Women of The Passion:
Women from Galilee
A group of Galilean women like us following a young male teacher and still living in their homes in Galilee is extraordinary enough. Leaving home and going with him and his followers 70 miles south to Jerusalem is quite a different matter. We couldn’t really understand why Jesus had decided to go. We were just getting used to being part of the group who followed him and looked after him and his other followers. Our families and friends were just getting used to it too. Then, right out of the blue, he said he was going to Jerusalem to the Passover. We should have known by now that there were always unexpected choices for people who were with him.
In this case, it was obviously a case of ‘a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do’. We knew him well enough now to know that once he had made up his mind, he wasn’t going to change. We just needed to decide whether we also were going to leave the familiar terrain of our Galilean home and walk the seventy miles to the big city of Jerusalem. Women were not required to go to the Passover, only the men. So, there was no religious obligation to go.
Of course, all of us had already ‘left home’ in one sense. We had had to ‘leave home’ to be part of his band of followers. It hadn’t been easy for any of us. Some of us had gone almost because we needed to – our sons or our husbands were following him. Some of us had gone because after what he had done for us, being part of His group was the only home we had anywhere in the world. People thought he was mad. They thought we were mad too when we gave money and time and energy to support the group. They thought we should have found more worthy objects for our funds.
But there had always been something special for us about being where he was, being part of what he was doing, being there to help him. We felt part of something bigger than ourselves. James and John and some of the others said that maybe this visit to Jerusalem would be the time when Jesus would set up the new kingdom which we had all hoped for so their mother was quite keen. Of course, we knew that some of the chief priests did not approve of Jesus. It was one thing to gather crowds and talk about God in Galilee but quite another to do it in Jerusalem. And we knew he would do it, because he always did. We were uncertain about what Jerusalem would hold. But for reasons we didn’t always understand ourselves, we decided to go with them. We just wanted to stay with Jesus and his group whatever it cost.
Jerusalem seemed to begin well with an amazing event. As Jesus rode up the hill into the city on a donkey, our hopes about his kingdom soon were raised. People everywhere were waving palm branches and shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’. They were throwing their coats on the ground for the donkey to walk on and the whole world seemed to have come out to welcome him – and us!
From then on, seemed to go downhill. Jesus walked into the Temple as if he owned it and threw out the money-changers there. We were thrilled that someone had the courage to do what needed to be done but very worried about what would happen next.
The real trouble started on Thursday night. Before we knew anything about it, he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and taken to the house of the High Priest. Everything was happening behind closed doors. Peter and John hung around outside. Jesus was taken back and forth between the chief priests and Pilate and Herod.
Slowly a crowd began to gather. Again, we had to make the choice about whether we wanted to go out and be part of it, with him. We did. But when we got to the square where everyone was gathered, there was nothing we could do. The enormous crowd was just chanting over and over again, ‘Crucify him, crucify him.’
As we looked around, we recognized some of the people there. Many of them had been in the procession into Jerusalem just a few days before shouting, ‘Hosanna’. We felt helpless. He was just surrounded by soldiers and Jewish officials. Eventually the crowd began to move. In the middle of it was Jesus, bleeding from the whipping they had given him and staggering now under the weight of the cross beam they had forced him to carry. We couldn’t get anywhere near to help him or offer him comfort in the ways we were used to. We could only follow at a distance, watching and waiting to see how things would turn out.
It was a long wait…Most of the day he hung there. Time lost its meaning. We hung on to each other as we listened to the jeering, sneering, goading and taunting. Watching the suffering of someone you care about is unbearable but what we endured was nothing in comparison to what he was going through.
You might have thought we would feel helpless and passive and useless. But somehow, we didn’t. Somehow, we knew that in those hours, just by standing by, just by being there, we were giving him and each other something important. After all, he was the one who had taught us that to be ‘with’ someone, to give someone your presence is the greatest gift of all.
* I wrote and broadcast a version of this on BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought in a series on Women in the Bible.