At some point or another the Gospel reader who has some interest in women in ministry confronts the reality that Jesus did not call women to be apostles. Were they “disciples”? Yes. More importantly, what kinds of “ministry” did they have? Today I want to suggest that women took common places and converted them into sacred spaces, and I want to suggest further that women developed “missional centers” in earliest Christianity. And I want to contend that any suggestion that the hospitality women offered in the 1st Century was simply cooking for others or making life easy for others greatly devalues the kind of hospitality women created.
Two texts lead open a window into a kind of ministry women had in the 1st Century. Luke 8:1-3 and 10:38-42.
1. In Luke 8:1-3 we learn that women were companions of Jesus. Jesus was preaching and evangelizing the kingdom of God and women — lots of them — were “with Jesus” attending to his and the Twelve’s needs.
This “companionship” with Jesus lasted his entire ministry and Mark 15:40-41 clearly shows that this “companionship” was “discipleship”: “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.” The word “followed” indicates “follow as a disciple.”
Now the term “with him” is a term that indicates (1) constant presence with Jesus (Luke 7:11-12 and Mark 3:14) that led (2) to ministries of various sorts, including being sent out (Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-12). I consider it possible that women were among the 70/72 sent out in Luke 10:1-12.
2. Mary Magdalene is a good example of what these women were doing who were “companions” of Jesus. Here’s what we know: She was demonized (Luke 8:2); she watched Jesus on the cross (Mark 15:40-41); she saw Jesus get buried (15:47); she was in the first group that saw the empty tomb (16:1-8); she was the first to declare the empty tomb (John 20:2); first to witness the resurrected Jesus (20:11-18). Commissioned to mediate this knowledge to the apostles (Mark 16:7). Mary Magdalene was a presence — a significant presence.
3. Martha and Mary illustrate, not simply a contemplative life vs. an active life, but instead the proper kind of hospitality with an improper kind of hospitality (Luke 10:38-42).
Martha and Mary illustrate the kind of benefaction women offered Jesus and the Twelve and the kingdom ministers (Luke 8:1-3). Martha and Mary illustrate how to use one’s goods and money for the sake of the kingdom; Jesus criticized the rich and offered consolation to the poor — and called those who followed him to surrender their goods (Mark 10:17-31). These women were illustrations of how to do that: they used their goods for the kingdom.
Jesus summoned Martha from one kind of hospitality — traditional female serving males — to another kind of hospitality — assuming the posture of a student who attends to Jesus and learns from him. Mary “listened” — and this is the language of a disciple (Luke 6:47; 8:10-11, 21; 11:28). By doing this, Jesus created his new family around him — of disciples (Mark 3:31-35).
Conclusion: Martha learned from Mary, who was legitimated by Jesus, that Christian hospitality was not simply serving food but a “word”-fellowship, a desire to invite Jesus and others into the home in order to taste of the goodness of redemption and fellowship. They converted common places — homes — into sacred spaces.
3. One needs to note that women were so much a part of offering hospitality in the early churches that churches got connected to them — notice Acts 12:12; 16:13-15; 16:40; Rom 16:1-5; 1 Cor 16:19; Col. 4:15 and 2 John 1. If the hospitality that is being offered here is truly Jesus-shaped, it is a hospitality that engaged one another in fellowship, in instruction, in learning, and in shaping the kind of kingdom ministry in those communities.
Now, let me make this clear: women did more than this, but this they did in the earliest churches: they converted common places into sacred spaces.