Women Disciples in the Gospel of Mark
by O.B. Richardson
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In approaching the role and place of women particular attention should/must be paid to the misapprehension seemingly inherent in the consideration. These mistaken notions are largely due to propaganda that has been made integral to the matter by biased extremists. Defining the role of women then, both historically and in the current sense, has become a hotly debated topic. Because of the significant and volatile nature, many are afraid to discuss the matter. Fear has disinclined many to engage in the discussion which has inhibited the facilitation of arriving at the truth. But fear shouldn’t be the means through which one disclosures truth, or a bar to its understanding, a principle beautifully demonstrated by the life of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul pinpoints Gods attitude toward fear: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (II Timothy 1:7). Instead, Christians should earnestly search the Scriptures, through the lenses of objectivity, and acquaint themselves with a clear picture of women disciples and then carefully and compassionately help others in their understanding. Meticulous investigation of this subject matter will reveal truths that are both refreshing to the mind and empowering to the spirit.
This essay will carefully examine both the role and understanding of what is meant by women disciples as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. Mark, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, leaves no stone unturned when approaching the discussion of women in the church. He paints with crystal clear imagery the place and role of women in the ministry of Jesus Christ. A thorough analysis of Marks’ Gospel reveals that women disciples are no different from their male counterparts, nor should they be presumed inferior in either their duty or execution of their obligation to the faith.
In fact, men can learn a lot from the example of women disciples in their attitude, and service.
The corner stone of all disciples is servanthood. In our modern society, to be a servant is considered a sign of weakness; however, the opposite is true if you utilize the standard of Christ. Jesus demonstrated and taught that in order to become great, one must become a servant. Listen attentively to the words of our Master:“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be become great among you must be your servant,and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Song of Man did not come to beserved, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”(Mark 10:43-45). In this passage Jesus teaches about the hierarchal system within Christendom. If greatness is the agenda, the means by which one accomplish such greatness is by becoming a servant.
Women: Servant and Followers of Jesus Christ
Has God limited the role of disciples only to men? In the ministry of Jesus, were the women passive participants or actively involved? Is God’s work force for men only? These are difficult questions, but they are questions that need to be answered. A reflection on the second gospel has the potential to assist us in discerning the answers. In the second gospel, which consist of sixteen chapters, Mark enlist numerous gender-inclusive statements. For instance, Mark will talk about a large crowd but he doesn’t go into the specifics of the crowd’s composition, he simply calls attention to the it. His task at hand wasn’t to differentiate the men from the women, and his apparent lack of gender concern, evidenced in that failure to so distinguish demonstrates an indifference to their presence. A sense of urgency and devotion was exhibited in women, and as the beginning of Christ’s physical journey was found in a woman, so the beginning of his completed work was found witnessed by them. And if this great role in Christendom was entrusted by God to them, who in Christendom can deny them their rightful place? This being the case, I am fully persuaded that Mark is teaching a crucial lesson: women are disciples of Jesus Christ and should not be arbitrarily set aside in our consideration.
To further illustrate this point one need look no further than Mark 1:5: “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confession their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Within the opening pages of Marks Gospel one witnesses this universal and encompassing reach. This all-inclusive usage, neither distinguishing nor favoring by gender is used progressively throughout the book. Mark, through divine guidance and assurance is informing his readers about this remarkable truth: women had a significant role in the ministry of Jesus. Throughout the course of the book it is reasonably apparent that women had a unbridled zeal for drawing close to Jesus indistinguishable from the men of their day. By way of example, in Mark 3:20, “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.” Once again, Mark utilizes the word crowd. The crowd consisted of both men and women. Mark is informing his readers that to be a follower of Jesus one must exhibit a sense of urgency, an urgency of commitment and of love for the Messiah that does not recognize any restriction borne of gender. Passivity, by nature of its aversion to work, isn’t a trait that embodies believers. As the old saying goes, “where He leads I will follow.”
Women constantly aided Jesus in ministry and followed his every foot step,as surely as did their masculine counterparts. Mark is instructs us, that faith is to be active and energetic, not passive in ethic and idle in intellect. And none of these traits belong to a single sex. Mark brilliantly demonstrate, even in the face of adversity, both these traits and their undying love for the Messiah. Consider the following verses that reflect women gathering around Jesus: Mark 1:33, 2:2, 3:20, 4:1, 5:21, 8:1, 10:1, 12:37. These passages, in arguably demonstrate that women were valued followers of Jesus. Becoming a follower of Jesus embodies sacrifice, a sacrifice that is unbridled with a zeal to know the Master (Matthew 5:6). Consider Mark 9:49, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” With an unbridled passion for the Messiah there’s potentially going to be trial and temptation. Trial and temptation that can be overcome, but nevertheless, they are challenges to the sincerity and commitment of faith and perseverance (I Corinthians 10:13). During the course of Jesus’ ministry it is apparent that He suffered significantly, while at the same time, His followers experienced ample persecution. This being the case, it almost goes without saying that to be a follower is to endure trial and pain. Mark, by way of underscoring this, points out that a disciple of Christ fellowships in His blessedness but also fellowships in His suffering. He notes the careless attitudes of those who are outside of the faith and the reward of those men and women who remain faithful, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).
Previously in verse 12 Mark called attention to an uprising between family members. If it is detrimental to one’s emotional stability to be abused and battered by those who don’t believe how much worse to be attacked by those who do and should be counted on as a safehaven, that is to say, Christians? Is there any relief within the family of the redeemed? Is there a place where love is truly genuine? Well, Mark targets this thought. In Mark 14 one is introduced to Mary Magadalene who is at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany. Those present were Mary, Martha, Jesus, Lazarus and the Indignant Party. Mary is moved with compassion as she looks intently and listens intently to Jesus. She anoints the head of Jesus with perfume in a sign of concern and love and respect. One would surmise that this was indeed a gesture worthy of note in its focus and honorable in intent, however, there were some in the group who were very indignant. They questioned Mary. They exclaimed, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wage and the money given to the poor” (Mark 14:4-5). Even though she was met with disdain, notice Jesus’ response, “Leave here alone” (Mark 14:6). Here Mary was attempting to do what should have been considered above reproach, but instead found herself having to justify her actions before those of like-minded faith. Mary, a disciple (follower) of Jesus, understood the cost and counted the cost worthy to endure. But despite the verbal assault from the “faithful”, she perservered.
What a great example for us today! Mary did what she knew to do even in the face of a trial and temptation. It would have been easy to have relented, to have accepted the judgment of others and enjoyed their approval, rather than endure disdain and question. And if, as some would make of her sex, Mary had been a lessened and lesser creature surely she would have done just that. But her defiance speaks to the real distinction among the faithful, those who follow their own light and those who seek after the glory of God. Rather than listen to the majority, her eyes were fixated upon the Lamb of God.
Continuing, the Second Gospel is concerned with sacrifice. Mark demonstrates the sacrosanctness of sacrifice by pointing out its manifestation in women. These women understood their calling and realized that understanding wouldn’t suffice, but that knowledge must be accompanied by action. Their spiritual wisdom, was manifested in actions. They lived for Jesus, spoke for Jesus and were blessed by Jesus. They witnessed the power in Jesus, through the spoken word and the supernatural, and submitted to that power which brought a transformation within each of them.
Such was the case in Mark 1:29-34. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Jesus entered the room and took her by the hand and the fever left. Notice what happens next: “The fever left her and she began to wait on them” (vs. 31). A divine encounter that produced servanthood (sacrifice). Jesus acted on her behalf which in turn prompted her to react to the healing. Christians should follow this pattern of sacrifice. Within the ministry of Jesus, one witnesses that He did not come to be served but to serve, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
The Gospel of Mark also indicates that women are to carry Christ’ mission found in John 1:29, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Women are given the privilege of sharing the message of truth as they bear witness to their risen Lord (Mark 16:15), a message that will, under the power of Jesus, changes a person into a new creature filled with the purpose of God. The power of this message (Romans 1:16-17) will inevitably produce fruit that is in keeping with the will of God (Mark 4:20, 9:41). The message of Christ will deter one from living in sin, and incite one to love God with the totality of ones being (Mark 12:29-31). The Gospel of Mark depicts the comprehensive nature of women as disciples. He shows us through teaching and example that women were very active in the ministry of Jesus Christ. And as they were so should they be, God’s will being both enduring and unchanging.
It’s important to note that a Christian is not one who only believes certain things, or only feels and experiences certain things, or only does certain things. The Christian believes, feels and does. His response is entire and complete; every part of him has been moved and affected; nothing remains as it was before. Do women lack any of these attributes? Does their example in scripture want for one of them?
Paul address this transformation in writing to the Christians in Corinth: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17). The women in the Gospel of Mark demonstrate this new creation. They emptied themselves of the flesh and saturated themselves with Jesus. God in His Sovereignty created both male and female. He created mankind as purpose. Our purpose is to let our light shine before men. The women brilliantly display their light. We are called to be an invitation. Our lives should reflect the very life of Jesus. Conversion not only saves ones soul, but stimulate ones faculties. In other words, God’s power, living in you, displays light in your dark sky. An email was sent to me the other day that conveys the truths that are mentioned earlier.
“Malachi 3:3 states: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” This verse puzzled some women in a Bible study and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out the process of refining sliver and get back to the group at their next Bible study. That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.” She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined.” He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy – when I see my image in it.”
As Christians, male and female, we are summoned to reflect the glory of God, which is pictured in the Gospel of Mark. As the beginning of Christ’s physical journey was found in a woman, so the beginning of his completed work was found witnessed by them. As his earthly mission was borne and supported by them as readily as it ever was in a man and the self same message given to them, the same salvation offered them, as this great role of Christendom was entrusted by God to them also, who in Christendom can deny them their rightful place?
O.B. Richardson III
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