As I work my way through the Bible for what I believe is the ninth time, I am again struck by the presence of heroic women and am also struck by how my Church has minimized the role of women. I am not a Biblical scholar and am aware that there has been some excellent scholarly works on women of the Bible. For me, my awareness of the role of women in the Bible had been limited to Catholicism’s attention to Mary the Mother of Jesus. Further, my understanding of Mary Magdalene was limited and quite possibly inaccurate. Here then are some heroic women I have met reading the Bible:
- Esther. I don’t believe I knew who Esther was until I read her book in the Bible for the first time. What a dramatic story of a courageous woman who uses her position at great risk to protect her Jewish community! She had the opportunity to hide behind her position, hiding her own Jewishness and standing by while her husband wiped out the Jewish community. Instead she used her position to ensure the protection of her people and the deaths of those who had conspired against her people. I thought then that it would make a great movie.
- Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdelene has had a bad reputation. There is now reason to believe that she was never a prostitute but rather a leader of the early church and that the label of prostitute was later applied to minimize her significance as an early Church leader. Others have minimized her significance to Jesus. Her reputation has not been helped by stories such as The DaVinci Code. In fact, there is good reason to believe that she was a leading force in the early days after Christ’s death and resurrection. After all, she did not run away when Jesus was crucified. As to her relationship with Jesus, that remains open to speculation. The uncovering of the Gospel of Thomas adds to that speculation but also illustrates her significant leadership.
- Rahab is a prostitute in Jericho. Two spies of Joshua seek her protection. She agrees to do so, recognizing the power of their faith and redirects soldiers of Jericho when they come to her establishment searching for the spies. She then helps the spies escape. When the Israelites invade Jericho, she and her family are spared.
One other observation about Rahab. She is an early example of a theme that runs throughout the Bible. There are many we would label as sinners who act with courage and integrity. People like Rahab are the same class of people with whom Jesus dines. He selects the likes of a tax collector to be a disciple. He reaches out to a thief, promising him a place in heaven as they hang on crosses. Were she around at the time of Jesus, Rahab would have a place at His table.
These are only a few of the heroic women of the Bible. Eve is heroic because she does not try to defend herself when Adam tries to blame her for the apple incident. Sarah is heroic as she leaves her home to accompany her husband to a strange land. Deborah leads the Israelites into battle. The woman at the well speaks to Jesus and then does not get defensive when He speaks to her about her past. Women stand by Jesus’ cross while the men flee.
These and other women of the Bible stand as a challenge to the lingering paternalism and sexism of the Catholic Church. They challenge us men to look within to see if we too harbor some ecclesiastical bias.
Reflection: What women in the Bible or other sacred scripture do you find interesting and inspiring?