When we think of Christ’s ministry, and especially his death and resurrection we tend to think of the Apostles, the Chief Priests and the other important men, both famous and infamous. I propose that we tend to ignore, or at best relegate to footnotes some of the most influential people in Jesus’ world. Now it’s true that women “enjoyed” a status roughly equivalent to a table or a chair; they were property. Women were supposed to keep to their knitting, and not much else. However, Jesus once again showed us a different view.
Catholics remember Jesus suffering and death through the Stations of the Cross – 14 events that track his journey from Pilate’s praetorium to Calvary and on to the tomb. Other than Jesus, only one man is mentioned in the stations – Simon of Cyrene who was forced by the Romans to help carry Christ’s cross. However, women are mentioned four times. After Jesus fell the first time, he met his sorrowful mother (4th Station). What a horrible experience to see her Son, who she knew was divine being treated this way. In spite of the pain and horror she was there for him. She could not help him physically, but she provided a ministry of presence.
The next woman mentioned in the Stations of the Cross is Veronica (6th Station). She took her veil or a towel and wiped the sweat, blood, mud and spittle from Christ’s face. The belief is that He left an image of His face on the veil. Some believe that this veil was eventually taken to Rome and referred to as vera icon (true image), which eventually evolved into “veronica.” Regardless of her real name, her action was an island of support in a sea of hate.
After Jesus fell the second time, the 8th station commemorates the women of Jerusalem weeping for Jesus. These same women may have followed Jesus all the way and stayed “at a distance” (probably as close as they dared) throughout his ordeal. “These devoted women, moved by compassion, weep over the suffering Savior. But He turns to them, saying: “Weep not for Me, Who am innocent, but weep for yourselves and for you children.” Weep thou also, for there is nothing more pleasing to Our Lord and nothing more profitable for thyself, than tears shed from contrition for thy sins.” ( http://www.ourcatholicfaith.org/stations/8.html)
The 13th and second to last station is when Jesus is taken down from the cross and laid in the arms of his mother. Michaelangelo’s “Pieta” is probably the most poignant rendition of this, but nothing can capture the anguish of a mother holding the broken, battered body of her grown child.
There is some inconsistency in the Scriptures as to which other women were present at the crucifixion since they were referred to by name and in other passages by their relationship to others. We know Jesus mother, Mary, was there. Scripture speaks of Mary the mother of James the Lesser and Salome the mother of both James (the Greater) and John. Some believe that Salome might have been Jesus aunt, although that is not certain. John speaks of “Mary of Cleophas” which could also refer to Mary the mother of James the Lesser.
Perhaps the most significant woman next to Mary the mother of Jesus was Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdalene (meaning she came from from Magdala is one interpretation) ministered to Jesus during his life. She sat with the apostles at Jesus feet as he taught – causing her sister Martha to complain that Mary should be helping prepare meals instead. Jesus calmed Martha and told her that Mary had made the better choice. Nevertheless, most teachers apparently didn’t allow women to participate and most women would never have sat at the feet of the teacher.
Mary and Martha were the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead.
According to Luke, Jesus cast seven devils from Mary Magdalene. Some believe she was formerly a prostitute although this is not certain. It was Mary Magdalene who anointed Jesus with the perfumed oil and there is debate among scholars as to whether she was the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.
Mary, once possessed by demons is described as a “holy woman” standing at the foot of the cross. After He died, she accompanied Jesus body and saw Him laid to rest in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. Most significantly, after the Sabbath, when she went to the tomb to anoint Jesus body, his resurrection was revealed to her. Mary Magdalene was the one who informed the Apostles. In John’s gospel, after Mary saw the stone removed she told the apostles and returned to the tomb. She saw angels in the tomb, but still she wept and Jesus personally appeared before her.
On Good Friday, when Jesus most needed someone, these women were there for Him. This faithfulness is almost beyond comprehension. However, with the whole world crashing down on him, one can only imagine Jesus reaction to this glimmer of love in the dark void of hate.