Why Women?

Fittingly, the two women who sat by the tomb (27:61) on that fateful day before the Sabbath, return to visit the tomb. Why women? Throughout Matthew’s Passion, women have proven to be the model disciples. There is the unnamed woman who anoints Jesus for his burial (26:6-13). The men argue about the waste of the expensive ointment. Jesus commends her for her good work for him.

After all the men have run away and Peter who had followed, but then denies knowing Jesus, the women remain through the crucifixion: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala.” (27:55-56)

We are told that they had “provided” for Jesus, which could also be translated “served” or “ministered to” (diakoneo). This same word is used of the angels serving Jesus after the temptation (4:11) and of Peter’s mother-in-law serving them after her healing (8:15). Jesus had said: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant (diakonos) (20:26b) and “The greatest among you will be your servant (diakonos) (23:11). It is only angels and women who actually serve Jesus in Matthew.

When the morning sun rises on the third day, seemingly out of nowhere these women appear – and they had been with Jesus since Galilee, yet had been invisible up until this point. Now they appear as witnesses in a time and place where women were not allowed to testify in court. They were not considered reliable witnesses. Keener (698-9) writes:

Most of Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries held little esteem for the testimony of women; this reflects a broader Mediterranean limited trust of women’s speech and testimony also enshrined in Roman law. By contrast, the guards’ report that the disciples had stolen the body (28:11-15) might command much greater respect then, and in an antisupernaturalistic culture like much of modern academia as well.

A little later he notes: “In view of the prejudice against women’s testimony in antiquity, no one would have invented the testimony of the women attested in all four Gospels; indeed, Paul even omits it” (702).

Matthew is also noting the contrast between women and the guards. Both the guards and the women are confronted with the same situation, which involves the earthquake, the rolled-back stone, and the presence of the angel of the Lord who is “from heaven.” There are two distinct reactions – the guards shake with fear; the women are told not to fear.

The women receive commands – the angel’s (28:7) and Jesus’ (28:10) command. In both they are ordered to announce Jesus’ resurrection to the disciples (as they do, 28:8).  Although outside our text, the guards also receive commands from the Jewish authorities (28:13) – say that the disciples have stolen Jesus’ body (as they do, according to 28:15). Both have seen the same thing. Both are commanded to speak about the event. Both are to report more than what was (originally) seen. For the women, the events at the empty tomb happened because Jesus has been raised. For the guards, the events at the empty tomb happened because they fell asleep and the disciples stole the body.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.