A woman says something in a meeting. It is barely acknowledged. Later in the meeting, a man says the exact same thing, whereupon everyone agrees that it is, indeed, the solution to every problem. There’s a word for that: “Bro” + appropriation = Bro-propriation.
All of which brings me to the Easter story.
The account of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is told four times: in Mark 16, Matthew 28, Luke 24 and John 20. Scholars generally agree that Mark was the first gospel written and John the last, with Matthew and Luke sandwiched between.
In Mark, an angel appears to the women, tells them of Jesus’ resurrection and commissions them, “See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter.” The gospel of Mark doesn’t waste time flattering any of Jesus’ disciples. In keeping with that, then, the most reliable ancient manuscripts end with the women leaving the tomb too afraid to say anything to anybody.
In Matthew, the women are first commissioned by the angels and then along the way encounter Jesus, who also encourages them, “Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Notice that, so far, the women are the only witnesses to and commissioned evangelists for the empty tomb. Luke forgoes the women’s second encounter with Jesus and goes straight to the part where they “told all these things to the Eleven and all the others.”
In Luke, the disciples receive the message from the women with skepticism. “But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Peter got up and checked for himself, but rather than taking in the scene of an empty tomb as substantiating the women’s stories, Peter “went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
John, written at least a generation after the event itself occurred, reflects the work of the interpretive community in understanding the whole story of Jesus. The church is growing in credibility, and the apostles are growing in authority. Given this context, here is what John has to say about the first witness to the empty tomb: “Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.’” Jesus later appears to Mary Magdalene and then to the disciples.
Put side by side, it’s not difficult to see what interpretive progression does to the women at the tomb: casting them first as commissioned witnesses, speechless in fear, then as competent evangelists who are not wholly believed and finally as a befuddled Mary at the tomb, whose first inclination is to present her confusion to the apostles for their adjudication.
So if you are the one in that meeting whose idea was just bro-propriated, if you’ve ever been dismissed by virtue of your gender, if you’ve ever felt that your experience of the holy must be authenticated by those in authority for it to be real enough to count, at least know that you’re in good company with the women of the resurrection.
But also know this, in the words of theologian Jurgen Moltmann: “Without women preachers, we’d have no knowledge of the resurrection.” God’s emissaries and even Jesus Christ himself entrust the message to women, and that is the only and the best commission we need.
Meg Jenista is pastor of Washington DC Christian Reformed Church.
Photo: Thomas Hawk/Flickr, under CC BY-NC 2.0 license.