By Amber VanVickle
There is something utterly beautiful about the women in the Gospels. We know very little about their backgrounds, and yet it seems we know everything about them and their beauty by one trait that they all convey: a total reckless love for Christ. Each one was lost until she found her true home, Christ. And when they found him, they found their true identity: daughter or a better translation “my little girl.”
Today it seems, we as women, have lost our identity. Being tossed around in a turbulent world where physical beauty, success, fashion, wealth, and sex define us and our worth, is it a surprise that we as women have lost sight of who we are, and who we are meant to be? How will we still the restlessness of our hearts and reclaim who we are? Where will we find our worth, a worth that is not susceptible to the ebb and flow of a world that has lost itself? By finding the one who created us and loved us first of all.
The women of the Gospels found Him. And when they did, they were never the same, never ashamed, never fearful. They had found the one who made them whole; they found the one who unveiled their true identity, their true beauty, their true purpose, and he emboldened them to become his most fierce and loyal disciples.
As with all the women in the Gospels, little is known of Mary Magdalene’s background. She is called “a sinner” and “a woman of the city,” from whom seven demons were expelled by Jesus; but, most importantly, what we can learn from her can be traced throughout the Gospels by the consistency of her actions: namely, an extravagance and outpouring of love at the feet of Jesus.
When we first meet Mary, Jesus is sitting in the house of a Pharisee, Simon, who has slighted him by not performing the customary etiquette of welcome by anointing one’s guest. Perforating this insult, Mary boldly enters the house where she is unwelcome. The Pharisee holds her in contempt and knows her as a sinner. Weeping, she bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and anoints them with oil, adoring him in the midst of contemptible and judging eyes: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (Lk 7:39).
We find her again, at Bethany, performing the same act of love, anointing the Lord’s head and feet with a pound of costly ointment, an extravagance of adoration that is chided by the apostles, “Why this waste?” (Mt 26:6) Judas, specifically asks, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii…?”(Jn 12:5) In both cases, Jesus defends her, for she had done “a beautiful thing” for him and loved him much and chose the better part.
We find her lastly at the tomb of her Lord, early while it is still dark. She is the only one there. She cannot be separated from him whom she loved so dearly and whose love could not be outdone in return. Finding the tomb empty she runs to tell the disciples who leave for their homes after they too have found it empty. Once again, Mary stays and weeps. And in return, in a love out-poured, Jesus appears to her first. Not to his disciples but to her. A woman of the city, a sinner, becomes the apostle to the apostles. Jesus has made her new. In him she has found her true identity, one of his fiercest followers.
The Hemorrhaging Woman
Again, nothing is known of the woman with a hemorrhage, other than the details that surround her condition and her extravagant and bold act of faith. She exits the Gospels as quickly as she enters them, but what a model she is for us. We know that she had had a flow of blood for twelve years, a disease she had “spent all her living upon physicians” to no avail. The flow of blood makes her ritually unclean; hence every thing, chairs, beds, etc. and every one she touches would also thereby be unclean: “And whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until evening” (Lev 15:27).
Cut off from all community and worship, one can only imagine the extent of her isolation, self-loathing, desperation, and suffering. Framed within the story of Jairus, who just moments before, had prostrated himself before Christ, desperately begging for him to heal his dying daughter, the hemorrhaging woman enters the scene as one of the crowd, following Jesus who is following the anguished father. She has heard reports about him, and so enters the crowd of which she is forbidden to encounter her Lord, “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well” (Mk 5:28).
In utter humility and modesty, she approaches Jesus from behind, not daring to come to him face to face. In utter humility and modesty, she touches his tassel, the outermost and lowest part of Jesus’ garment. With the truest heart, the deepest faith, and the greatest need, she clings to Jesus and is healed. The crowd must have been loud, rambunctious, and volatile, but Jesus does not allow her to slip away in anonymity. He demands her to step forward, not to chastise but to redeem. Yes, he has physically healed her, but he desires to give her more, to see her face to face, to give her back her dignity, to heal her body and soul, and to unveil her true identity, not a woman who is cursed, unclean, an outcast, but his “daughter.” And not just his daughter, his “little girl.” He will not be outdone in extravagance and love.
Women of the Gospels, teach us to be like you. Teach us to be holy.