Only women followed Jesus to his death

Posted at 04/15/2014 3:16 PM

JESUIT James Martin observes that, as Jesus was coming to the end of his mission, it was clearer than ever that he meant to die; that suffering and death was its fulfillment. So, the apostles--like all Jews looking forward to the Return of the King that would raise them back up to glory--wondered what good is a king if he is dead. Yet the royalist profession of faith goes: the king is dead, long live the king. Maybe the apostles had lived too long under republican Rome, which hated kings and accepted dictators instead. Yet a woman anointed the feet of the lord with expensive oil for the dead and wiped his feet with her hair. She knew he would die yet still she served without expectation of return. Didn’t Francis just remind us of that as the appropriate Lenten sacrifice?

Unlike the donkey who rode Pacquiao when he entered Las Vegas--and clung to his back throughout a difficult fight, all the while whispering in his ear, pay your taxes, or else--Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a donkey in seeming triumph but things, already dicey from earlier run-ins with the Jewish establishment, turned for the worse: Jesus lost his temper in the Temple and confronted the Jews with a royalist claim that invited Roman retaliation on all of their heads--as history later showed--so the apostles prepared to put a safe distance between Jesus and themselves.

They fled the last supper, so no one was left to pay the bill, after one of them betrayed Jesus to the temple. Peter denied Jesus until the crow of the cock reminded him that Jesus had predicted his weakness. Peter cried but only in solitary shame. Indeed, the apostles vanished when Jesus was tried, found innocent by his judge but condemned by his Jewish peers. A convicted felon called Jesus (this is the Jesus an Egyptian papyrus the size of a business card said, 800 years after the birth of Christ, had a wife) was released in his place.

As he staggered up Calvary to a painful death, none of the apostles was there but Simon Cyrene, a total stranger, took the cross from Jesus and carried it instead; while a distant follower gave his tomb after Jesus was dead.

Only a woman wiped his face with her veil; only women followed Jesus to his death; exposing themselves to the fury of the mob and the suspicion of the Romans. Only women encircled his mother; only they watched the nails hammered through his flesh and heard Jesus groan as he was raised and sank from his weight that pulled at the nails. Only women stood at the foot of the cross and saw the blood cover the stones that held it straight. Sure, John said he was there but you know writers when they talk about themselves.

When Jesus was taken dead from the cross, the men in his life had fled. He had known it all along: when the shepherd is killed, the sheep scatter, he said. He sure had a wooly set of friends.

On the third day, only women were around to learn from the angels he had risen from the dead and to go tell the apostles he would meet them where they fled. But Mary Magdalene got the news from Jesus himself. While she wept in the empty tomb, she heard from a face she did not know, the voice of the man she had served.

‘Why do you cry?’ Jesus said, “Who do you seek?’ Thinking it was the gardener, Magdelene said, ‘Kyrie, if you have taken him, I will take him off your hands.’ Jesus gently said ‘Mariam?’ She knew the voice if not the face and answered, ‘Master’.

The number of witnesses changes with each gospel but not their sex: only women witnessed the resurrection in the flesh.

From thence, they went to the apostles and the apostles doubted their word. The Jesuit theologian Lohfink leaves open the possibility that the apostles experienced Jesus as in a dream in their heads, that doesn’t invalidate it because Jesus reveals Himself as truly in our sleeping as in our waking moments, but no one denies and every account testifies that women never left Jesus yet the gospels were written by men.