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The women in the life of Jesus and His compañera Miriam de Magdala

13/03/2018

Jesus was a Jew, and not Christian, but He broke with the anti-feminism of His religious tradition. Considering his deeds and teachings, it can be seen that he was sensitive to all that pertains to the feminine, in contrast to the cultural masculine values, centered on the submission of women. In Him we find, with an original freshness, sensibility, the capacity to love and to forgive, tenderness with children, with the poor, and compassion with the sufferers of this world; an openness to all without discrimination, especially towards God, Whom He calls Father (Abba ). He lived surrounded by disciples, men and women. Since He began His pilgrimage as a preacher, women followed Him (Lc 8,1-3; 23,49; 24,6-10; cf. E. Schlüsser-Fiorenza, Discipleship of equals, (Discipulado de iguales, 1995).

Because of the Utopia He preaches –the Kingdom of God, that is the liberation of all forms of oppression –, He breaks several taboos that weighed women down. He maintains a profound friendship with Martha and Mary (Lc 10,38). Against the ethos of that time, He converses publicly and alone with a Samaritan heretic woman, causing astonishment to the disciples (Jn 7,53-8,10). He let His feet be touched and anointed by a notorious prostitute, Magdalen (Lc 7,36-50). Several women benefited from his caring: Peter’s mother in law (Lc 4,38-39); the mother of the young man from Nain, when Jesus is resurrected (Lc 7,11-17); the little deceased daughter of Jairo, the head of a synagogue (Mt 9,18-29); the stooped woman (Lc 13,10-17); the siro-phoenician pagan, whose psychologically ill daughter was liberated, (Mc 7,26); and the woman who for twelve years suffered from bleeding (Mt 9,20-22). All those women were cured.

Many women appear in His parables, especially women who are poor, like the one who lost the coin (Lc 15,8-10), the widow who threw two cents in the coffer of the temple and it was all that she had (Mc 12,41-44), the other widow, a courageous woman, who confronted the judge (Lc 18,1-8)… Women are never seen as subjects of discrimination, but with all their dignity, on the same level as men. The criticism He makes of the social practice of divorce, for the most trivial reasons, and His defense of the indissoluble bond of love (Mc 10,1-10) have their ethical meaning in the defense of the dignity of the woman.

If we admire Jesus’ feminine sensibility (the anima dimension ), His profound spiritual sense of life, to the point of seeing His provident action in every detail of life, as in the lilies of the fields, we must also suppose that He deepened this dimension when He started His contacts with women, with whom He lived. Jesus did not just teach, He also learned. Women, with their anima, complemented His masculinity, the animus.

In short, the message and the practice of Jesus signify a rupture with the prevalent situation and the introduction of a new type of relationship, founded not in the patriarchal order of subordination, but in love as mutual giving, that includes the equality of the man and the woman. The woman emerges as a person, daughter of God, protagonist and subject of the dream of Jesus, and invited, along with the man, also to be a disciple and member of the new type of humanity.

Data from recent research confirm this fact. Two texts, called apocryphal gospels, the Gospel of Mary, (Evangelio de Maria, Vozes,1998) and the Gospel of Philip, (Evangelio de Felipe, Vozes, 2006) show a relationship clearly characteristic of Jesus. As a man He profoundly lived this dimension.

It is said that he had a special relationship with Mary of Magdala, called “compañera” (koinónos ). In the Gospel of Mary, Peter confesses: “Sister, we know that the Master loved you in a different manner than He loved other women” (op. cit., p. 111) and Levi recognizes that “the Master loved her more than He loved us”. She always appeared as His principal interlocutor, communicating to her teachings not available to the disciples. Of the 46 questions the disciples propounded to Jesus after His resurrection, 39 were made by Mary of Magdala (cf. Translation and commentary by J.Y. Leloup, Vozes, 2006, p. 25-46).

The Gospel of Philip says still more: “Three always accompanied the Master, Mary His mother, the sister of His mother, and Mary of Magdala, who is known as His compañera because Mary is to Him a sister, a mother and a wife” (koinónos: Gospel of Philip, Vozes, 2006, p. 71). Further, it is specific, affirming: “The Lord loved Mary more than to all the other disciples and He frequently kissed her on her lips. The disciples, seeing that He loved her asked Him: why do You love her more than You love all of us? The Redeemer answer them saying: And what?, Can I not love her as I love you?”(Gospel of Philip, op. cit., p. 89).

Even though such tales can be interpreted in the spiritual sense of the gnostics, because that is their matrix, we ought not exclude – as recognized exegetists say (cf. A. Piñero, The other Jesus: the life of Jesus in the apocryphals, El otro Jesús: la vida de Jesús en los apócrifos, Córdoba, 1993, p. 113)–, a true historical background, as for example, a concrete and carnal relationship of Jesus with Mary of Magdala, a basis for spiritual meaning. Why not? Is anything more sacred than true love between a man (the Son of Man, Jesus) and a woman?

An old theological saying affirms «all that is not assumed by Jesus Christ is not redeemed». If sexuality had not been assumed by Jesus, it would not have been redeemed. The sexual dimension of Jesus does not take anything away from His divine dimension. Even better, it makes it more concrete and historical. It is His profoundly human side.

Leonardo Boff Eco-Theologian-Philosopher member  ofEarthcharter Commission

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro, alfaro_melina@yahoo.com.ar.
Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.

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