Reading the Bible, or indeed the Holy Writings from any religious tradition, usually invokes a response. Wisdom can be imparted, comfort is sought and found, joy may be unleashed, challenges are presented, sometimes confusion or shock are experienced.
Today, as I read the first lectionary passage (Acts 1:15-26) I was frustrated. Not just a little bit frustrated, not just a little niggle inside with the thought this is a bit annoying, but really, really frustrated. I felt let down by the passage. As I read the text I could feel the irritation rising in me.
Because, once again, women were ignored. They were invisible. They were under-valued. They were irrelevant. All their loyalty and courage had passed unnoticed.
Let me explain the scenario as I read it . . .
The disciple, Peter, announced that another should be selected to take the place of Judas and be numbered as one of the twelve apostles (a discussion of twelve apostles will be for another day). He spoke to a small crowd of one hundred and twenty persons. The previous verses had confirmed that women were present. Peter announced that they should choose “one of the men who have accompanied us”. Peter continued that this male person would primarily attest to the resurrection.
As I read the words the frustration rose in me. What about the women? Why not select one of them? Surely, a woman should have at least been selected as one of the potential candidates.
The names of two men were suggested —Joseph called Barsabbas (Justus) and Matthias—neither of them were previously mentioned in Scripture. I am not, in any way, suggesting that these men were bad people or unfit to be counted amongst the apostles. But I can’t overlook that they hadn’t been mentioned before. Matthias was duly selected as Judas’ replacement. I should note that there is no further mention of him in the Scriptures either. He is purported to have penned a gospel which is lost, but was briefly alluded to in some other writings. (See: http://www.free-online-bible-study.org/gospel-of-matthias.html)
So why choose two men as candidates when there were several women who would have fit the requirement perfectly? Amongst these well qualified candidates were the women who had followed and cared for Jesus. We read of Mary, Susannah, Joanna and “many others” (Luke 8:3) and Martha (John 11).
Certainly, women were integral to the crucifixion and resurrection stories, one of the requirements. There were women who had remained at the cross. Noted amongst them are Jesus’ mother (John), his mother’s sister (John), Mary Magdalene (John, Matthew, Mark), Mary the wife of Clopas (John), Mary the mother of James (Mark, Matthew), mother of the sons of Zebedee, Salome (Mark), the women who had come with him from Galilee (Luke) and many women (Matthew)
All the gospels name women were first witnesses to the resurrection. They were named as Mary Magdalene (Matt, Mark, Luke and John), Mary the mother of James (Mark, Luke), Salome (Mark), the other Mary (Matthew), Joanna (Luke), and other women (Luke).
So where were these women when consideration was being given to the person to be named as one of the twelve? Ignored, forgotten, invisible!
In truth, the culture in consideration of women has changed much, especially over the last fifty years. But I still see too many photographs in the newspapers and on other media sources and ask myself, “Where are the women?”