Friday, February 18, 2011

Some women of the New Testament, and of today…

Jesus of Nazareth, his message, his deeds, in fact, his entire life, represents a break with the Old Testament as something absolutely new. With authority he was able to say: “It has been said, but I say unto you”. Because of that complete rupture and novelty, we speak of two distinct periods in the history of salvation: before Christ and after Christ and, therefore, of two testaments: the Old and the New Testament.

One aspect in which Jesus represents novelty is in the way he treated women, a treatment that included not only respect and consideration for the dignity of all women —in a society where women were worth little or nothing— but in the inclusion of women in the vocation, in following Jesus, in discipleship and in the evangelistic and missionary task of the Church in the world.

We have very little record of the deeds and words of the public ministry of Jesus. Only a portion of the life and work of Jesus has come down to us. As John the Evangelist says, The books that could be written to narrate the wonderful and novel work done by God through Jesus Christ would fill the world. Yet the few testimonies that we have in the writings of the New Testament concerning his public ministry are enough for us to understand the role that God in Jesus Christ and in the entire history of salvation assigned to women. That role is central, important, principal, equal, just, and worthy.

It is sufficient to reflect today on the key role that Mary has in the history of salvation. In God’s revelation and in the history and life of the church, Mary is not and could not be considered and experienced as simply a feminine touch in a masculine institution. Mary is, to the contrary, a central element and spindle in the revelation of the Triune God and in his saving plan. Her generous and faithful intervention, her availability and glad surrender in the incarnation gives to us the gift of Jesus of Nazareth and by Him, with Him and in Him the Father is revealed to us; we know him and we rejoice in his power and his love, his historical presence and his saving plan, that is, his humanizing plan for every man and woman who comes into this world, for “those who have seen Him have seen the Father.”

As the Council Fathers said in Vatican II: “By the grace of Jesus Christ is clarified the life of man, and of all men. In Him are found the answers to our longing for happiness, our deepest searching, our greatest desires, our hopes, our struggles and failures, our falls and our rising again, all our life and all our death. He is our Way and our Truth. He is the light of all men and of all peoples. He is the Bread who gives us life, and not just any life, but abundant life, eternal life, full life, joyful life, saving life, healing life, liberating life.”

And all this, thanks to the humble young lady of Nazareth, the one who joyfully lived to always and fully do the will of God. Thus we call her “blessed among all women and blessed the fruit of her womb…”, the woman and mother “poor in Spirit” who today, as with those invited to the wedding in Cana, counsels and asks us to always do what Jesus says and requests of us.

Yet, in the Gospels we find other women who, like Mary, stand out in the ministry of Jesus. We remember, for example, the foreign woman , the Canaanite, (Mat 15,21-28), who with her response of faith took beyond the limits of Israel the benefits of God’s salvation in Christ, and with her answer embraced God’s favor in Jesus, since “strangers also eat the crumbs that fall from the table of the owners”. Thus, as an outsider she became a model of a believing woman for the Christian and ecclesial community for all time.

Today, as in that day, the church exalts the faith of believing women and with Jesus we say “Woman… women, what great faith you have; may all your desires be fulfilled”.

We also remember Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James (Lk 24,1-11), the women who, with their perfumed spices, accompanied the body of Jesus to the tomb and were later witnesses, bearers, messengers, missionaries and participants in the record of the origins of Christianity. The fundamental message of our faith and our Christian hope given and committed to them resounds today in the world and in our hearts, and now for twenty centuries: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen”.

There is another Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, the one who, with the anointing of Jesus in Bethany (Jn 12), prefigured and inspired the later washing of the feet of the apostles by Jesus, (Jn 13,1-20), another gesture that traces and affirms God’s love for men, and between men, until the final consequences.

Another important woman in the Gospel is the Samaritan, the one who at the well accepted the challenge to be a missionary of the Messiah and his Good News among her people. The Samaritan through whom many among her people believed in Jesus (Jn 4).

They are without number in the New Testament, especially in the Gospels and in Paul’s writings, women who were disciples of Jesus and who with their generous surrender assisted and contributed to the preaching and expansion of the gospel throughout the known world. We find an example of that in Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16), who was converted by Paul’s preaching, and who with her deeds also became a model of faith and hospitality.

Today you are those women, women of Christ, those who are meeting here to renew your faith and your and your commitment toward the evangelistic task of the Church. Christ the Eucharist gives us the strength to live and to overcome. Christ nourishes us so that we continue to be committed to the task of building better families, better communities, better parishes, a better society. May the women of the Bible lift your hearts and encourage you in the daily task of building a world that is more human and, therefore, more divine. For that better world, the new world, more just and equitable, more fraternal and human, implies that women have the role and the charge that Jesus gave them yesterday and forever.