40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
And there were also women there.
You know the story, the moments leading up to this scene in Mark’s gospel, that we read and heard and shared only just a few weeks ago during Holy Week.
- the Passover meal has been savored
- Jesus, drawn to the garden to pray, has been betrayed and arrested • He is put on trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilot,
- and sentenced to death.
In Luke’s version of the story, the women arrive on the road to Golgotha, “weeping, and beating their breasts, and wailing for Jesus,” the text tells us.
But in Mark, the women don’t get mentioned until the deed has been done:
- the curtain of the sanctuary is torn in two, and Jesus breaths his final breath
- the soldier standing guard looks up into his face, and whispers “surely this man was God’s son.”
Only then does Mark mention them:
“And there were also women there,” he tells us, “looking on from a distance. There was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 The women followed him, provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with Jesus to Jerusalem.
When Libby approached me about preaching this evening, and shared with me our theme for the day, “tell the story,” my plan was to tell the story of one of the unnamed women in the Scripture. It seemed to me a good opportunity to spotlight a woman who had encountered Jesus and been transformed by that encounter, so much so that her story lived on, even if the men penning our scriptures hadn’t bothered to remember her name.
But then, I ran across these two verses in Mark’s Gospel and they just stuck in me.
And there were also women there.
And there were also women there.
And there were also women there.
They have been there all along.
Mark may only now be naming them, some of them, many of them remain unnamed, but there were ALWAYS, also women.
They too played vital a role in the work of God, and the ministry of Jesus. It’s easy to forget that when they only get two small verses.
I recently listened to a Ted Talk by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, on women in leadership. In the talk, which I believe dates back to 2011 or 2012, she rattles off a list of depressing statistics about how far we have not come when it comes to women in the highest places of leadership.
- 190 heads of state, 9 are women
- of all the people in parliament globally, 13% are women
- In the corporate sector, women claim only 15-16% of top-level jobs—c level positions (CEO, COO, CFO)… and the numbers, she tells us, are moving the wrong direction.Things seem to be improving since that Ted Talk…
- In January of this year, the 116th United States Congress came into office with a record number of women—127 to be exact.
- 102 in the House, 25 in the Senate.
- Many of them also minority voices, which very much need to be heard in our current cultural climate.
- It’s a win, right?
- Yes. But it’s still less than 25% of the 535 members of Congress in the United States.As women in ministry, we are not unfamiliar with this reality, are we?
- In the United States, only about 10% of congregations have senior pastors or co-pastors who are women—and that’s a really recent number released by research at Hartford Seminary. That’s nearly double the number of women in these positions a decade ago.
- Things are also improving in moderate Baptist circles, every so slowly. I didn’t ask Pam Durso for the most recent number (which I am sure she could give us), but I can see the tides slowly turning as more and more of my female friends and colleagues are being called into senior pastor positions… even if, statistics say, they are being paid nearly $15,000 less annually than their male counterparts.
There is work still to be done. There is always work still to be done. I’m preaching to the choir—you know this. You know these numbers. You live these numbers. But these numbers aren’t what I want us to focus on today.
While the work of Baptist Women in Ministry both locally and globally, is vital to the future of the church, and women within it, I am here to remind you, that no matter what the numbers say, there were also women there… and there always have been.
One of the reasons this passage from Mark kept calling to me, I think, is that while all four gospels attest to the fact that there were women who accompanied Jesus in his ministry, only Mark’s gospel expounds on this, with one brief sentence. This is what the women did: they followed Jesus, they ministered to Jesus, they came up with him.
This is the only word the other gospel writers also used to describe the activity of the women with Jesus. It is a Greek word that essentially means to accompany one in order to become a disciple.
It’s a good reminder that while the 12 may have been men. They were not the only ones present. The women who stood at the foot of the cross has been following Jesus since the very beginning, through Judaea and Samaria, watching him teach and heal, being receipts, themselves, of his teaching and healing….
- I imagine they were there, at least some of them, for the sermon on the mount
- and they were there for the healing of the blind man and the feeding of the 5,000.
- Maybe they, too, were in the boat when Jesus calmed the storm
- and it’s likely they were witnessed when Jesus on walked on water
- One tradition I read even suggested that the Passover meal Jesus shares with his disciples the day before his crucifixion took place in the home of one of the women who had been accompanying Jesus.
These names have not been mentioned. There they are, listening, watching, learning, asking questions, seeking answers, becoming disciples.
The second word that Mark uses to describe the women’s actions is “providing” for Jesus. The Greek word, here, has a variety of translations:
“to be a servant, attend to, to wait at table, to put another’s interest before one’s own.”
We hear this definition, at least I do, and cringe.
As women, serving others, and putting others needs before our own comes so naturally to us that they are patterns we have to actively work to unlearn, in order to love and women’s stories are woven all through the Gospel narratives, even if there care for ourselves.
But there is more to this word that Mark uses than cooking and cleaning and feeding.
- Mark uses the same world back in chapter 1 to describe what the angels did for Jesus in the wilderness; when he was tempted by the devil— they ministered to him.
- It’s the same word used to describe what Jesus did when he washed the disciples’ feet, when he tells them that what it means to be great in God’s story is to become the servant of others.
These women have been modeling for their male counterparts the way of God’s kingdom. They have been ministering to the minister, caring, loving, supporting— physically, spiritually, financially, emotionally.
One definition of this word that I ran across said it this way,
“to supply for another the necessities that sustain life.”
This is so much more than domestic service. These women were offering what women have been offering all along, life-sustaining presence…. to the incarnate God.
The last verb that Mark uses to describe the actions of these women who accompanied Jesus is quite peculiar. In the NRSV, it gets translated “to come up with him” to Jerusalem. But the word itself seems implies something more than a physical movement from one place to another. The definition is:
“to ascend, come up together, to move to a higher place.”
This word, strangely, is used only one other time in the entire New Testament, in Acts 13, when Paul, on his mission to the Gentiles, describes for them, the resurrection of Jesus:
“They took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. (Paul said) But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him, and they are now his witnesses to the world.”
This word is not about physical movement, only. It’s about spiritual experience. It is used exclusively to describe those who have encountered the resurrected Christ, who understand what God is doing on a new level, on a higher plane, perhaps.
It is used to describe those with a story to tell—those who have encountered the risen Lord and are now are called to be witnesses the resurrection power of God.
And there were women there.
The women who accompanied Jesus, who stood at the crucifixion, they were the first witnesses to the resurrection. All the disciples had fled the scene, running in fear. And yet these brave women remained.
Depending on which gospel you read, the list of women present at the crucifixion and resurrection differs.
- There is Joanna, and Suzanna, and Salome
- There is Mary the mother of Jesus
- Mary the mother of James
- and Mary the wife of Cleopas
And as Mark tells it, “many other women”
The one name that makes it into all 4 resurrection accounts is Mary, the Magdalene. There is no doubt in my mind that for the four gospel writers to share this detail, it must have been common knowledge that Mary the Magdalene and Jesus were quite close.
Mary gets a bad wrap, not so much in scripture, as she does in church tradition… mostly, I think because early scholars struggled to keep all the Marys straight. And probably because these scholars feared her, to some degree.
What we know about Mary, besides that she is from Magdala, is only this: early on in his ministry, Jesus had healed her of seven demons—seven ailments.
- Maybe they were physical, or emotional, social.
- But I’d be willing to guess that they had come to define her life.
- And it was only the power of God that was able to change that….
- To transform Mary’s story, to remind her of her wholeness, to heal her of whatever wounds she carried.
Mary is the first one that Jesus appears to, in resurrected form. I wonder if its because Jesus knew that she wouldn’t have trouble believing that resurrection was possible. Because she herself had experienced it.
She is the first one commanded to go, and tell. To share her story, because in sharing her story, she was telling God’s story. Because in breaking open her story, she was revealing to the world the resurrection power of God.
Our stories, your stories, do the very same thing.
Some of us in this room, have official authority—from a congregation or a position.
Others do not.
Some of us have our names hanging on church signs or listed in Sunday bulletins, on church websites.
Others are off the grid.
Some of us crave the kind of official recognition that means our name gets listed…
And others of us wish our lives were not quite so much on display.
These two verses from Mark’s gospel remind us: whether named or unnamed, there were women also there.
Each of them had an encounter with Jesus.
Each of them had a story to tell…
And so do each of you.
- The substance of God’s work in our lives, cannot be contained in the statistics we heard earlier.
- The power to preach is not restricted to the position or the pulpit.
- The nuance of our spiritual experiences with the God of the universe cannot be captured in the numbers, or where we hang our names.
When I made a list of all the women I know who are actively bearing witness to the resurrected Christ in their lives, the list was long, very very long…
It included pastors and preachers, chaplains and non-profit leaders, It also included also mothers and sisters, pre-school teachers and church volunteers. It included missionaries and artists, social workers and the socially awkward, and those who stories we will inevitably hear one day, from a platform like this… and others who we will probably not.
But their stories still matter.
Your stories still matter — the ones told, and the ones untold.
Because is in the living of them, that we reveal to the world the power of the resurrection. It is in our stories, broken open, that we declare the truth of Easter: Christ is alive. Christ is alive! Resurrection is here.