By Mary Barby P. Badayos-Jover, PhD
The Christian world just commemorated some of its most important events this past week, which culminated in what we can consider as the cornerstone of Christianity—the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. Indeed, the implication of such belief is so significant that all Christians endeavor to abide by Jesus’ teachings in the hopes that they themselves will be found worthy of eventual resurrection and eternal life. However, one fact that seems to have been glossed over through the years is the centrality of women in the stories of Holy Week.
We laypersons are familiar with the story of how the disciples scampered off after Jesus’ “arrest” and succeeding torture. We do not know much about where each of them went or what they did, except for that bit about Peter’s cowardly denial of his association with Jesus. Yet the women followers were present and mentioned from the time of Christ’s “walk of shame”, until he died on the cross. The women were there—standing their ground, empathizing, mourning, making arrangements. Of course we hear, too, of the women who first discovered that Christ has risen, because they were the ones who checked on His tomb before sunrise. As the Easter story goes, Jesus Himself appeared before Mary of Magdala and gave her a message to be relayed to his disciples. As symbolisms go, that was rather powerful. Jesus first showed his resurrected self to a prostituted woman. A woman whose role in Jesus’ ministry has been contested through the ages. Yet we were told that she was a woman who was forgiven of her sins by Christ and became one of His avid followers.
The focus on women at the most crucial times of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection was not unusual in light of how He endeavored to elevate women’s status throughout His ministry. The gospels talk of how Jesus interacted with women, even those deemed “unworthy” by society at that time. Interestingly, some of Jesus’ iconic teachings involved women who were condemned as sexualized beings, such as the incident of the alleged adulterous woman who was about to be stoned to death. “Neither do I condemn you”, Jesus told her. What is sad and pathetic is the fact that the patriarchy that Jesus himself tried to counter in His public life is still alive today and wreaking havoc on women’s lives as they aspire for greater responsibilities or be on equal footing with men.
Two thousand years later and we still objectify women and use female sexuality as a weapon to discredit women’s achievements. Despite the fact that human history and Christianity in particular, have recognized women’s capabilities and commitment to change society for the better, machismo, anchored on patriarchy, continues to belittle women. Ironically, the woman’s womb, or her body organs identified by men as justification for her “weakness”, is the same one/s that bore the Messiah and all other “great” men. Not to mention raising them to reach their full potentials. Empress Helena, the mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor, Constantine, comes to mind as she sought the actual cross on which Jesus died, in the hopes of saving her son’s soul. Whether we realize it or not, her efforts resulted to the cross (a callous tool for torture and death) becoming the universal symbol for Christianity until today. She also firmly established the then fledgling Christian religion by building churches in the Holy Land before returning to Rome.
Women from the time of Jesus’ death and resurrection, until our modern times, have been consistent in going beyond their comfort zones to consider what needs to be done for the greater good. They did so despite the challenges that vindictive patriarchal societies have placed on their paths. Given these facts, it is high time for our cultural patriarchal gaze to undergo change. We need to collectively break free from our male-centered standpoints and affirm, rather than deflate women’s achievements. It’s Easter after all. Time for rebirth, re-structuring, re-imagining, reconsidering. We owe it to ourselves in light of recent displays of classic machismo. We owe it to our children and grandchildren who deserve to grow up in a more just and gender-equal world, a world where women achievers are celebrated and not demonized. A world that the resurrected Jesus would have wanted.