Women on the Margins

It takes a particular type of courage and self- assurance to be a contestant on a reality show such as Master Chef or Dancing with the Stars. You need to be both talented and extraverted, neither of which I am. I don’t know how talented the un-named woman who barged into Simon the Pharisee’s house carrying a very expensive pot of perfumed oil was, but she was definitely an extrovert.

Woman anointing Jesus' feetThere is a certain theatre about the episode. A beautiful woman crouches at Jesus’ feet, tears running down her face and making rivulets in his dusty feet. Gathering up her long hair she dries them, then, in an exuberant gesture, she breaks open the perfume jar. This isn’t a woman who believes in half measures. The oil spills over Jesus’ feet and into the rush floor, perfuming the whole space while the assembled guests look on open-mouthed.

In Luke’s Gospel this woman may be nameless, but judging from the remarks passed she was known to all there. She obviously wasn’t embarrassed but I wonder if Jesus had a moment or two when he wondered what was going on. Whatever her story, Jesus knew instinctively that her extravagant gestures were a cry for her inner beauty to be restored. Her kiss of greeting, cleansing tears and healing oil opened her to receive forgiveness and compensated Jesus for Simon’s insulting disregard of the basic rules of hospitality.

The Gospels are punctuated with episodes involving no-name women like this.  Then, as now, women seemed to be more responsive to Jesus’ message than males like Simon.  Even though Jewish tradition considered women unfit to study and to carry out religious service, Jesus ignored the limitations that their culture placed on them. In his dealings with women, Jesus made it clear he considered them to be equal to men.

Luke describes the inner circle of Jesus’ followers as 12 male disciples and an unspecified number of female supporters such as Joanna, Susanna, a couple of Marys and “many others.” These women travelled with him through the rural areas of Galilee, hearing and learning his teachings, probably causing quite a scandal in the process.

Women’s listening is practical. They absorb the gist of what is being said, and importantly what is not said, and they process it in such a way that it becomes a heart message. The same women who took care of the practicalities like food and sleeping arrangements for Jesus’ band of followers also stood beneath the cross as he died and were gifted by the Spirit of Pentecost.

Many women in today’s Church are aware of a deeper, different call to ministries, but Woman lectorrestrictions, rules or just long tradition, mean that they are confronted with a long list of “no-go” areas. Women of all ages experience the call to priestly ministry. They ache to be able to welcome others into the Church in baptism, anoint the sick, share the Word of God when the faithful gather.

Women, whether introverts or extroverts, bring to the Gospel their own peculiarly feminine experience of God and the way they live out that relationship. Maybe the religious unrest being experienced at present is indicative of a time when they will be released from the anonymity of the past to take their rightful place in the Body of Christ, the Church.

Judith Lynch

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