Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Twelve (?) Disciples

I get emotional when people start listing the names of Jesus' "12" disciples. Last year our church did a series about being a disciple of Christ. For the series trailer, my friend C donned his sunglasses for the camera and affected his voice to sound tough and cool as he listed Christ's notorious 12--the ones Jesus called "apostles" but whom Christians commonly refers to as "disciples." Simon (Peter). Andrew. James, son of Zebedee. John. Phillip. Bartholomew. Matthew. Thomas. James, son of Alphaeus. Simon. Jude Thaddaeus. Judas Iscariot. By the end of this long list, I was was fighting off the hysteria that can accompany rejection. Why weren't there any women in that list? Why wasn't I represented in that list? It wasn't anything personal, right? Because everyone knew Jesus called the twelve. The twelve men.

The twelve men were singled out by Jesus in Luke 6 as "apostles", but why are they the focus in our Christian education? Why are they the only ones commonly refered to as disciples? Why did I not grow up hearing about Mary Magdalene as a disciple of Christ (rather than the emphasis of her supposed former life of prostitution)? Why did I not hear of the disciples Joanna and Susanna and "many others" who accompanied Christ and the "twelve" (Luke 8:2-3) and supported them with their own money? Why do I know nothing of Mary, the mother of James? Nothing of Salome (not Herod's wife) at the crucifixion and tomb? Nothing of Mary, the wife of Cleopas? These women rarely speak in the biblical narratives, much like the concubine from Bethlehem in the Judges story (see previous post). While the concubine was unnamed, the female disciples might well remain unnumbered (were they included in the 70 Jesus sent out?), and church history has done all but obscure them from the canon.

I do not find fault with the makers of the trailer I mentioned above. What they did was perfectly ordinary, perfectly acceptable in the realm of conventional thought. We were talking about following Christ, being good Christians. Throughout the ages, the church has looked mostly to men as our guides.

On another note, I find it terribly inconvenient that most ideas that fall into the "realm of conventional thought" are absolutely distressing to me. I would rather not be distressed. I would rather bury my head in the sand than ask, "Why Jesus? Why did you not make any women your 'apostles'? Why has it been so easy for women to be marginalized and dismissed throughout the ages, within your church? Was it you? Could you have done better? Provided better stories for the writers for the books? Or was it them? Did they see through their own misogynistic lense? Through the lense of patriarchy, where women are property, unclean objects, gatekeepers of all evil to be found in the natural world? Was it in fact a massive victory for women that their names were recorded at all? That the story of the first female evangelist* is recorded in the bible? Was it in fact a massive victory that you appeared to women first after your resurrection, even though their stories were met with skepticism?"

In answer to the latter questions, my intellect, research and gut tell me that the answer is yes: What to me seem like small triumphs for women are massive in light of the cultural paradigm of Jesus' time. I know it. I get it. But it hurts that those triumphs failed to shape the present day in more radical ways. It hurts to the core.

*I like the fictionalized account of John 4:1-42, the Samaritan woman at the well, that is found in Saving Women from the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide, by Susan McLeod-Harrison.

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