The role of women became important with the life and Ministry of Jesus. He did not follow the order of the day or the cultural viewpoint of his times, giving a subordinate position to women. In his eyes, men and women were equal and called to serve the Kingdom of God.
The New Testament features a few of the strongest and most important women in the Bible. The lead is, undoubtedly, taken by Mary, mother of God. Others include her cousin Elizabeth, Mary Magdalene, a disciple of Jesus and Mary and Martha; the sisters loved by Jesus.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the most submissive and humble servant of God to appear in the Bible. She was a resident of Nazareth and was engaged to Joseph, descended in the line of David. During the period of engagement, she was visited by an angel of God. He declared to her that she had found favour with God and was to bear His Son.
Mary must have been an exceptionally pure and devout woman since she had found favour with God. When the angel informed Mary that she would conceive a child, despite being a virgin, she had a natural doubt that how she could conceive without having been with any man. The angel informed her that this would be possible by the working of the Holy Spirit.
Mary’s response to this is exemplary: She said she was the servant of God and “Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38). The etymology of the word ‘servant’ is slave or bondservant. Mary’s humility is something wonderful. It is an inspiration for all Christians to submit to the will of God.
The angel’s message that her child is the Son of God was confirmed by her cousin Elizabeth when she visited her. The biggest event in her life was when she gave birth to Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. She treasured in her heart events like the visit of the three Kings or Magi as well as the shepherds led by angels to worship baby Jesus.
When Jesus was a young boy, he was lost in the Temple of Jerusalem, but she was glad to find him there after three days of worry and anxiety. Mary was also an active member of the Ministry of the Adult Jesus. In fact, the first miracle performed by him- turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana, was performed at her behest.
She was also witness to the greatest event that of the crucifixion of Christ where a dying Christ entrusted her to the care of his apostle John. Her sorrowful image, cradling the lifeless body of Christ, taken down from the cross, also called as Pieta, has been an inspiration to numerous works of art.
Mary was also witness to the resurrection of Christ and his ascendancy to heaven. Later on, Mary witnessed the event of coming down of the Holy Spirit upon her and the disciples of Christ in the Upper room in Jerusalem called as the ‘Pentecost.’ It is also believed that Mary was raised to heaven in the arms of angels and was crowned the Queen of Heaven.
Elizabeth is famous as the mother of John, the Baptist. She was the wife of Zechariah, from the line of Aaron. She was a righteous person and childless into old age. An angel came to the couple and announced that in answer to their prayers, she would deliver a son. Miraculously, the elderly Elizabeth conceived and spent six months in seclusion. After this, she was visited by her cousin Mary, who ministered to her for three months. Mary was pregnant with Jesus and both Elizabeth, and her unborn child John recognized the deity of Jesus. The child within the womb of Elizabeth leaped with joy at the presence of Jesus. Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist whom Jesus would call later as the ‘greatest of men.’
She was a well-known disciple of Christ, faithful even up to his death on the cross. She was a resident of the village of ‘Magdala.’ In some accounts, she is identified as a former prostitute, but there is no evidence in the texts. However, she is reputed to have been cleansed from seven demons by Jesus. Ultimately, she became a member of a close group of women, who were committed followers of Jesus. She supported Jesus and his disciples financially during his Ministry. She is a witness of the crucifixion and burial of Christ. She was the one who went to the tomb on Sunday morning and reported to Peter that it was empty. She spoke to two angels whom she spotted near the tomb.
She was the first to see the risen Lord, a great matter of pride for all women. It is ironic that, in the times of Jesus, women could not be legal witnesses. Yet Jesus chose a woman, Mary to be the first witness of his rise from the death. She delivered his message to the disciples. The message of her life is that an encounter with Jesus can transform the life of a sinner forever.
Mary and Martha
When Jesus entered a certain village, he was greeted by a woman named Martha, who invited him to her home where she lived with her sister Mary. Mary lodged herself at Jesus’ feet and listened to every word that he was speaking. Martha got busy with household chores to serve the guests and was irritated that Mary was not helping her. She complained to Jesus who told her that she was busy with many things, but Mary was busy with the one and most important thing, which would not be taken away from her.
Mary and Martha show us that serving Jesus is not for show. It takes effort and time to spare time from our busy lives to worship and praise Christ. Jesus also shows how women, like men, could grow in knowledge and grace. Jesus was not undermining the diligence or effort of daily work but only to get one’s priorities’ right: women are called equally to fulfill their spiritual responsibilities as men.