HOMILY for 24th Fri per annum (II)
These three verses from St Luke’s Gospel are unique, and they name some of the women who travelled with Jesus on his missionary journeys. It’s easy to miss the significance of this and to see it as just another list of names. And yet, no detail in the Gospels is superfluous, and this detail would have shocked the people of Jesus’ time. That Jesus had women from both rich and poor echelons of society who supported him materially and who were drawn to him was not so unusual; contemporary rabbis of the time were similarly supported by women of means.
However, in the context of the Middle East – even today – it is highly unusual, even scandalous and shameful, for women to travel openly with men who were not their relatives, and presumably to stay overnight with them in the same place too. Typically, women travelled in groups of women with male relatives and stayed with relatives. So, what does this new reality say about what Jesus is doing; about the kingdom of God that he is inaugurating through his grace?
Those who travel with the Lord, who walk in his ways, are his disciples. So, the graced call to discipleship is extended to both men and women from all walks of life. As a sign of the new creation brought about by grace, men and women have equal dignity and can walk and sleep together in the same place with no fear of sin and scandal. For men and women in God’s kingdom now walk with God, that is, in his grace, and thus in each other’s company just as in Eden Adam and Eve were naked before one another without lust or shame (cf Gen 2:25), and they walked chastely with God in the garden. This Christian vision is far more challenging than a simplistic application of secular feminist principles to the Church. Rather, the Church is to grace the world with a true modelling of the complementarity and equal dignity of men and women.
This Gospel passage, then, is an image of the pilgrim Church into which we’re called by God’s grace. Christ is the Head and leader of his Church, and she is comprised of both those whom Jesus has called to servant leadership – the Twelve – and also those who are drawn to his teachings and who participate in and facilitate the evangelizing mission of Christ in his Church. Both are essential and united in the Person and in the evangelizing Mission of Christ.
And this communion of men and women walking with Jesus, united in Christ and his grace, becomes an image of heaven, which is the destination of the pilgrim Church. For here on earth, in the Church, we anticipate and mirror the unity and complementarity that is found in God the Holy Trinity. Here in the Church, we enjoy even now something of the graced friendship with God and one another that will be given to us definitively in heaven. For Christ risen from the dead is the “first fruits” (1 Cor 15:20) of eternal life. And he gives us a taste of heaven, of the risen life and unity with God and one another, here in the Mass; when men and women of all walks of life come together in “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit”.