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, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:1-3)
Why does that passage matter? In the scheme of things, Luke’s gospel is following along. There are women spoken to, healed, encountered. This also happens in John and in Mark. Matthew, too. This insertion from Luke is interesting, though. It must be there for a reason.
I believe it is there to refute the idea that the disciples traveled with camp prostitutes. This passage is inserted, in my opinion, to acknowledge what was likely rumored and true about the disciples when Jesus was in the flesh and then among the followers of the Way after the Ascension. There were women with them. Why mention that the women had been healed or to whom they were married or their names?
It keeps the women from being nameless and faceless. They are not just bodies, traveling with the men- serving food, scratching itches, and tidying up after a late-night gabfest with the Master. They were participants and, furthermore, many were of greater social status than that of the disciples. Their names are used so that those who read Luke’s account would recognize some of these women by name, habit, or story.
Additionally, the gospels and the Scripture, where the Spirit peeks through, does not allow women to function merely as sperm receptacles and fetal incubators. Jesus reminds the Samaritan woman that she has worth beyond whatever man might currently offer her protection via house or bed (John 4). He also sees fit to restore a woman beyond fertility and a woman before fertility to life and community (Mark 5).
Throughout the Scripture, women wrestle with the ability or inability to have children, but those around them affirm that their worth is beyond rubies in being who they are. There are prophetesses, female judges, women who preserve their families, their in-laws, and even their husbands’ necks and nether regions. The Bible has no shortage of women upon whom the male gaze was simply admiring of strength, wisdom, and courage.
It is when Christianity becomes domesticated, around the time of the pastorals, that the community of women as leaders, teachers, facilitators, and financiers becomes a problem. As the Empire makes its own impression on Christianity, there is a certain domesticity that becomes expected of women. The mater familias is not yet a bishopess or even a deaconess. She is no longer a theotokos (God-bearer) alongside her brother disciples, she is a vessel whose value lies in her (tamed) sexuality, which is redeemed through honorable male claiming and through the bearing and raising of godly children.
Somewhere in there, women stopped being seen with the eyes of the Son of Man, and just became seen with the eyes of men.
I’ve been thinking about this with the information that has come out about Josh Duggar and his molestation of at least five young girls when he was a teenager and they were younger. I’m not linking to any story related to that. You can google it and come back. In addition to no charges filed, Duggar’s “therapy” was to help a family friend with a construction project. Then he was readmitted to the bosom of the family and it is likely that those whom he abused, including some of his sisters, were ordered to forgive him. It has been alleged that victims of this molestation also received counseling. In the same manner as Josh? Was their counseling toward their own ownership of their bodies and their right to reject unwanted advances? Was it counseling toward releasing of guilty feelings and wholeness? Was there a time to discuss that forgiveness might never feel right or come?
Part of the reality of the Duggars’ Biblical interpretation involves the subservience of women- in childhood and in marriage. Sisters are subservient to brothers. Daughters to fathers. Wives to husbands. Day in and day out. This is the obedience that matters. This order puts women in right relationship with God.
That manipulation of the Word, as well as the male gaze, makes me wholly uncomfortable, to say the least. Women who are taught- nay, indoctrinated- to this end struggle to perceive self worth outside of their relationship with men. Where they resist, it is labeled disobedience. Where they are mistreated, they are marked as co-sinners- in temptation and “allowing” such things to occur. Even little girls know that their value comes from how men view them, not what they can do themselves.
How far we have come from Luke’s paragraph- meant to end speculation and to clarify that women were a valued and valuable part of the traveling disciples’ group… AS women. The later church rejected the Gospel of Thomas, which asserts that Jesus would make Mary Magdalene like a man so that she could be saved, as the men were to be. The accepted gospels let stand that God enfleshed only had one gender expression, but he surrounded himself with many other bodies.
We cannot allow a twisted perception of the Gospel, of women’s roles, of “obedience” to co-opt the wideness of God’s mercy. There is no joy in Mudville that Josh Duggar has been exposed as having molested young girls. There is deep, deep grief that he, along with his victims, grew up with an understanding of the Bible that left all of them confused as to what is right relationship between men and women. His sin is not the only one here and he’s not the only one who needs to ask for forgiveness.
Whether or not the forgiveness is granted, from humans, is a different story. I have to ask myself, what would Mary, Susanna, and Joanna do?