Jesus and the Female Disciples – Part 2

Today we continue our look at the female disciples that Luke mentions throughout his Gospel. Their introduction in the opening verses of chapter 8 leads to a thread throughout Luke’s story of the “others,” or the “rest” of those that followed Jesus. Luke makes it clear that his story isn’t one of Jesus and the 12. It is also a story of the “others.”

As Luke’s narrative unfolds, we find Jesus arrested and on trial after being betrayed by Judas. At this point the 12 disappear from the story, except for Peter. Peter follows Jesus through part of the trial, but ultimately denies his relationship with Jesus three times, then disappears from the narrative until after the resurrection. Luke does focus on a particular group throughout the crucifixion and resurrection: the women. 

“A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.”

Luke 23:27 NIV

After Jesus breathes his last, and the centurion confesses Jesus’ righteousness, we are told that many of the witnesses of the crucifixion leave, except for some who stayed.

“But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

Luke 23:49 NIV

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfume.”

Luke 23:55-56 NIV

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”

Luke 24:1 NIV

“When they (women) came back from the tomb they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles.”

Luke 24:9-10 NIV

“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Luke 24:36 NIV

So who were the first preachers of the resurrection? The women. Who did they tell? The Eleven and “the others,” both male and female.  And who does Jesus appear to and commission after the resurrection? All of them! (And in case you are unsure of this, go to Acts 1:13-15 to see this continue.)

Luke makes it very clear. The commission to preach this news starting in Jerusalem (Lk. 24:47-48, Acts 1:8) is the responsibility of the Eleven, the women, and the others, as we’ve already seen them do! This commission by Jesus has not been retracted. Next week we’ll see how Luke carries this commission into the mission of the early church in Acts 1 & 2.

Jesus and the Female Disciples

Today we continue our look at Luke’s gospel and some of the women he includes in his story about Jesus. Luke has a major focus on the role of women in the ministry of Jesus and this week we look at some of the female disciples and supporters of Jesus’ ministry.

Luke 8:1-3 tells us about “many” single and married women who not only traveled with Jesus, but supported his ministry financially. These women are not the twelve, but they are disciples and benefactors nonetheless. Benefactors (financial supporters) in the ancient world would financially support an effort they supported, but that did not mean they would physically participate in that effort. These women are not simply benefactors, they are disciples traveling with Jesus, involved physically in his ministry, and learning to be just like the Messiah. A disciple would eventually go on to have their own students and teach in a way similar to their own teacher.

The fact that Luke tells us of Jesus and these women as disciples, a very unusual practice in the ancient world, tells us something about Jesus. Their presence in support and practice of Jesus’ ministry shows that Jesus wasn’t constrained by, nor concerned with cultural ideas about the roles of women. Culture considered them property to be kept in the home, but Jesus included them as disciples, ones who could travel along side, support, and assist in his ministry.

This detail sets up the often misunderstood story of Mary and Martha at the end of Luke 10. Many tell this story as a lesson on priorities; Jesus is more important than housework. While this is true, it misses the context of what Luke is telling us about Jesus. Luke always gives a female counterpart to the males in his gospel, showing that following Jesus and serving in the Kingdom is not a job relegated to men. Luke gives us Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, the widow of Zarephath and Naaman (ch. 4), the centurion and the widow (ch. 7), the widow with the coins and the shepherd (ch. 15). Here in chapter 8 and chapter 10 we see the female complement to the male disciples.

Luke tells us that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (10:39). In doing so, Mary is taking up the role of a disciple, something a male would do in that culture. She is breaking a cultural rule (that many other women from ch. 8 did as well). Martha wants Jesus to rebuke Mary, but Jesus affirms that “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (10:42)

This story goes with the preceding story of the good Samaritan, and is an example of the Greatest Commands lived out. The Samaritan is the hero of the first story, and a female disciple is the hero of the second story. These are two upside down images of obeying the Greatest Commands in a culture that valued neither of these heroes. Luke is clearly portraying Jesus as being against the rules and boundaries of the culture in which they lived. The Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t follow societal norms, it follows Jesus. These stories also call us to radically break with tradition and culture, disregard all else, and follow the example of Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, the teachings and actions of Jesus remind us that the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where Jews and Samaritans, as well as men and women can serve as equals. (See Gal. 3:28)

Why the Church Needs to Talk About Huldah

I was at a Bible conference recently and the speaker asked for a show of hands by asking the question, “Who here has heard of Huldah?” Almost nobody raised their hands. Sadly this important prophet has been forgotten about, even though the king sought her out! Her story is part of the narrative around king Josiah restoring worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, and can be found in both 2 Kings 22, and 2 Chronicles 34. King Josiah is not like his father or grandfather. They were wicked, but Josiah decided to follow God like his ancestor, King David (2 Kings 22:2). Josiah removed all the idols and altars to pagan gods. He drove out the spiritists and mediums, all the household gods and brought the nation back to worshipping Yahweh.

Part of this was due to the discovery of the book of the Law when the Temple was being repaired, likely the complete Torah scroll or at least Deuteronomy. At this point in history Israel had no know knowledge of the Torah. After hearing the book read to him, Josiah responds:

 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”

2 Kings 22:12-13

This is where the high priest and the advisors consult a prophet. Now during this time there were several well known prophets in Jerusalem who had been prophesying against the wickedness of idolatry. You’ve probably heard of them too, Jeremiah and Zephaniah. You can read their prophecies in your Old Testament. Yet when it was time to “inquire of the Lord” as to the validity of the words in the Book of the Law, the leaders of Israel go to Huldah. 

Huldah is a prophet, a married woman, and the keeper of the garments (NIV translates “wardrobe”). This must tell us something about Huldah. The great prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah are prophesying in Jerusalem and yet they go to Huldah. Why? We can speculate all day about her social status, her past prophecies, why she is more highly sought than prophets we know more about today. But in the end what we do know is that when Israel’s leaders wanted to “inquire of the Lord” and validate the Book of the Law, God sends Huldah into the story.

In this narrative we find for the first time someone validating the words of the Law as being God’s word. We find that the Book of the Law is actually Scripture by the Lord’s prophecy through Huldah. Nowhere in this passage is Huldah criticized or reprimanded for teaching these men. Nowhere are these men condemned or criticized for allowing a woman to teach them. This leads to a question: If we say it’s wrong for a woman to teach a man, why does God teach these men through a woman? The story of Huldah is preserved twice in Scripture because it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. 

So what can we learn from Huldah? We learn that even though Jeremiah and Zephaniah had God-given prophetic roles in Jerusalem during this time, God gave Hulda a job too. And that job was to teach the men leading Israel about God’s Word. Perhaps we would be wise to remember that God gifts “each one” as he determines (1 Cor. 14:4-11). We don’t make the rules. God does.

Ruth: A Story of Hesed

The story of Ruth, although only four chapters long in your Bible, is far to massive of a story to hope to distill in one article. There are too many intertwining themes to be able to simply state “this is what the story means and this is what you should get out of it.” I am going to focus on one aspect only in this article, and will explore other themes in the sermon and Bible class next week. (I have recordings of sermons and Bible classes over all of the articles in this series. I intend to post them here soon.) The story of Ruth teaches us, through several characters interactions, about the hesed of God. What is hesed? 

It’s a difficult Hebrew word to translate, is most often translated as “love,” but almost as often translated as “loyalty, joint obligation, mercy, faithfulness, goodness, graciousness, kindness, favor, etc..” Hesed is one of the most fundamental characteristics of Yahweh, so much in fact that I’ve often heard hesed described by the fruits of the Spirit. Hesed is a “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” kind of love. That’s hesed.

Within the story of Ruth, we find hesed at play in a number of places. Ruth’s refusal to leave Naomi? Hesed. Ruth’s willingness to glean for food? Hesed. Boaz going above and beyond to let Ruth harvest with his workers instead of gleaning, and sending her away at the end of the day with months worth of grain instead of what she picked up that day? Hesed. Naomi devising a plan for Ruth to marry Boaz? Hesed. 

But I think the most brave, selfless, and daring act of hesed comes when Ruth goes to Boaz at night with a marriage proposal. Chapter 3 is clear that Naomi wants to get Ruth a husband so she can go on with her life. Ruth takes Naomi’s plan, however, and changes it completely! Without getting too technical, Ruth invokes two cultural laws here: the levirate and kinsman-redeemer laws. The levirate law saw to it that if a woman’s husband died leaving her childless, the dead husband’s brother must marry the woman and give her a child (Deut. 25:5-10). The kinsman-redeemer law dealt with the responsibility of redeeming land so it didn’t leave, or at least returned to the possession of the original family to whom it was given (Lev. 25:23-28). Neither of these rules apply to Ruth. Boaz was a relative to Elimelek, Naomi’s husband. Levirate law would fall to a brother of Elimelek for Naomi, not Ruth, and Boaz was not a brother. Kinsman-redeemer law dealt with Boaz buying back land for Naomi, not Ruth, and Boaz was not the closest relative.

What does all this mean? Naomi wanted to take care of Ruth by finding her a good man to marry. Naomi was only concerned with Ruth. This is Hesed. Ruth’s only concern was Naomi in getting Elimelek’s land back, and this point is vitally important, invoking levirate law using herself as the surrogate for bearing Naomi a child (see Ruth 4:13-17). This is why Boaz says her “kindness” (hesed) is greater than she showed earlier in gleaning for Naomi. Ruth shows hesed toward Naomi, and does not look out for herself. And then Boaz, not bound by either of these laws, decides to carry out Ruth’s plan and as a result, Obed, the grandfather of King David, is born to Ruth, and becomes Naomi’s son. 

Hesed floods this story. A hesed so great to self sacrifice for the sake of others. That’s Ruth. That’s also God. No wonder Ruth appears in Jesus’ genealogy! (Mt. 1:5).