Monday, 6 August 2012
Women of the Bible: Elizabeth, Anna and Mary Magdalene
Women Who Proclaim The Way of The Messiah
The Bible, the word of God, begins and ends with Jesus. It is almost as an umbrella, if you will, the handle in the middle being Jesus and all else, before and after, stemming from this point. Therefore, the biggest question surrounding the Christian faith is, and has always simply been; “Who? Who was Jesus? Who is Jesus?”
‘Then Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?”’ - Mark 8:29
In light of this question I wish to look at three specific women of the New Testament who chose to see Jesus for who he is and, in doing so, are themselves redeemed and chosen to proclaim the Truth.
Elizabeth – Luke 1:5-80
Elizabeth is the first recorded person in the New Testament to see Jesus as “Lord” (v43). She proclaims His coming and has her voice, as a woman, redeemed through it.
During a time in which women were passed from their father’s hands into their husband’s, and had little status other than that of child-bearers, Luke’s opening description of Elizabeth proves surprising. She is the first woman to be spoken of in the third synoptic gospel and yet is introduced primarily, not as ‘barren’ (v7) and not singularly as Zechariah’s ‘wife’ (v5), but as her husband’s partner and equal. She is celebrated as of a ‘priestly line’ just as he is from a ‘priestly order’ and, what’s more, they are notably ‘both righteous in God’s eyes’ (v6).
In recognition of their worthiness as a couple, the Lord chooses them to conceive John, later known as John the Baptist. This child consequently fulfils the prophesy of Isaiah 40:3-5, the most Biblically famous “voice … preparing a straight pathway for the Lord’s coming” (John 1:23). However, on looking back to his source we can see that his mother also recognises Jesus and, in fact, declares Him for who He is before all others in the Luke’s gospel. “What an honour this is, that the mother of my Lord should visit me!” (v43).
Where Elizabeth speaks of Mary as being “blessed, because [she] believed that the Lord would do what He said.” (v45), I would suggest her to hold similar virtues and, as such, to be similarly blessed. She proves a woman of childlike faith, even beyond that of her husband. Where his response to the angel’s message of John’s conception was doubt (v18), her discovery is praise (v25). In such faith, it is she that is blessed to first see and declare Jesus as Lord.
Anna – Luke 2:36-40
Anna is the second woman of the New Testament who recognises Jesus as the ‘promised king’ (v38) and foretells his future. Yet it is her status, rather than her voice, that is redeemed through it.
As with Elizabeth, Anna proves an unlikely character to proclaim the way of the Lord. She is ‘very old’ and a ‘widow’ (v36). Yet her father’s tribe and marital status does not shape her identity in God’s eyes, as it did within her surrounding society. No, Anna is first introduced by Luke as a “prophet” (v36).
The title of “prophet” (Eph 4:11) in the Bible goes beyond that of the gift of the prophetic (1 Cor 12:10), and into that of an office or anointed position. She is therefore called to receive revelation from the Lord and declare His words on earth. Yet it is when Anna is old and holds no family/male security that she receives her most important prophesy of all. As she passes Simeon and Mary and Joseph she has an impartation of revelation of the baby Jesus as Lord and bursts into praise (v38). This parallels with the way in which Elizabeth responded to the revelation of her pregnancy, and asserts Anna to be another woman of faith. Redeemed, therefore, into the office of prophet from widow, Anna steps into the word and proclaims Jesus as the one “to come and deliver Jerusalem.” (v38).
Mary Magdalene – John 20:1-18
The final woman of the Bible to whom I would like to focus, as seeing and proclaiming Jesus, is that of Mary Magdalene. For it is she that is the first person to recognise the risen Lord, redeeming her own significance from death to life.
Mary Magdalene’s social disregard did not lie in barrenness or widowhood, as Elizabeth and Anna’s before her, but rather in the belief of her insanity. Mary had been crazed by seven demons that dwelt within her until Jesus set her free (Luke 8:2)! Yet, as with the two before her, the Bible neglects her social failures and instead emphasises her virtues. She too is a woman of faithfulness. This can be seen simply in her constant presence throughout the gospels, following her Lord even to the cross and grave (Matt 27:56 and 61, Matt 28:1, Mark 15:40 and 47, Mark 16:1, John 19:25).
Indeed, it is outside Jesus’ very tomb that she sees the Lord in all His glory (v11). Jesus’ question to her is unsurprisingly that with which we started; “who are you looking for?” (v15) Her answer, in “turning toward him”, in seeing Jesus, is that of recognition, “teacher!” (v17) and “Lord” (v18). As with Elizabeth and Anna before her, Mary recognises Him, believes His message of ascension (v17) and takes it to the disciples without question (v18) thus displaying, yet again, her faith.
In the fact that she is the first to see the risen Lord it is Mary’s worth that is redeemed. Historically women were viewed as invalid witnesses during the time of Jesus. It took two men to present any testimony before it would be seriously considered. Yet here Mary is redeemed from being, not only a woman unfit to give a testimony, but a mad being previously disregarded as making no sense, to the first person entrusted to proclaim the Truth of the Good News to others. What grace!
In conclusion, these three women, Elizabeth, Anna and Mary, are redeemed of their gender constrictions, because they hold faith in a God who sees them. They, in turn, see Jesus for who He is and, aside from their status in society, are given freedom and power by God to proclaim the Good News!