many open mouths and “wow’s” as all of this dawns on students, and it’s such a delight to see this awakening.
Women and Jesus in the Bible
I feel this delight and awe re-reading the Bible, and especially listening to the Passion and Resurrection stories each year. This year, in particular, I was struck by two passages pertaining to women and Jesus.
The first is quoted above from Matthew. The author thought it was noteworthy to include the fact that many women were there, and that these were the same women who had ministered to Jesus. These women, in modern parlance, would be the “handmaids to genius.” They would have provided the food and housing for Jesus so that He could travel and preach. A snapshot of this kind of ministering can be seen in Luke 10:38-42 in which Martha complains to Jesus regarding Mary’s lack of help in the kitchen. Jesus’ conversation with Martha reveals a very comfortable affection for both women and their home.
But Why did Jesus need anyone to minister to Him?
While Jesus was fully human, He was also fully divine and could have handled all of the day to day busy work by Himself. If He could feed 5,000 with a few loaves of bread and pieces of fish, He could have taken care of Himself and His followers very easily.
Quite simply, Jesus allowed the women to minister to Him for their benefit and not for His. As with everything He did, He was teaching us a bigger lesson: You love God by ministering to Him, and you do this by ministering to His presence on earth—His people and His Church. You see what needs to be done and then you serve wherever it is needed. You dig in and get your hands dirty. You touch the unclean and the unwashed. It is not enough to say that you believe in Jesus—you follow Jesus by ministering to the people in whom He lives and whom He loves. Moreover, when you minister to Jesus, you really are ministering to yourself. In the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta: “In loving one another through our works, we bring an increase of grace and a growth in divine love.”
An expansion of this concept takes place in the scene after Jesus has risen from the dead and appears to Mary Magdalene. In John 20:17, we read Jesus say to Mary Magdalene, “Stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” This is St. John’s version of the story, as most likely told to him directly by Mary Magdalene. It has always bothered me, for it sounded like Jesus was pushing her away. After I thought and prayed about it, however, I was able to see the beauty and meaning of it.
Imagine that you have witnessed the brutal murder of a loved one, and then, a few days after that loved one is buried, you see him again. I know that I would grab hold of my dear one and never want to let him or her go. I would be sobbing in joy and disbelief. I would cling so tightly. I would never want anything ever again to hurt or change my loved one. I imagine that this is exactly what Mary did. Jesus wanted her to know that it was He who was speaking to her. I imagine that they hugged one another, and then Mary did not want to let go. Mary wanted to keep things as they had always been, to go back to the times they had always had together.
But Jesus had other business ahead of Him. He was not quite done with the work of His Father, and Mary’s task, as His disciple, was not to cling to the past but to “go and tell” others about Him.
In the same way, we need to continually move forward in our relationship with Jesus. It is not enough to cling to Him and His words or to hang on to the Jesus we hold in our hearts. We need “go and tell” in our words and actions. We need to be reaching out and not looking inward. We need to be sharing His immeasurable love with others, and not just immersing ourselves in it.
The Bible is a living, breathing document. Because it is the word of God, infused with the Holy Spirit, it teaches us what we need to learn at a particular moment in our lives. It “meets us where we are,” and give us wisdom. The key, however, is our openness and humility. We must be prepared to receive the Spirit. I know that I hear the Spirit best when I am quiet and focusing on God. Unfortunately, there have been too many times when my own pride and busy-ness with the world got in the way. I pray that I may make it a priority to listen to Him, and go forth from there. He has risen. Alleluia!