Johannine insights #5 — women

Before I return Robert Kysar’s book John:  The Maverick Gospel to the library, the second of his two appendices is worthy of comment.  This eight-page section was as valuable for me as any other section of similar length.

Women do play important roles in the Synoptic gospels, as well as in John, but “the Gospel of John is remarkable for its intentional presentation of women as models of faith.”  Despite the significant nature of women’s appearances in John, Kysar suggests that the author slips in certain messages about women almost subliminally.

Chapters 5 to 10 are dominated by men, as is the section from chapter 13 through 17, which is devoted to the apostles.  Other than those long sections, women’s appearances dot the document:

  • Mary, Jesus’ mother — ch 2
  • Samaritan woman — ch 4
  • Martha — ch 11
  • Mary — ch 12
  • Woman at the foot of the cross — ch 19
  • Mary Magdalene — ch 20

Of the above, I will focus on a) the Samaritan woman and b) Mary Magdalene, as highlighted by Kysar.

1.Kysar notes that the Samaritan woman holds her own in discussion with Jesus.  Her misunderstanding of Jesus comes across ironically and/or humorously to the reader, but John does not appear to make light of her.  (Male disciples also misunderstand things in John.)  The woman’s supposed immorality, i.e., that she was with a man who was not her husband, does not receive any sustained attention.  Rather, this woman shows up as “perceptive and bright,” and this impression seems to contrast with the impression we get of the Jewish leader Nicodemus in the prior chapter.

We must also not fail to notice that this woman is a missionary of sorts.  Kysar finds her to be John the Immerser’s “female counterpart” in terms of testimony.  (For John’s role as witness, see chapter 1, chapter 3, and more.)

“[The Samaritan woman] is the model of how one’s encounter with Jesus’ word provokes faith, and an example of the way faith bubbles over into witness.  Because of her, the reader of the Gospel knows that no matter who you are — no matter what your status in society may be — the revelation of God in Christ is for you!”

2.  Kysar considers Mary Magdalene the paragon of female faith in the gospel.  She comes to the tomb (ch. 20) that supposedly holds Jesus “in order to express her affection for him,” like the other Mary in ch. 12.  She receives (the risen) Jesus with joy, like Martha.  When she immediately goes to share the news of Jesus’ resurrection, Kysar’s says, “The image of the witness of the Samaritan woman comes to mind” — i.e. in that they both had evangelized.

“Mary Magdalene is the personification of all that it means to be a disciple.  But she is still more.  She is cast in the eminent role as the first to discover the empty tomb, the first to witness the risen Christ, and the first to announce the good news of the resurrection.  Not even Peter or the beloved disciple is so privileged.”  Mary Magdalene, Kysar says, “is the apostle to the apostles.”

Although I find a hint of 20th-century feminist influence in Kysar’s appendix on women, the real reason for my regurgitation of some of this scholar’s emphases is that these women do indeed appear in John’s gospel as models of faith.

Models of faith, it seems, are eminently worthy for all readers to consider, no matter their gender.

Please share your thoughts. I read every comment.

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