Thanks to a post I saw on Upworthy, I felt inspired to write a quick reflection on some women of faith we encounter in scripture who were warned, received explanations, and, nevertheless, persisted. This list is far from exhaustive. I hope it encourages others to reflect on the multitude of women who offer us their courage, their faith, and their persistent witness.
Miriam of Nazareth: Luke 1:26-56;
It is most appropriate to begin with Mary, the mother of Jesus. We can only speculate the warnings and explanations she heard as a young girl regarding appropriate social behavior for a first-century Jewish woman. No wonder she was perplexed when the Angel Gabriel announced God’s plan for her. Nevertheless, she persisted. Her fiat was not only a yes to bear the son of God, but a yes to the daily struggles that that task would require. She was a prophet, bearing all the pain that came with bearing God’s good news into the world. She persisted in her yes through pregnancy, through labor, through fleeing her homeland, through child-rearing, and through her son’s ministry. She persisted in her yes even when she watched her son being brutally crucified and die. She persisted in her yes as she too learned of Jesus’ resurrection, pondering all of God’s work in her heart.
Woman with the Hemorrhage: Mark 5:25-34; Matthew 9:20-22; Luke 8:43-48
We meet this nameless woman in all the synoptic gospels. We know very little about her, except that she had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Mark tells us that she had “suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all she had.” We can only imagine the many warnings, the countless treatments, the explanations she received from these doctors. She would also have received warnings about being in public in such an “unclean” state, let alone reaching out and touching the cloak of a teacher and healer like Jesus. Nevertheless, she persisted. She makes her way through the crowd and merely touches his cloak. Healed by her faith, she is cured and blessed by Jesus.
The Syrophoenician Woman: Matthew 15:21-28 (See note below)
All we know about this desperate mother is that she and her ill daughter are outsiders, presumably excluded from receiving Jesus’ healing. She is shunned by the disciples and, for a brief moment, even Jesus himself. Nevertheless, she persisted. And her faith and persistence did not only free her daughter, but it also opened Jesus’ salvific ministry to all human beings.
The Woman Who Bathes Jesus’ Feet: Luke 7:36-50
Jesus is dining at the house of a Pharisee, when a woman comes in and begins to bathe his feet with ointment and with her tears. We are told this woman is sinful, although her sins are not listed. Judging by the Pharisee’s hostile response to her presence, she is considered impure. We can imagine the Pharisee’s harsh objections to her entering the house at all. He probably warned her of what he, a man in power, could do to a wretched woman like herself. He probably offered plenty of explanations of why she was not welcome. What dreadful looks must have been cast her way. What horrible words must have been whispered behind her back–words equivalent to contemporary slurs like “slut,” “whore,” and “nasty woman.” Nevertheless, she persisted. She risked her own reputation and safety by giving public witness to her faith in and love for Jesus. And for this, she is held up as an example of authentic faith.
The Samaritan Woman at the Well: John 4:4-42
Oh, the woman at the well. Another nameless woman, shunned by her community for her sins. She must have been warned to not fetch water early in the day when the other women were there. She must have been given the explanation that she, a woman of ill repute, living with a man to whom she is not married, had ostracized herself from the community. Nevertheless, she persisted. She shows up to the well at high noon. And there she meets a thirsty and tired Jesus. She not only offers him water. She also engages him in a theological conversation. She tells him of her persistent faith in the coming of the Messiah. And this conversation changes her. She runs and persuades the townspeople—the same people who had rejected her—that she had, indeed, encountered the Messiah.
Mary of Magdala and the Other Women at the Cross and the Tomb
When the other disciples ran away in fear, it was the women who stayed at the cross, present to Jesus’ suffering. We can imagine the jabs, the looks, again, the mean-spirited warnings that must have been shouted at them from the crowds and the soldiers. They must have been warned how dangerous it was to be associated with Jesus. Nevertheless, they persisted. They returned to the tomb to tend his body. There, they discover that he had, indeed, been raised. Yet when Mary of Magdala, now known as the apostle to the apostles, announces this good news to the men disciples, they do not believe her. They cannot believe until they see with their own eyes. Nevertheless, Mary of Magdala and the other women who were present until the very end, persisted. And because of this, they were also present at the very beginning, when that first Holy Saturday Night turned into Easter Morning, when death turned into resurrection, and despair turned into hope.
Again, this is only a small sampling of persistent women we encounter in scripture. They were warned what their actions could mean. They received explanations as to why they were considered dangerous, why they were not welcomed, or why they were considered socially unacceptable. Nevertheless, they persisted. And their persistence gives witness to the evermore persistent Holy Spirit, who offers all of us mercy and love.
Note: I added this reflection on the Syrophoenician woman (also known as the Canaanite Woman) to the original post, thanks to a reminder from a reader. The Syrophoenician woman must be mentioned here, as her persistence helped Jesus understand his ministry on a more global scale.