Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.
I have been an ordained clergyman in the Church of England for over 40 years. For most of that long time almost all my bosses, all the people wielding the power, making the key decisions and setting the agenda have been men. (Thank God that at last things are changing). Everywhere I have worked however, I have always felt that most of the servants, the givers, the deep and sympathetic understanders have been women. This short little passage was invisible to me for many years, when I finally discovered it, it was a revelation.
In a Jewish, village based, conservative culture of 2000 years ago the men were always the most important, the decision makers, the most prominent. In this story of Jesus and his followers the women look to be a lot more involved and integrated than I had ever been led to expect. Theirs was an ancient world with strong male and female boundaries. Jesus’ band of men and women followers was fully pushing at these boundaries and establishing a new way of operating.
Women played a key role in the life of Jesus. Here they are part of his ‘Merry Men’ and providing out of their resources. Women were the last people at the cross and the first at the resurrection.
These women were from a range of backgrounds. Some appear to be quite rich and influential; others have come out of hopeless lostness and possession. The common unity factor is Jesus. They are drawn to him, they have been touched by him, now they want to follow and provide for him. They are sharing in his mission. These are women who have received the life changing impact of Jesus, but they are not content to just receive and hold on to that impact. They want it to flow through them and out to others. They are healed healers, missioned missionaries, receivers who became givers.
Gladys Aylward was a lesser known missionary in the 1930s. As a working class woman she had little education. So when God called her to go to China the missionary society rejected her because of her lack of learning. Refusing to be ‘put down’ she worked as a servant and saved up the money to travel out to China by herself. Once there she managed to establish herself in a remote mountain city. The locals first treated her as a ‘foreign devil’ but her constancy of loving care for them changed their hearts towards her. She spent over twenty years on the mission field, leading people to Christ, caring for women and children. She never had official approval simply the call of Jesus.
I once knew a woman like this. She was an ordinary sort of church member in an ordinary sort of church in an ordinary sort of North of England town. One day she went off to university. There she met a band of young passionate Christians. They had all had powerful experiences of Jesus and they passed it on to her. Soon she was part of the travelling band. When she came home for holidays she was different, sort of ‘Jesus alive’. She gave time, money and passion as she shared her ‘Jesus aliveness’ with others. Each year she would go with other students on great travelling missions. Sharing, meeting, communicating, moving on. After university she got a job teaching in a college and once she was settled in she invited some of her students to form a small Christian group.
I was so impressed by this woman and the change I had seen in her. She was on a mission with Jesus, part of the team. In fact I was so impressed I joined the team, embraced the mission and much later married the woman.
Your mission has touched my life.
Set me free, led me forward.
May I be part of your mission band,
Men and women together,
Bringing new life to the world.