How Jesus Empowered Women for Discipleship

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On an Israel Study Tour, our group was taken to Mount Arbel where Jesus supposedly gave the Great Commission. For me, that was already a highlight in itself, until we reached Magdala, believed to be the hometown of Mary Magdalene (literally Mary from Magdala). There they found a synagogue comparable to those where Jesus preached through all Galilee in his last months of ministry on earth. Inside was a “Women’s Atrium” with eight pillars representing women in the Bible who followed Jesus; one especially designated for the women Christ-followers across all time. As I was not prepared for that affirmation, tears welled up as I followed our guide in the brief tour.

Honoring women has already become a norm. Every young woman is empowered to aspire for anything she puts her mind and heart into. We celebrate women in March. We celebrate mothers in May. We could actually celebrate womanhood all year round. What a great time to be alive as a woman! However, women in Jesus time did not share the same privilege. Let me read to you some quotes according to Mishna a collection of Jewish instructions:

Women are an embarrassment and a reproach!
Sin began with a woman and thanks to her, we all have to die!
Don’t put yourself in the hands of a woman or she might begin to dominate you completely!
The words of Torah should be burned or taught to dogs rather than be taught to women.
A rabbi would never speak to a woman in public– not even to his wife.

These “norms do not resonate with what I read in the Bible especially when I study the life and ministry of Jesus Christ who broke the cultural traditions of His time in how He treated women. He loved, accepted, healed, and forgave them. He restored their dignity by talking to them and speaking life into them, and yes, even challenging them to follow Him as a disciple when traveling with a rabbi was unheard of. Jesus made it a wonderful time to be alive for the women he invited to “follow Me and I will make you fishers of men!” Jesus had women disciples who played a significant part in His disciplemaking movement.

I am reminded of a Filipino idiom “saling-pusa”. Who has experienced being one because your parents asked your older siblings to let you join their game as a pretend player. Deep inside you were wondering if you were really contributing anything valuable. Well, there are no “saling-pusa” in the Kingdom of God. Women were not pretend players. In Hebrew, a woman disciple is called a talmidah. Yose ben Yoezer (2nd century BC) said, “Let your house be a meeting place for the rabbis, and cover yourself in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words thirstily.” We could derive from that quote that a disciple provides for the Rabbi, follows the Rabbi wherever he goes, travels with him, and learns in humility by “sitting at his feet” as famously demonstrated by Mary of Bethany. Let me introduce to you another Mary who was especially mentioned in Luke 8:1-3.

Mary Magdalene had seven demons taken out from her (Luke 8:2). She had completely experienced the liberating. power of God and completely she devoted her life to Rabbi Jesus. This resulted in her impressive presence and leadership among the faithful followers of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The mere fact that the four gospels mentioned her name 12 times in total tells a lot of her significance. She met Jesus. She invested her time in Jesus. She was willing to serve unnoticed as a devoted disciple. She was willing to invest financially (Luke 8:3). She was not ashamed to be identified with Christ

She was one of the first to arrive at the empty tomb (John 20:1) and to witness the risen Christ (John 20:16). Jesus called her by her name and told her to give the news of His resurrection to the other disciples. Her Rabbi commissioned her to become the first herald of His resurrection. Mary Magdalene and the other women were recorded in history as credible witnesses, in a time when men alone were considered trustworthy. Her testimony tells of what Christ is able to do for a woman and what a woman can do for the One who has done so much for her. She owed much, given much, loved much, and served much.

Dear fellow talmidah, remember your state when the Lord found you. Maybe you feel that you are a “saling-pusa” and are allowing your culture to accept it and settle. But know that when the Lord invited you to follow Him, He meant it. He has an important part waiting for you to take for the furtherance of His Kingdom. Would you bow right now and say a prayer of gratitude for what he has done in your Life?

Now think of a talmidah in your church. She could be a mother, a wife, a member, a worker, or a leader. Think of ways how you could empower her to be a faithful partner in the ministry. Verbally encourages her by reminding her of her vital role in our Lord’s movement by discipling, training and coaching both men and women and by exhorting her to continue sitting at the feet of her Rabbi Jesus. Would you pray for her right now?

A woman blooms when she knows she is loved. Together we bloom, rise and make disciples.

by Jean Galang

As published in the Evangelicals Today Vol. 46 No. 2

Jean Galang started pursuing her calling as a discipler of the next generation right after graduating BA Speech Communications at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She finished MA in Pastoral Studies at Alliance Graduate School. She worked as a Project Coordinator at Focus on the Family Philippines for almost 5 years and as a Campus Outreach Coordinator at Capitol City Baptist Church for eight years. She now works as the Creative Advocacies Director at Wavemakers. She devotes her time inspiring, training and coaching church workers in order to reach out to the next generation. She is a movie buff, a traveler and a foodie. She happily lives with her single mother Sally and cats Meimei and Oreo.