Sunday, 9 August 2015


As a divorcee, a single mother, successful business woman and an adored only child brought up to believe I was a genius, I was soooo switched off by the church’s branding of biblical women. The tendency to place them in three categories – temptresses, saints and prostitutes.

There I was, 50 years old, voraciously reading and studying the Scriptures for the first time and sans the influence of Sunday School or decades of paternalistic preaching from the pulpit. It didn’t take long to pitch my tent in the Mary camp – having enjoyed domestic help all my life, there was no way I could identify with Martha.

However, as I looked to the Scriptures for inspiration I knew I wanted to do more than learn. My activist genes were kicking in. I was impressed by the likes of Rahab who hid two spies from the king’s men among the stalks of flax which were used for her rope-making business. I was inspired by Deborah the judge and gobsmacked by Jael who hammered and a tent peg through Sisera's temples and into the ground while he slept.

(Batwoman eat your heart out.)

Mary tame?
I still fume at how Mary, mother of Jesus, has been tamed by Church. Was she really a doe-eyed humble teacher’s pet with an electric light behind her head?

Or a feisty female who raised her kids in a village which would have called her first child a bastard. All this at a time when honour was everything and she was still a teenager. We get a glimpse of the Yiddishe mama at the wedding of Cana. As in ‘Boychick make wine.’

She’s there for her boy throughout the crucifixion and then mothers his disciples. Dare I suggest that she played a meaningful role in the Early Church, along with other women so often overlooked? Still in her late forties was she just a frail granny for young John to look after?

We insult women as much by presenting them as floppy saints as assuming, without evidence, that they were temptresses and prostitutes.

Just as David and Peter were complex humans so were the biblical women. The point is, they leaned in and made a difference.

The Magdalene conspiracy
It was in one of my New Testament assignments that I stumbled on the massive gender discrimination perpetrated by Church against Mary Magdalene.

It continues. Only last week I asked my congregation what she did for a living. Yes, you’ve guessed it. A prostitute! Who says? All I have ever found in the bible is the fact that Jesus chased seven devils out of her. And Luke 8:1-3 tells of how she, along with several other women supported Jesus’ travelling ministry from their resources.

She’s a main player during and after the crucifixion. She’s mentioned in all four gospels but none say she is a lady of the night. If she was, so what?

St Augustine, despite his weird ideas about marriage and sex, declared her the ‘apostle to the apostles.’ No matter what she was before she met Jesus, let’s acknowledge her leadership role.

Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox but let’s give the woman a break. Seems our Catholic cousins are just as remiss. There’s a great blog by Phyllis Zagano, a senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and author of several books in Catholic studies,

First apostle?
While we’re at it, I’d like to see ‘the woman at the well’ honoured as an apostle, the definition being ‘an early follower of Jesus who carried the Christian message into the world’.

By the way, does anyone ever notice that Jesus doesn’t instruct her to leave her lover?

Although I jump ahead in my story I must mention the sage advice I received from Archishop Njongogonkulu Ndungane when I was placed in a Sowetan parish while training for the diaconate. ‘Whatever you do, don’t get on the wrong side of the Mother’s Union in your parish.’

August is Women’s month in South Africa. We honour the 20 000 women who marched on the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest against the abhorrent Pass Laws of our apartheid regime. It is also the month when we beat our breasts about gender inequality.

The month comes. The month goes.

1 comment:

Peter Nickles said...

Made me take a step back and reconsider a good deal of what I thought I knew about the biblical ladies.
Thankyou....excellent, as always.