Today is International Women’s Day, “a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future”, and I thought I would take the opportunity to celebrate the women of the Bible. As much as I would like to celebrate ALL the women in the Bible (there’s not that many of them and yet still quite a good number), that might take a whole book to do. So here’s my selection of 10 women to celebrate today.
1. Mary Magdalene
Possibly the most controversial woman in Christian history, Mary Magdalene (or Mary of Magdala). The most common misconception about her is that she was a prostitute (an idea brought forth by Pope Gregory I). In the gnostic writing The Gospel of Mary, Andrew and Peter seemed to completely dismiss her… and yet most gnostic writing hail her as a true disciple, one who Jesus favored much (some opinions in fact think that Jesus was in love with her — and Dan Brown in his Da Vinci Code developed this idea). While discussions about Mary Magdalene could be very intense, let us celebrate her for what the gospel of John says about her… that she was a close follower of Jesus who became “the apostle to the apostles” as she brought the news of Jesus’ ressurection to the disciples with her famous line “I have seen the Lord” (read John 20:1-18 and listen to the song “I have seen the Lord“).
In the days after Joshua died and before Saul became king there were judges who lead Israel, and Deborah was one of them. Yes, that’s right, a woman was giving the people of Israel instructions on how to lead their lives. In fact, the commander of Israel’s army came to her for advice… and he did not want to go to war without her by his side. How’s that for some female power?? While we’re at it, there’s another female in this particular story, Jael… who is actually sort of cooler cause it was her who effectively won the war when she killed the enemy’s king! (read Judges 4 and 5)
3. The Proverbs 31 woman
Proverbs 31 verses 10-30 talks about The Wife of Noble Character and has always been a passage that just annoys me to the max. This woman does EVERYTHING. She keeps her household in good order, she takes care of the business, and she even finds time to look after the poor and needy… and where’s her husband? Oh, he’s just sitting there at the gates talking to the other men, bragging about his wife. Huh, WHAT? Well, despite the fact that I personally think that no woman should be doing all the work while her husband just sits back and relaxes, kudos to this woman who is able to do it all, way before the days of emancipation and feminist movements (speaking of that, how did society go from letting the women do everything to letting the women do nothing but have kids and clean the house??)
4. The Canaanite woman
In the International Women’s Day worship at the Ecumenical Centre this morning, we read and reflected on the passage about the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28), possibly the most disturbing passage in the gospels when you’re a woman because here’s Jesus… and he is comparing this woman with a dog! Well, yes, there are good explanations to it, but still… WHAT?!! And yet, this particular woman is so awesome… she replied instantly to Jesus with such a witty comment that Jesus healed her daughter after all. That, my dear readers, is what I call female power.
5. Mary, mother of Jesus
Okay, she probably deserved to be mentioned earlier than this, but anyway… this Mary was a young woman who was obviously very devoted to her faith, and without her there would be no Jesus (well, okay, I suppose if she had said no, God could’ve found another woman too, but still…). Imagine what a shocking moment it must’ve been for her, and how difficult it was. Not only does she have to deal with her husband-to-be (luckily God took care of that) but also with society and with the pregnancy itself! Not to mention the tough deal of the journey and giving birth and what about seeing your precious son dying on a cross? For being such a strong and courageous woman, Mary, we celebrate you.
I think many women could relate to Abigail… were there days when your husbands (or boyfriends) act like complete idiots? Yes? Welcome to Abigail’s life. Reading 1 Samuel 25, one could imagine that Nabal was possibly a complete d-bag. And yet, Abigail doesn’t give in to despair. Instead, she takes charge… and she saves her household with a highly courageous act. Bravo, Abigail!
I think I’ve made it clear by now that I’m aiming to get a whole variety of women and to celebrate them for many different reasons. We’ve had courage, wit, faith, bravery, well… here’s THE woman to be celebrated for beauty. Esther won a very important beauty pageant… instead of just receiving a crown and being treated like a princess for a day, she actually became the queen. Yet, she was not just beautiful on the outside, but she was beautiful in the inside too. Read her story in the book of Esther (one of only TWO books in the Bible to be named after a woman). The whole story is actually told to tell the origins of the feast of Purim, which coincidentally is celebrated today as well! How’s that for a celebration!
It wouldn’t be fair to celebrate International Women’s Day and to include Esther in the list but not Vashti. If we’re going to be true to the roots of International Women’s Day marking the day women took a stand against the mistreatment they have been subjected to, here’s the woman did exactly that: speaking out against mistreatment. Read Esther 1… there he was, the king having a party, he got really drunk, and he summoned her queen to be DISPLAYED in front of everyone. And, while I’m sure she knows what the rules are, Vashti refused to come. Ha! Way to go, Vashti, woman of integrity!
The other book of the bible named after a woman is the book of Ruth. And interesting enough, she wasn’t even an Israelite. The story of Ruth is a very touching story. Instead of going home to her family after the death of her husband, she decided to stay with her mother-in-law. Highly unusual, no? I often wonder what it is that made Ruth take this bold decision of going to a foreign country with no clear future… but perhaps it was an overflow of love to someone who needed it. Imagine Naomi, who had lost everything in her life. She was bitter, she was sick of it, she probably wanted to go home to Israel to die. She sent away her daughters-in-law so she would be all alone, no more burden, and she could be done with life. But no, Ruth saw the sadness, Ruth saw the bitterness, and even though she realizes it’s going to be tough for her, she decided to stay with Naomi. And they lived happily ever after. That, is genuine sisterhood.
Limiting myself to only 10 women makes it a bit difficult to choose who to feature as the count is almost up… but Leah has always had a special place in my heart ever since I read this novel that retold the story of Jacob’s clan from Leah’s point of view. Leah has always been misunderstood, overshadowed by her pretty little sister, and imagine having a husband who never wanted to marry you in the first place! And yet instead of Rachel, Leah was the one buried with Jacob in the cave of Machpelah, the same place where Abraham and Sarah, as well as Isaac and Rebekah are buried (see Genesis 49:29-31). Now what does that tell you? Well, it tells me that Leah was special. And perhaps, like in the novel (whose author’s name I can’t remember), Leah was the woman Jacob went to for counsel. The one he regarded as his “suitable helper”.
So there you have it, my selection of 10 women in the Bible who are to be celebrated for various reasons. Who would you celebrate and why?