from the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of Reflections magazine
by the Rev. Lera Tyler
As I child I lived on a street that was otherwise childless, but I did have friends along that black-topped road, and my special friend was Mrs. Foster, a middle-aged widow who lived just across the way. Two things in particular about Mrs. Foster impressed my young self: the inside of her home was memorably messy, and the plants surrounding her house were glorious.
She spent a lot of time watering those plants, and whenever I saw her with the hose, I’d run across that road because she had fantastic stories to tell: biblical stories — especially from the Hebrew Scriptures. As Mrs. Foster swooshed her water hose over the elephant-ear jungle around her home, those long ago heroes sprang to life. And I was doubly blessed because each evening as my mother and I waited for my daddy to come home from work, we would snuggle together, and she read to me the stories of Jesus, stories of healing, stories of loving little children, stories of standing up to the bad guys.
I was never very good at memorizing the Bible passages we were taught at Sunday School, but I did remember the stories I heard. With them in my head and old towels and discarded clothes in a basket, I would go into our backyard and join in the adventures of these amazing people in those Bible stories.
Now, decades later, my biblical inspirations have often come from the quieter stories of the women of the New Testament. Only small parts of their stories are recorded, but there is little doubt as to their impact in spreading the Good News. Some of these women are, of course, well known, like Mary the mother of Jesus and Mary of Magdala, but most are quieter voices, women — with names like Martha, Mary, Dorcas, Susanna, Eunice, Salome, Joanna, Priscilla, Phoebe, Lydia, and Tecla — serving, then coming to understand, and then witnessing, with courage and a profound awareness, the work that Jesus gave them to do. They were among the ones Jesus acknowledged as true sisters and brothers — his family.
Their work after the Resurrection, shared with Paul and others, became something of a first-century women’s movement in the name of Jesus. While most of their personal stories are lost, what they did, with confidence and bold faith in those early decades after the Resurrection, is remembered in the Acts of the Apostles, and most clearly, in the letters of Paul. Things happened, a new story told first by those who knew Jesus best — a group of Galilean women – and then the news spread, from mouth to mouth, along one dusty road after another, in public places and private ones, the news of new life.
Perhaps this “women’s movement” of the first century, which Jesus inspired, is not unlike the current phenomena amongst today’s young people speaking out against brutality and the power of those who are, like the Romans and the well-placed Pharisees of Jesus’ time were, desperate to stay in control of their status and power, determined to stop what we call the “Jesus Movement.”
Perhaps in the shamble of the rash of shootings that have taken place, amidst all the deaths and injuries and fear and sorrow, might something again be rising up? New voices, young men and women, speaking out against our own twenty-first century stories of brutality and prejudice and power? What stories will they tell? Will they be forgotten?
How might we clothe ourselves with courage and confidence and bold faith? How might these ancient stories encourage us to risk turning away from the temptation of overlooking darkness and fight back with messages of hope, spreading the news that the power of Jesus transforms lives? And how might we be the new Priscillas and Teclas, Pauls and Timothys, who in the midst of fear and angry voices, share the the Word and fight against the false voices that try to stifle this Good News of Jesus, the Christ?
The Rev. Lera Tyler is a former priest of the diocese. She now lives in North Carolina and Toronto, dividing time with her children. Reach her at email@example.com.