WOMEN at the time of Christ were distinctly separated from men and were seen as less threatening and so their presence was tolerated.
Saint Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 26, verses 56, makes the point that all the male disciples deserted Jesus and fled for their lives. But the women remained standing as near as they dared to the spot where the soldiers were carrying out the brutal execution.
The women accompanied Jesus from Galilee, they mourned and lamented for him on the way to Calvary.
The women witnessed the crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross.
They also took note of the tomb in which Jesus was laid and the position of the body during the burial.
On Sunday morning, the women went to the tomb and took spices which they had prepared. They were the first to be told of the resurrection of Jesus.
Two men in dazzling clothes told them that Christ had risen.
The women returned from the tomb (Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James, among other women) and announced the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the 11 apostles.
This brings to the fore the continuous remarkable roles played by women in the church and in our society as mothers, child bearers, caregivers, formators, counselors, leaders, among others, like the women in the gospel whose major challenge and care is to follow Jesus and to participate in his mission. The women followed Jesus and saw to His needs. Right from his public ministry until resurrection, they followed Him.
Prior to the passion of Jesus to the cross, a woman, wife of Pointus Pilate, who was later called Claudia Procula, when he (Pontius Pilate) was set down on the judgment seat during the trial of Jesus Christ, called the attention of her husband, saying, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him”. She pleaded for His innocence and would not want her husband’s direct involvement in his execution.
November 9 is the feast day of Claudia Procula and wife of Pontius Pilate as she is being recognised as a holy martyr by the Greek orthodox, the Coptic and the Ethiopian churches.
According to many authors, Pilate’s wife was later converted to Christ, and according to some evidence, she was martyred.
Copiously mentioned are three groups of women in the passion of Christ:
The inner core of women who were close friends or relatives of Jesus.
The women who provided for Him from their financial resources; and
The women who came up with Jesus to Jerusalem, just prior to his execution.
The women displayed unwavering solidarity in the passion of Christ and were descriptively narrated according to the synoptic gospel accounts.
In Matthew’s account, “the many women… who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him ,among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
Mark gave the account as, “women…among who were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome”.
Luke puts it this way: “the women who had followed Him from Galilee”.
While that of John reveals that, “His mother and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
Mary mother of Christ
“Woman this is your son, son there is your mother”. These are the words of Jesus to His mother and the disciple whom he loved while He was hanging on the cross. He entrusted the disciple, who represents all believers to Mary, the mother of all believers. Mary has been entrusted with a mission to become the mother of the son of God and at the cross she becomes the mother of all believers.
First Mary offers her first – born son, though sorrowfully. Her offering Jesus in the temple foreshadows her standing at the foot of the cross, the altar of supreme sacrifice. At His presentation in the temple, Jesus is the pledge of future redemption, in that very small, vulnerable child offered in the arms of His mother.
This is the Mary we all know and love. She is not the Priestess offering the sacrifice but rather the “Handmaid of the Lord”, offering the first fruits of her womb for the service of God and His Glory. She presents her only begotten son in His infancy as the pledge of the future redemption to be bought through His life, suffering death and resurrection.
Luke’s narrative of the presentation describes Mary as one who too will experience suffering (and you yourself, a sword of sorrow) that inspired the title for Mary, mother of sorrows. She unites herself to her son in His suffering; we too are called to participate in God’s redemptive work through uniting our own suffering with the supreme sacrifice.
As we look forward to celebrating Christ resurrection (Easter) on Sunday, April 21, 2019, let us cast our minds back to the transformational way in which we hinged our faith at the suffering of Christ at the cross. Let us carry in our hearts, Mary, the mother of the Redeemer, who shared in a way the sacrifice of her son.
Mary Magdalene who had been cured from a demonic affliction by Jesus and was ascribed as the one who earlier prepared Jesus for His burial by anointing His feet with some costly oil from her box of alabaster did lead a group of women who provided for Jesus and His followers from their resources. In the synoptic gospel, she was noted to be the first of Jesus’s followers to have seen Him rose from the dead and was the one who hinted Christ’s resurrection to the Apostles.
Women of Jerusalem
According to Luke, chapter 23, verses 28 through 31, Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children for behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the breasts that never gave suck!’ then they will begin to say to the mountains ‘fall on us’, and to the hill, ‘cover us’. For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry”? These were the women who braved the odds to agonise with Jesus on His way to the cross.
Saint Veronica is not mentioned in the Bible, however she is known through Roman Catholic tradition for the actions in the sixth station of the cross. It is said that she is one of the women who followed Jesus on His way to Golgotha and offered Him a cloth with which to wipe His face which was dripping with sweat and blood which in fact contributed to the popularity and sacredness of ‘the blood of Jesus’. Tradition states that Jesus face left a slight imprint on the cloth.
She was canonized a Saint pre-congregation and her feast day is celebrated on July 12th.
Women at the heart of development and peace
Lessons learnt in the roles of these women in the passion of Christ are vital in today’s society, especially in the manner they expressed their solidarity in the way of the cross.
Like Jesus, everyday, women are carrying the cross in our world; both those in the limelight and those unsung.
I would aptly point out some of these lessons below:
Making sense of suffering
The universal reality of suffering makes devotion an inspiring meditation on the passion and death of Jesus, particularly relevant in Christian life. Such prayer forms like the Stations of the Cross are popularized particularly in the season of lent.
Assisted by praying with the Stations of the Cross, the faithful enter the experience of Christ and others- such as Mary, Veronica, the women of Jerusalem, among others.
The Stations of the Cross make real every imaginable aspect of human suffering that was on full display at Christ’s passion. And they teach us to see the fruit of suffering.- yes, these women did reap the fruit of their sufferings like Mary the mother of Jesus Christ, Mary Magdalene, Veronica, among others who are being celebrated today for their astute steadfastness in suffering with Jesus.
Suffering with Christ
When unburdened by our own sufferings, through love, each of us can be channels of God’s love through service like Mary and Veronica.
Rooted in love
In meditating on Christ’s passion and death, through devotions like the stations of the cross, comes the realization that life’s sufferings can be joined to Christ’s – by which one learns that love forms suffering’s foundation like these women mentioned earlier.