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Called to Support
Winter Quarter: Call in the New Testament
Unit 3: The Call of Women
Sunday school lesson for the week of Feb. 14, 2021
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: Mark 15: 40; 16:1-9; Luke 8:1-3; John 20:10-18
Key Verse: “
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from who seven demons had come out.” (Luke 8:1-2)
We want to remind ourselves of the important role of women in the ministry of Jesus and his Church. We will also revisit Mary’s visit to the empty tomb. This visit names her as the first witness and evangelist of the resurrection.
Structure of the lesson
Our lesson does a great job of offering a structure to understand and appreciate the role of women in the Gospel. The lesson begins with a list of women who supported Jesus around the middle part of his ministry, his second preaching journey around Galilee. From there, the lesson moves to the painful experience of Jesus’ crucifixion and the women who were present. Finally, we journey with Mary to the empty tomb and experience the wonder of the resurrection and the call of Mary to go and tell.
Women with Jesus in ministry
We most often read and speak about the men involved in ministry. Their role should never be diminished or contrasted with the role of women. God used both to minister to and with Jesus. Both created one family in Christ. Specifically, in Luke 8:1-3, Joanna, Susanna, and Mary Magdalene are mentioned and recorded in Holy Scripture. One of the important phrases, often read with little attention, is “and many others.” These women followed Jesus and served him in a myriad of ways and gave him financial support. And they did so “out of their own means!” These women sacrificed their time, energy, and money! We must remember that the disciples were not working a normal schedule. They were following Jesus from place to place. Thus, the women are supplying a necessary need.
One of the more notable women in the Gospels is Mary Magdalene. She is mentioned at least twice in every Gospel. The name Mary is a common name, and many who follow Jesus own that name. Therefore, it is easy to become confused over which Mary the Gospel is alluding. However, it appears Mary Magdalene’s story is known by the disciples and the other followers of Jesus. She is also well known by the Early Church. The authors of the four Gospels are highlighting the role of women, and especially of a woman who was once possessed of demons. They are being noted within a culture that diminishes the importance of women. This implies that the support of women, and especially Mary Magdalene, played a major role in Jesus’ ministry.
We often recognize the valued ministry of Jesus’ disciples. Do you think we recognize the value of women in Jesus’ ministry? Are there women who played an important role in your Christian walk? Are they being honored?
Women supporting Jesus during his crucifixion
It is true that some women stood at a distance during the crucifixion. However, they were there! These were normal people who experienced worry and fear as would anyone. Yet, they refuse to leave Jesus. They might be a little weak in body, but in spirit they are courageous. They were Jewish women watching the power of Rome execute one they loved, and in whom they believed. Furthermore, Rome’s behavior toward the Jewish people could be unpredictable. Remember, Simon Peter also stood at a distance.
Still, there were women who remained near, very near. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger, and Salome. These women gave us a precious gift. They heard the words of Jesus from the cross! The Church has valued, remembered, and worshipped in light of those words for centuries.
One of the difficulties we have in reading Scripture is that often we are unaware of the emotion of the speaker, author, or emotion present in a particular event. These women deeply loved Jesus. It was a love of the heart and of the spirit. They were observing the one crucified, suffering in as great an agony as imaginable. We can only begin to fathom the depth of pain as Jesus breathed his last.
The women were, in their humanity, helpless. All they could do was watch. However, they possessed a great inner strength. What do you believe was the source of this strength? Did their actions support Jesus and strengthen his heart? What did Jesus gain from their faithfulness? What did they benefit from remaining?
The first evangelist (in narrative)
Mary Magdalene was devastated. The past days were filled with grief and spiritual wandering. The sun was rising as she journeyed to the tomb. Jesus’ broken body had been laid in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. An enormous stone was rolled in front to ensure nothing could disturb the body and to ensure no person or group could steal the body. Pilate has placed guards at the entrance, an unusual act on the part of Pilate. Pilate lived in Caesarea but traveled to Jerusalem to keep order during the Passover. Pilate headquartered in the Antonio Fortress. Jews would not enter the fortress, for it would render them unclean. Thus, the Gospel records Pilate “came out” to hear the accusations against Jesus. Pilate had been warned from Rome that he needed to keep order in Judah. He had heard of Jesus and was uneasy of a religious revolt with almost two million Jews in Jerusalem. When Jesus was buried, he placed guards at the tomb. The last thing he needed was for someone to steal the body.
On this particular morning, Mary wanted to anoint the body with burial oils. It was all she could do in her grief. She was so distressed she hadn’t even planned on how to remove the stone. As she neared, she was stunned to find the stone had been rolled away. She looked into the tomb. She must have feared encountering the unknown, yet nothing could hinder her visit to the tomb of her Lord. She looks, but the body isn’t there.
Mary Magdalene needed some assurance God was present in the mystery of the empty tomb. Some sense of hope might have arisen in her soul when she saw two angels sitting at the head and foot of the slab which formally held Jesus’ body. Yet, her sorrow hindered her from seeing or thinking clearly. Her eyes are teary. They questioned her, “Why are you crying?” Mary then reveals what was racing through her mind. “They have taken my Lord away, and I don’t know where they have put him.” She received no immediate answer and turned from the tomb. She was again surprised as Jesus stood there. Looking through weepy eyes she doesn’t recognize Jesus. She mistakenly assumes he is a gardener. He asked her the same question as the angels, “Why are you crying?” Then he adds, “Who is it you are looking for?” Mary needs an answer. She needs to find the body. Mary is even willing to bring the body back to the tomb. She is clueless of the resurrection. The pain of loss is still great.
The first question of Jesus might have appeared unnecessary. What difference would it make as to why she wept? Yet, knowing Jesus, the answer is clear. He really desires to hear us share our pain with him. He wants to identify with it, and experience it himself that he might fully be “with us.”
Jesus speaks her name, “Mary.” Few things in life are more sacred to us than our name. Dale Carnegie taught for years that if you want to know a person, or sell to a person, speak their name. If you speak my name, I am immediately connected to you, even if only on a superficial level. If you remember it, that relationship grows. Jesus knows her name, remembers her name, and speaks her name. This is the intimate moment when her spiritual eyes are opened and she recognizes Christ. She calls to him, “Rabboni!” Rabboni is “teacher” in Aramaic.
Mary reaches for him, grabs him and holds him. Her clinch is tight as emotion is released. Hopelessness is giving way to hope. Jesus asks her to let go of his glorified body. Jesus tells her he must ascend to the Father. Then, he calls Mary to “go and tell.” Thus, our first evangelist was a woman of great love, determination, and who understood the need for redemption.
Making the text personal
All of us know pain and loss. It can be the loss of those we love, the loss of a job, or even the loss of our innocence. The soul will always, in time, seek hope. We are drawn to God. Mary turned around and saw Jesus. We often stand gazing at the tombs, or tangible remembrances, in hopes of being comforted. However, there comes a time to turn “from” and look “toward Christ.” Sentimentality does not bring lasting hope; we must turn to the living Lord. Turn around and see Jesus! He is always standing in the midst of our human experience, especially in our pain. He knows who we are, he knows us by name. A time will come, when through our tears we see the light of hope. We will walk away from the tomb toward new, resurrected life. We need to share our discovery that God was present and called us into the wonder and meaning of eternal life.
Can you recall the state of your heart during a time of devastating loss? Can you remember the direction in which you looked when in sorrow? Can you remember the moment when you experienced the prompting of God to look elsewhere? How did this experience occur? What has your life been like since? What have you been called to do with the experience that it might reveal the Kingdom of God in your life? Have you ever thought, as Mary Magdalene might have thought, that your sins disqualify you from going and telling? How was Mary Magdalene changed that she might become a contributor to life?
O God, in Christ grant us your tender mercy in times of pain and loss. May we know you are near and dear. Remind us of how dear we are to you. Teach us to share the good news of who you are, and who we are to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.