Women in Ministry
A 36-year-old woman with two kids during the founding of the church near the end of Jesus’ life through the Acts of the Apostles would have seen a woman’s revolution unlike any that had ever happened.
For hundreds of years before Jesus, the Greeks, the Seleucids, the Romans, or neighboring civilizations all had laws and rights, and women’s equality wasn’t at the forefront. Like most societies, ancient or modern, there were also various forms of social, economic, and legal inequality. Even the Jewish society during this time was patriarchal.
Within this patriarchal framework, Jesus’ teachings and actions often challenged traditional gender roles and attitudes, emphasizing themes of equality, compassion, and the intrinsic worth of all individuals. His interactions with women, as depicted in the Gospels, are notable for their inclusivity and for elevating the status of women in a society that was largely patriarchal.
Who was the first individual Jesus told he was the Messiah? A woman. If we wanted to pile on that, a Samaritan woman!
The Gospel of Luke presents several ways in which women were shown to be significant in the ministry of Jesus.
These include Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1-2); Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1); and Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2), among others.
Women are depicted as witnesses to significant events. It is through Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Elizabeth that we have the Magnificat and Benedictus (songs of praise) in Luke 1. Women, including Mary Magdalene and other women, are also witnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.
Instances where Jesus showed compassion and performed healing miracles for women include the healing of the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43-48) and the healing of the bent woman on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17).
Jesus is shown engaging in meaningful teaching and interactions with women. He had conversations with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), the woman who anointed His feet (Luke 7:36-50), and Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42). These interactions convey important spiritual lessons.
Some of Jesus’ parables in Luke include women as central characters, such as the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) and the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8). These parables highlight the significance of women in illustrating spiritual truths.
Luke portrays women as examples of faith and devotion to Jesus. One notable example is the widow’s offering (Luke 21:1-4), where a poor widow’s small gift is commended by Jesus as an act of great faith.
Women were the first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospel of Luke. They were entrusted with the message of His resurrection and played a central role in spreading the news to the disciples (Luke 24:1-12).
Through these examples and narratives, the Gospel of Luke underscores the significant contributions and roles of women in the ministry of Jesus. It demonstrates Jesus’ inclusive approach and emphasizes the value of women as disciples and witnesses in the early Christian community.
The Last will be First, and the First will be Last.
Jesus changed everything! Christianity stresses the notion that within God’s divine order, individuals who display humility, selflessly serve others, and place the welfare of others before their own will be EXALTED.
The Kingdom of God places great worth on qualities such as humility, selflessness, and a heart devoted to serving. Christianity challenged established social, cultural, and institutional practices, policies, or attitudes that perpetuated inequality.
Slaves were now equal to Kings, Women were now equal to Men, the first would be last, and the last would be first.
Equal but Different!
Women were active in Jesus’ ministry and would continue to play active leadership roles within the early church.
Women played active roles in evangelization and social support to vulnerable communities.
Women were no longer forced to marry. Christianity prohibited divorce, which meant men could no longer just leave their wives with nothing and marry another (which was a common practice).
Women were able to form religious communities with autonomy, unheard of in the ancient world.
Where in the world could women run their own schools, convents, colleges, hospitals, and orphanages outside of the church?
The prominence of women in early Christianity was so evident that the ruling society of the time, the Roman Empire, would go on to call Christianity a “religion for women” since a large number of Christians were women.
Women in Ministry
Women now could and would remain chaste if they wanted to. There are many famous women who were to be married but declined in the name of Jesus. Many of these women were tortured and killed for declining.
Society did not accept this revolutionary idea that a woman could do what she wanted to do with her body.
In walks young Thecla, an early Christian figure who faced persecution for her faith. Her story is detailed in the “Acts of Paul and Thecla,” where she is portrayed as a devoted follower of the Apostle Paul.
She was deeply moved by his teachings when he visited Iconium, which led her to decide not to marry and to devote her life to Jesus Christ. She defied her family’s expectations, and despite persecution and imprisonment, she remained steadfast in her faith. After miraculously surviving attempts on her life, Thecla retreated to a cave in Syria, where she continued her ministry, helping and healing others without seeking payment. Even in her old age, she faced persecution but was protected by divine intervention. Today, you can visit Thecla’s cave.
Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2023, we went to Mass, and during the Liturgy of the Eucharist (a critical part of the Mass for my non-Catholic friends), there was a commemoration of the dead. On this particular day, the priest used Eucharistic Prayer I and said:
“Grant them, O Lord, we pray,
and all who sleep in Christ,
a place of refreshment, light, and peace.
(Through Christ our Lord. Amen.)
To us, also, your servants, who, though sinners,
And, with hands extended, he continues:
hope in your abundant mercies,
graciously grant some share
and fellowship with your holy Apostles and Martyrs:
with John the Baptist, Stephen,
Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia
and all your Saints;
admit us, we beseech you,
into their company,
not weighing our merits,
but granting us your pardon,”
If you blinked or wandered off during this portion of the prayer, you would’ve missed this list of women martyrs!
What did these women do that made them part of daily prayers worldwide forever?
They followed Jesus with humility and grace.
Agatha of Sicily
Agatha had consecrated her life to Christ and vowed to remain chaste. Agatha, a devout Christian from a noble Sicilian family, caught the eye of Quintianus, the Roman governor, due to her beauty and faith. Quintianus tried to force her into sin, torturing her when she refused to abandon her faith. Her breasts were brutally removed, but her unwavering faith and a miracle attributed to St. Peter sustained her. She faced more torment and was sentenced to burning, but an earthquake killed her in prison instead.
Lucy of Syracuse
Lucy of Syracuse was a young Christian woman born into a wealthy family in Syracuse, Sicily. She dedicated her life to Christ and vowed to remain a virgin. Lucy’s life took a dramatic turn when she refused to marry a pagan suitor. This suitor reported her to the Roman authorities, who subjected her to various forms of persecution. Tradition holds that she gouged out her own eyes in order to deter the suitor captivated by her beauty. According to the tradition, God intervened with a miraculous restoration of her sight, allowing her to see more clearly than ever before. Lucy remained resolute in her Christian faith and refused to renounce it. She was condemned to death by beheading and died as a Christian martyr.
Agnes of Rome
Also known as Saint Agnes of Sicily, was a young Roman girl from a noble and Christian family. At the age of 12 or 13, she caught the attention of Roman suitors who wanted to marry her because of her beauty and noble status. However, she firmly rejected their advances, stating that she had already devoted herself to Jesus Christ in marriage. This refusal to marry led to her persecution. She was arrested and subjected to various forms of torture and humiliation, yet she remained unwavering in her commitment to Christ, even in the face of death threats. Ultimately, she was sentenced to be beheaded and faced her martyrdom with courage and grace.
Cecilia of Rome
Cecilia, a noble Roman Christian, remained a virgin despite her arranged marriage to Valerian, a pagan. On her wedding night, Cecilia informed Valerian of her vow of chastity and revealed to him that she had an angel as her protector. Valerian was moved by her faith and agreed to respect her vow and convert to Christianity. Together, they lived a life of devotion to Christ and performed acts of charity but were persecuted for their beliefs. Cecilia survived execution attempts miraculously. Valerian was martyred, and Cecilia was sentenced to beheading. After three failed attempts, she preached and prayed for three days before her death.
Philomena The Wonderworker
When Philomena was 13-years-old, she took a vow of consecrated virginity.
After her father took his family to Rome to make peace, Emperor Diocletian fell in love with Philomena. When she refused to marry him, she was subjected to torture.
St. Philomena was scourged, drowned with an anchor attached to her, and shot with arrows. Each time she was attacked angels took to her side and healed her through prayer.
Finally, the Emperor had Philomena decapitated. According to the story, her death came on a Friday at three in the afternoon, the same as Jesus.
Two anchors, three arrows, a palm symbol of martyrdom, and a flower were found on the tiles in her tomb, interpreted as symbols of her martyrdom.
These women are celebrated for their dedication to Christ, their refusal to renounce their faith, and their willingness to face martyrdom for their beliefs. Their stories continue to inspire and hold significance within the Christian tradition.
Why was the Church so pro-woman?
I don’t think the Church was necessarily pro-woman as it was more pro-dignity of the human person. Jesus wanted us to look at each other through the eyes of God. In doing that, we can see the dignity of the human person before other characteristics. We are all unique, different, and special, but we are also all equally the children of God.