What do these three news reports have in common?
A man with COVID-19 boarded an airplane disguised as his wife. The Indonesian man wore a nijab covering his face and carried fake IDs and a negative PCR test result. However, his ruse was exposed when a flight attendant saw him change clothes in the lavatory. He is currently self-isolating at home and police say their investigation will continue.
For the first time in history, the Tokyo Olympics will feature an equal number of women and men for every sport, excluding baseball and softball because of differing roster sizes. According to the International Olympic Committee, when women made their Olympic debut at the Paris Games in 1900, there were only 22 females out of 997 total athletes.
Harvey Weinstein pleaded not guilty Wednesday to four counts of rape and seven other sexual assault counts. The indictment in a Los Angeles courtroom involves five women in incidents spanning from 2004 to 2013. Some took place during Oscars week, when his movies were perennial contenders before the #MeToo movement brought him down. Weinstein is already a convicted rapist serving a twenty-three-year prison term in New York.
Today the Church celebrates the “apostle to the apostles”
One commonality is obvious: all three stories involve women (or in the case of the first story, a man masquerading as one). A second is less obvious: they all illustrate the value of women, though in very different ways.
The first reminds us that women are not men, despite the transgender ideology of our day. The second reminds us that women deserve equal recognition for their achievements as men, despite continuing disparities in pay and promotion. The third reminds us that many women still face horrific sexual mistreatment, despite progress in this regard.
Conditions for women in the Roman Empire were even worse in many ways than they are today. Sexual violence in the Roman world was widespread and horrific. Women were considered the property of their fathers until they became the property of their husbands.
By contrast, Jesus’ treatment of women was so revolutionary that it sparked a movement toward equality that is still championed by his followers today.
He addressed women in public in a day when this was highly unusual (cf. John 4:27; Luke 7:12–13; Matthew 9:22; Luke 11:27–28; 13:12; 23:27–31). Women were among his closest followers and supporters (cf. Luke 8:1–3). Mary Magdalene was the first to meet the risen Christ and to share the news of his resurrection with the world (John 20:1-18). She is therefore known as the “apostle to the apostles” and was so important to the early Christian movement that the Catholic church celebrates her life and legacy each year on July 22.
We could go on: Lydia, the first European convert and host of the first European church (Acts 16:11–15, 20); Priscilla, the wife of Aquila and important colleague of Paul the Apostle (cf. Acts 18:1–4); Phoebe, “a servant of the church at Cenchrea” and “patron of many and of [Paul] as well” (Romans 16:1–2); and the list continues.
“The posture of a disciple”
Two practical principles follow.
One: We must not limit God’s call on our lives to cultural constraints and challenges. What our secular society says about us and our value is irrelevant compared to what our Lord says about us. Your gender, possessions, popularity, abilities, and circumstances are no hindrance to God’s omnipotence and his providential purpose for you.
Two: Conversely, we must not seek to fulfill God’s call on our lives in our own capacities. Our secular society would have us believe we can do whatever we seek to do in our own abilities. “I did it my way” is the theme song of our day. But the women of the Bible who changed their world were first changed by the One they served and then depended on his strength to sustain and use them in transforming ways.
To that end, let’s close with one of the most powerful examples of devotion and discipleship in the Bible. Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, “sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching” (Luke 10:39). James Koester of the Society of St. John the Evangelist says of those who follow her example: “A disciple is more than simply a follower. A disciple is more than simply a student. A disciple is someone who is in training to become something, and the posture of a disciple is to sit at the feet of the teacher.”
At whose feet are you sitting today?