Reviewing and renewing Biblical faith through story and study

Friday, September 06, 2013

Mark's Heroines

Published in Signs of the Times (March, 2007)


The Gospel of Mark reveals the great value women had in the life of Jesus. Mark was not merely transcribing details onto paper but was telling a many faceted tale with multiple plot lines that all culminated at the Cross.

The remarkable faith of the women in the Gospel of Mark reveals Mark’s two key points—the true Jesus and the true disciple. By demonstrating faith in its purest form, the women allow Jesus to work in complete fullness in their lives, thus presenting a beautiful example of what it means to be His disciple.


the true Jesus

Recorded in Mark 5:21–43, sandwiched within the story of the dying daughter of Jairus, is the miraculous healing of a woman who had been haemorrhaging for 12 years. As a social outcast, she could not call out to Jesus and did not ask for healing. She simply believed that if she could touch Him she would be healed.

Jesus felt power drain through the touch of someone who had faith in Him. This is the first glimpse Mark gives of true faith and the results of such faith. By asking “Who touched Me?” Jesus established not only that divine healing power had gone out from Him but also that He felt it leave.

Jesus’ reaction to this woman is a priceless telling of His love for each of us. He could have kept walking, knowing His power had healed someone.

But instead, He stopped and invited a confession of faith. Jesus made a social giant wait while a lonely lady had her moment of glory. Mark’s Messiah is revealed as one who holds all as equals.

He knows no favourites and honours all who believe in Him.

Jesus’ indifference to social standing is seen again in Mark 7:24–30—in a conversation with a Syrophoenician woman. She asked Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. In the ensuing conversation the unmatched faith and understanding of this woman is revealed. Through a common form of bantering conversation the woman doggedly fought for her daughter’s healing.

“She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter’” (Mark 7:26–29).

Her understanding of Jesus is evident in both her insistence that Jesus heal her daughter and in her calling Him “Lord.” She is the only person in the entire book of Mark who calls Jesus by this title. Due to her great faith in Jesus, the demon was cast out of her daughter without Jesus even seeing the child. This is the only place in the entire Gospel where such a thing takes place. This restates the power of what Jesus can do when faith is present.

Mark 14:3 tells about a woman who poured expensive perfume over Jesus’ head. Others in the room saw the display as wasteful. Jesus rebuked them: “She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial” (Mark 14:8).

Again a woman reveals the true identity of Jesus.

At the end of Mark’s Gospel three women witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus and then followed His body to the tomb. On the third day, they knew where to go because they had been there before. This final witness of the deceased Christ by the women gives us faith that we indeed have a risen Lord.

Again the women in Mark’s Gospel reveal the identity of Jesus.


the true disciple

Mark paints the 12 disciples as a faithless lot. They constantly failed to understand Jesus’ mission and rarely grasped His parables. If you go to the book of Mark looking for an example of discipleship, you will be sorely disappointed with Jesus’ chosen disciples.

It was the women who both understood Jesus’ identity and served His needs (see Mark 15:41). During a three-and-a-half-year evangelistic trip, there would be many needs. Who would prepare the food? Who would fund the travelling? Who would provide emotional support? Women filled these roles. Only once did Jesus ask the 12 disciples to minister to His emotional needs. In the Garden of Gethsemane He asked them to remain awake and support Him with their prayers. They failed.

According to Mark the women who followed Jesus never failed Him. They always seemed to have an understanding of who He was and demonstrated an unwavering faith in Him.

The haemorrhaging woman had complete faith in Jesus before she touched Him. After she was healed and Jesus asked who touched Him, she stepped forward. Why? She could have quietly slipped away having been healed without making herself a spectacle.

But instead she fell at His feet and declared “the whole truth” (Mark 5:33).

It is the character of a true disciple to boldly declare faith in Jesus’ healing touch. Jesus explicitly states the source of her healing when He says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you” (Mark 5:34). A disciple’s faith results in confirmation of that faith.

The next woman Mark gives as an example of true discipleship is the socalled Syrophoenician woman. She is willing not only to state clearly that she knows Jesus can heal her daughter, but she is prepared to fight for it. While faith in Jesus is never explicitly mentioned by the woman, Jesus, or the narrator, it is made clear in her persistence.

With two counts against her, being both a woman and a Gentile, her faith is greater than the unbelief of the scribes and Pharisees. She understands the sayings of Jesus better than His own disciples. She is the only character in Mark’s Gospel to counter Jesus’ cryptic remarks and end up winning the sparring match. The example of this woman teaches disciples to be bold in their faith and willing to fight for a blessing.

While sitting at the temple Jesus watched as “a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny” (Mark 12:42). Jesus specifically pointed out this woman to His disciples. She did not know she was being watched. “Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others’” (Mark 12:43). Jesus showed the disciples that generosity is quantified not by the amount of money given but the amount of money remaining.

By giving all she had, the poor widow established her absolute trust in God. She kept nothing with which to support herself. Her complete gift is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice Jesus would soon make on the cross. In the poor widow’s gift we see the life to which disciples are called.

The story of the woman who anointed Jesus is another example of true discipleship. She ignored the social pressures around her and anointed her Messiah. It is the duty of disciples to make sure every action is one that anoints Christ as King.

Finally, Mark describes the scene at the cross: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James ... and Salome” (Mark 15:40).
Mark names three, which seems to neatly parallel the three male disciples who made up Jesus’ inner circle.

Upon their disappearance at His capture, these three women appear in their place. Along with the new three comes a group of followers—all women.

Mark is drawing our attention to these women by mentioning them for the first time at this point in his narrative and by naming the main three.

Based on the faithfulness of women in the rest of Mark’s book, it is obvious Mark is unveiling these faithful women at the cross so we might realize it is the women whose example we are to follow.

Mark’s conclusion reveals the women as the first to hear of the Resurrection.

Jesus speaks first to the women who have come to His tomb. Their reaction to this encounter is directly opposite of what the reader expects from Mark’s always-faithful women: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid” (Mark 16:8).

Many Bible translations note that this is where the earliest manuscripts of Mark finish. There is no conclusion.

There is only silence—a silence that screams for resolution.

To this point, the women described in Mark have best revealed the true Jesus and have been the best examples of true disciples. It is as though they have forgotten and forsaken Jesus and are now riddled with doubt.

By comparing this unfortunate conclusion with the rest of Mark’s book, it is clear something is askew. Due to the very existence of the Gospel it is obvious the women told others of the Resurrection.

Therefore, the women’s silence does not demonstrate their loss of faith in Jesus. It is in this moment of silence that the women of Mark and the reader realize the complete identity of Jesus.

Thirteen women are mentioned in Mark’s Gospel. Twelve male disciples are named. The men struggled to understand the identity or purpose of Jesus. The women never failed Him.
Until now.

Mark leaves the reader with a compulsion to finish the story: “Of course the women told people—how could they keep silent?” “Of course the women told people—we are still telling the story 2000 years later!” Mark spent 16 chapters setting up faith-filled, unfailing women and then had them seemingly fail. Why? So true disciples would keep the story alive: “Of course the women told people... .”