As we begin Holy Week, I offer this reflection, based on John 19:25-27. May we all be “dear women” to Christ.
Dear woman, I have chosen the weak to shame the strong.
This is Christ’s message for us today from the cross. Dear woman, I have chosen the weak to shame the strong.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine this scene. Jesus is nailed to the cross, up on the hill. He is nearing death from an agonizing, torturous crucifixion; one of the cruelest forms of execution ever known. At the foot of the cross, keeping vigil, keeping a death watch, are only a handful of folks. Most of Jesus’s followers have betrayed him or abandoned him, leaving only a few faithful behind.
Before he expires, Jesus has the chance to offer some last words. Near the end of those final thoughts, where we have arrived in our service this evening, just before he complains of thirst and declares himself finished, he says, “dear woman.”
There, up on the cross, almost dead by execution, Jesus has a lesson for those keeping a death watch, and for us today: dear woman, God chooses the weak to shame the strong.
Women were no where near an equal sex during Jesus’s time. They were relegated to their households, kept from meaningful engagement in society. Men ruled the house, men ruled the synagogue, men ruled society, and women were to know their place. This came, not surprisingly, from the prevailing wisdom of the day: men were strong, women were weak.
Dear woman, Jesus says, in part because it’s almost only women who are left there supporting Jesus. The disciples, except for John, are either dead, as in the case of Judas, or in hiding; scattered around Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside out of fear. These strong men, chosen by Jesus to be his disciples, are weak.
But not so for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Not so for Mary, the sister of Jesus’s step-father Joseph. Not so for Mary Magdalene, the friend of Jesus. They are strong; for they are there, showing their support of Jesus before Jesus’s executioners: the religious rulers and Roman officials. They are risking their lives and status in society to demonstrate their remaining support for Jesus. The disciples, except for John, have all denied Jesus either verbally, as with Peter, or through their cowardly actions in fleeing the scene of this state execution.
When Jesus says “dear woman,” he not only speaks to his mother, indicating the equality between her and John; he also points out the clear reality of this moment: the strongest disciples of Jesus are John, Mary, Mary, and Mary; in large part, the strongest disciples of Jesus are women.
Such a reality carries over throughout the New Testament. All four gospels agree, it’s women who come to the tomb first and discover it empty. It’s to women that Jesus first appears as the resurrected one. And it’s women who are the first to announce the risen savior. Women, Dear women, are the first disciples of the risen Christ.
And according to Luke in the book of Acts, the first disciple of Christ in Europe, and indeed the first pastor in Europe, is Lydia, a wealthy merchant woman who lives in modern day Greece. All the men of Greece fear converting, but not Lydia, who not only converts to Christianity, but tells others about Christ and gathers all who will hear into the church she has established in her home, following the home church model of early Christianity.
Dear woman, Jesus says, I have chosen the weak to shame the strong. I have chosen women to demonstrate that strength is not in one gender. No, strength is available to all who willingly submit to me, no matter the fear that pervades.
We, like these dear women, live our lives at the foot of the cross because we, too, live in an age of fear: fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of refugees, fear of democrats, fear of republicans, fear of urban areas, fear of rural areas, fear of guns, fear of the lack of guns, fear of illness, fear of storms, fear of family dynamics, fear of the loss of a loved one, fear of our own deaths. We live in an age of fear.
And to us, in this age of fear, God says to male and female alike, “dear woman.”
For at the foot of the cross, at the height of fear, do we flee, or do we stay steadfastly by Jesus’s side, through thick and thin, believing, firmly, that Jesus is who he says he is? Do we trust what God is doing in the world, even if all we can see is defeat, loss, and fear? For the women at the cross, it appeared Jesus had lost, that God had been defeated, and that fear ruled the day. These women had no knowledge of the resurrection, they had no Easter Sunday to look forward to. All they knew was this moment at the foot of the cross: defeat, loss, and fear.
When we, like these dear women, only know defeat, loss, and fear, will we seek to live up to their example? Will we choose courage, no matter how weak we may feel? Will we put faith in the words of the Apostle Paul, that God has chosen the weak to shame the strong? Will we believe, without a shadow of doubt, that Jesus is who he says he is, and that evil will, indeed, never triumph over our God?
We live in an age of fear. We live at the foot of the cross. This day, and every day, make the choice, out of your belief in Christ, to practice courage in the face of fear. Choose to trust that God knows what God is doing, that Christ is still present in our world, that the Holy Spirit is moving to bring peace to the world and to our lives. That’s the choice John, Mary, Mary, and Mary made. And in making that choice, they became “dear women.”
This day, even this very moment, make the choice to be like them. No matter the defeat, loss, and fear that ensues, make the choice to cling to Christ, make the choice to be a “dear woman.”