For centuries the Church has been a patriarchy. Men have ruled the roost in Church and in the home thanks to certain interpretations of scripture which seem to suggest that we should be the ones with all the authority.
Thankfully, this view is increasingly breaking down in light of more contextual readings of the verses which were used for years to force women into submission. There’s still a long way to go before true equality is finally realised, but it looks so much more possible than it even did 30 or 40 years ago.
However, there are still a lot of men who cling to the belief that they should be the main breadwinner in the household. Those with a strict complementarian view see the men as providers with women in the support roles. The fact that there were 12 male apostles is often used to back this up. They were the ones doing all the donkey work whilst the women were there to lend a hand and support.
However, there was more, much more to it than that.
“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” (Luke 8:1-3 NIV)
Not only are these women important and prominent enough amongst Jesus’ many followers to be named and to have a short backstory included by Luke, but they were supporting them “by their own means”. Financially.
Jesus and the twelve were, at least in part, being supported financially by women. The women were the breadwinners (I assume that “by their own means” means it was their money, not their husbands). Jesus was happy to do this, to be provided for by women.
Now, it doesn’t go into what other roles the women fulfilled. It doesn’t say that they were involved in teaching, although many men of the time would not have thought to listen to a woman teacher, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. It does, however, point to a prominence which women simply would not have been used to at the time. Jesus was showing them that they could break out of the male dominated shackles and make decisions for themselves.
This process has gone on, slowly, for the last 2000 years. Sadly, the Church has been even slower, keeping women from leading roles until very recently, and still shutting them out altogether in some denominations.
It’s time this ended. Gender roles are becoming increasingly blurred in society and the Church needs to do the same. I strongly believe the change has been Spirit led, but the resistance to change is entirely human and power based.
These women Luke mentions; Mary, Joanna and Susanna, should be the starting point for progress, not the end point as some people would still like to see them. We are all called for a purpose, regardless of gender. Let’s live and enable others to living for that purpose as God intends.