The Women Who Served Jesus

The stories of Jesus’ appearance after the resurrection have enormous appeal for us, not least because of the prominent role of the women who, from the very beginning, were disciples of Jesus and followed him as he went about teaching and preaching. Scripture doesn’t specify just how many women disciples travelled with Jesus but Mark tells us that there were many. They remain largely anonymous, serving quietly and faithfully, supporting Jesus and the male disciples “from their own possessions” (Luke 8:3). We know the names of some of these women – Martha and Mary (Luke 10:36) Mary, the mother of Zebedee’s sons, Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward and Susanna” (Luke 8:33).

In Luke 23:27, we learn that many women followed Jesus after his arrest and wept as they watched him carrying his cross to the place of execution. Mark (15:40-41) tells us that a large group of female followers kept vigil from a distance. When it was all over and Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross, “the women followed Joseph of Arimathea and watched how Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb. Then they went to prepare some sweet-smelling spices for his burial”. (Luke 23: 35-36).

While the male disciples were huddled together hiding from the authorities, it was the women who came to the tomb on the day following the Sabbath with all they needed to anoint Jesus’ body and it was they who were the first to learn that Jesus had risen. Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene who is given the task of telling the other disciples (Mark 16:11) but they did not believe her and dismissed the women’s account as women’s tales that were unworthy of credence.

Finally, Jesus appears to the unbelieving disciples and he “rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they did not believe those women who had seen him after he had risen” (Mark 16:14).

Women remained faithful throughout. They did not abandon Jesus and flee when he was arrested; they stood by him at the cross; they bought ointments and oils from their own resources and they were first at the tomb to witness that he had risen and were commissioned to go and spread the good news.

Many unnamed women’s lives were affected and changed by contact with Jesus. Poet Denise Levertov, inspired by Diego Velazquez’s painting entitled “The Emmaus Supper”, imagined how Jesus might have touched the life of a young slave girl who served in the kitchen in the inn where Jesus and the two disciples had supper. Velazquez does not choose Jesus and the disciples as the main subject of his painting but rather a young woman who is marginalised at every level by her mixed race, gender and class. Jesus and the two disciples are in the background, glimpsed through what seems to be a serving hatch. In the foreground is the young servant girl, ear cocked attentively, eavesdropping on the conversation between Jesus and the disciples. The painting captures the moment when the girl suddenly realizes that the man who is speaking and explaining the scriptures, is none other than Jesus. It is such a revelation to her that she seems to have to lean against the table in shock. She recognizes the Resurrected Christ, probably even before the two disciples did! They were blind to Jesus’ identity even after the long walk in his company from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Yet this young woman recognized the risen Jesus in the ordinary context of her kitchen. “God is found in the pots and pans.” (Teresa of Avila)

What is going through the mind of this girl as she strains to hear what is being said in the next room? We imagine that she recalls her experience of meeting him, of hearing him speak as if to her alone, of the impact his words and actions had on her and of how she felt transformed by this meeting. Levertov, in her poem suggests that she is recalling being a witness to his saving actions in favour of the poor and the excluded – people just like her. And as we contemplate the painting we can imagine that she would have longed to be able to sit at table with Jesus and join in the conversation!

But as a servant she would have been invisible – to the disciples perhaps – but not to Jesus. She would not have dared to even speak unless spoken to first. However let us dare to imagine! Perhaps when she brought in the wine jug, Jesus looked at her, remembered her and invited her to sit with them and hear his teaching. Perhaps when she finished her task that night, her heart was burning within her and she too set out for Jerusalem having made the life-changing decision to give her life to spreading the Good News.

As we read these post resurrection stories, may our hearts also burn within us and send us out with renewed energy and enthusiasm to spread the Good News!

Sr. Gemma Corbett