A Good Friday Meditation, Matt 27:55-56
“Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.” (NIV 1984)
Watching from a distance. Many women were watching from a distance. That is what this day is about. It is a time to join these women, women who had followed Jesus from Galilee. They don’t have the power to stop what is happening. They cannot remove Jesus from the cross. They cared for his needs. Matthew says. But they cannot provide care now.
Instead they watch from a distance. They see. They see the ridicule and humiliation. They see the brave men, the disciples flee. They see honest men get whipped up into a murderous crowd. They see men in leadership betray their calling, and pass judgment on the innocent. They see the suffering of Jesus, they see the darkness that comes over the land.
As someone put it, they see the time when the strength of men failed. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene was there, as was Mary the mother of James. The mother of James and John, sons of Zebeddee, she was there too.
Several years ago, her sons jumped out of their boat and followed Jesus. He said they would be “fishers of men.” She always warned them about being so impulsive. But, what could she do? She followed too. Someone had to make sure the clothes got washed and the food got prepared. She followed, probably on foot, some 100 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem.
Surely, at some point she must have come to believe herself. The care for her sons that probably motivated her trip must have turned into a genuine care for Jesus and then a reverence. She couldn’t leave him now. She would get as close as she dared, bearing witness, as women have done for generation upon generation… From Sarah who was the first witness to the promised son Isaac to Rahab the first witness to God’s conquering army in Jericho, to Mary the Mother of God, the first witness of the Messiah. Ignore the testimony of these women at your peril. They saw what even the great men of their generation did not see. They were there.
How many times has the true testimony of a woman been ignored? How many times has she been told that she was telling a lie, that she was being hysterical, that she was only out to discredit the man? How many times has she suffered twice? Once when she bore witness and second when she is not believed?
At this moment, when the sky is dark, at this moment, when Jesus gives up his spirit, God imparts a special grace to these women. They are given the chance to watch from a distance. It is as though God says to these women, I believe you. I will entrust you with the memory of this event. You will witness it. You, faithful women, will be the first to see the redemption of the world. You, who have been mistrusted, who have not been heard, who have not been believed for generations, you whose testimony is not valid in the court, you will be trusted with the most important message the world has ever received. You will be the example for the church itself, which is called to follow Jesus, and bears witness to the Crucified Messiah.
For God makes it his habit to choose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, . He puts his King on a Cross, and has the women tell the tale, so the lowly and the despised may set aside those who thought they were something. The boasts of men are undone by the Crucified King who was regarded as nothing and the boasts of men are silenced by the lowly testimony of the despised women.
The women just witnessed the Son of God, willingly take on the punishment for sin and willingly lay down his life for the very friends who abandoned him. They just witnessed Jesus give up his spirit. They witnessed his death, the death that tramples death by death. They just watched the death unleashed by Eve and Adam’s sin get conquered by the death of Eve’s greater son.
Their names appear here, at the end of the account of the crucifixion of Jesus. It is as though Matthew is giving his footnote. All that he reports about the soldiers mocking, the crowd mocking, the words of Jesus on the cross, the dramatic moment when Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The final moment when Jesus gave up his spirit.. the unexpected exclamation of the centurion “Surely he was the Son of God!”
All this is the testimony of these women, the testimony of those thought foolish and weak, the testimony given to shame the wise and the strong. Let us join them from a distance today. Let us see what they saw. Experience what they experienced. Let us remember and believe.
As countless women are not believed and as countless women keep silent because they fear they will not be believed… These women have been justified, declared not-guilty, declared to be truth tellers by the cross and resurrection to which they alone bore witness, first hand.