Nancy Kauffmann of Goshen, Ind., has long been a pioneer as a woman in congregational and denominational leadership. So it’s not surprising that a painting by Chilean artist Daniel Cariola in a chapel next to the Sea of Galilee caught her attention.
She and fellow pilgrims already had seen the first-century synagogue recently discovered nearby among ruins of ancient Magdala, probably the hometown of Mary Magdalene. But the painting “Encounter,” which shows the hand of an “unclean” woman reaching to touch Jesus (Mark 5), stopped Nancy in her tracks.
When Jesus felt power go out from him, he said, “Who touched my clothes?” In front of the painting of that scene, Nancy Kauffmann spontaneously began to teach:
“Why did Jesus call out the woman who touched him? Why embarrass her in front of the crowd? Jesus could have let her quietly slip away. She had risked being humiliated, since Rabbinic law considered her untouchable due to her blood issue. For 12 years she had suffered, spent all her money on doctors, and had to be desperate. Yet she believed that by touching Jesus she would be healed.
“By Jesus calling her out, he legitimized her. He brought her from the margins to the center of the community. He affirmed her boldness to ignore the law and risk touching him. Jesus called her ‘daughter,’ signifying her place in the family of God. Instead of ignoring or rejecting her, Jesus invited the woman to talk, and blessed her.
“Jesus constantly engaged women in theological discussion: the woman at Jacob’s well (John 4), or the Canaanite woman begging Jesus to heal her daughter and countering his hesitation to heal outside of Israel by saying, ‘Even the dogs get crumbs under the table’ (Matthew 15). Compared to how society treated women, Jesus engaged and affirmed them for their thoughts and their faith. He stood up for them in public — including the woman ‘caught in adultery’ (John 8; heaven knows where the partner was), or the woman who put perfume on his feet (Luke 7).
“Women could not give witness in court, and often their word was/is dismissed. Yet the risen Christ showed himself to women first. They then go back to the men to announce that Jesus is risen. Jesus himself told Mary Magdalene to proclaim the news! She had to be brave to go to the tomb in the first place in spite of what religious and civil authorities had done to him.
“Mary has courage to stay at the tomb, receive the angel, and then see Jesus. Guards play dead and then run. Chief priests try to control the story by paying off the guards. But Mary Magdalene moves forward to announce the resurrection to the other disciples.”
For centuries the Christian church has considered her the “Apostle to the Apostles.”
“Jesus calls women into the center of the faith community as full-fledged participants,” Nancy Kauffmann says, “and invites us to engage our minds and hearts. We too are created in the image of God.”
J. Nelson Kraybill is a retired pastor, and president of Mennonite World Conference. See more biblical reflections and information on upcoming Holy Land tours at peace-pilgrim.com.