Even in the middle of humanity’s faceplant, God attests to our solution: a future human that’s more than human. Someone that can take the bite of the serpent and survive to crush its head. Flipping to the NT to watch Jesus start rolling out the revolution is just what the heart needs after too much time in a bittersweet creation account.
But however much we’d like it, Jesus doesn’t save us from the Genesis 3 consequences of our broken world and broken selves by retracting the curses/consequences. He brings a way of undermining them, allowing all the curses and consequences and dark things of Genesis to grip us as firmly as ever while gently peeling away the weak, worldly, corrupted parts of us that they’re hanging on to. We’re made Spirit-drenched creatures that can live in a world that still runs on work and sweat and possessions and charisma and social standing, but without fear of devaluation or death. We can now celebrate our losses and weaknesses as shedding our own corruptible power and paving the way for His.
That’s what I love about Jesus’s foot-washing scene. It’s totally appropriate to marvel at the humility and servant-heartedness of our Savior in this moment, but I am more often struck by what an awesome power move it is.
He has absolutely nothing to lose in tying a Gentile servant’s towel around His waist, lowering Himself to the ground, and scrubbing dirt from under the toenails of His sweaty followers. His divine power is sturdier than that. He doesn’t care that He’s taking a disreputable role typically occupied by a lowly, “other” person — those are purely human distinctions of human society. He doesn’t care that He’ll be towered over from His kneeling position on the ground — He made that ground and scooped that towering person’s species from it. He doesn’t care that the job is icky — He is the embodiment of the kind of purity that is unaffected by anything coming onto or going into the body. He is more than human, more than physical, and more than confident enough to make Himself low in the eyes of His easily confounded, merely human disciples. Jesus knows in His bones precisely who He is.
This is the confidence He offers us when He offers redemption by His death and ascension, and remaking by His Spirit. This is how He wants to trademark Christian community. His transformation of us into primarily spiritual beings releases our grip on our honor even in this world telling us that when honor goes, power goes. We hang on to the truth that the greatest kind of power or self-assurance is not something that success or pride or respectability or romance or any human relationship or status could ever give us. It comes only from embracing the knowledge that we are made right and held tight by the Maker of heaven and earth, and that He wants nothing more than to share Himself with us so thoroughly that whatever makes us “us” is lost to His glory outshining our individuality and ego.
All throughout Jesus’s ministry, we see Him uplift and memorialize women who lived out this realization… those who came to Him filled to brimming with faith of who He is and hope in how He saw them. When the women of the Bible came to Emmanuel with twelve years of menstrual problems, He proved sovereign over our troublesome fertility. When they came fearing for their children’s lives or mourning their deaths, He proved sovereign over motherhood and childrearing — the frightening, heart-wrenching thing that it is to watch a piece of your heart grow legs and walk away from you out into the world. When they faced the end of life alone, unsupported, and easily forgotten, He honored their defenselessness by securing them and their legacies in spiritual families. When they grappled with questions about a woman’s place and a woman’s duty, He affirmed that it is first and foremost being discipled at His feet among the men, sitting still and enraptured by His Word.
And my personal favorite: when women collapsed at His feet, too overcome to realize they were being too emotional and too weepy and just too much for the masculine atmosphere… when they cleaned His feet with their hair, their glory, their covering, the symbol of their femininity… when they broke open what was likely their dowries and forfeited their marriage insurance to honor Him… Jesus praised that vulnerable, undignified, seemingly rash outpouring. He set them as examples of surrendering power and pride in recognition of the Savior for the disciples and all posterity to learn from. And even when a woman He had in mind didn’t come to Him, turning instead to man after man for fulfillment and peace, He still went to find her. He left the 99, took His offering of rest directly to her, and re-instituted her into the community as an evangelist, of all things.
When the women of the Bible brought the things that drove them — their idols, their worries, their bargaining chips — and laid them at Jesus’s feet, He didn’t see them as clamoring hindrances. He recognized them as coming forward with an offering of humility, laying down their tools and tactics for navigating their world (the tools Genesis 3:16 warned we’d pick up), and offered them far better ones in exchange. In place of romance and marriage, in place of fertility and children, in place of impressive dowries and sexual prowess, Jesus equips us with His forgiveness for peace, His intercession for protection, and His Spirit for gumption and guidance.
And since Jesus is always up to something, when He declares humanity’s rescue— when he graffitis a giant “VIVA LA REVOLUCIÓN” over human history— He very intentionally chooses Mary Magdalene of all people to deliver the message. As weird and hard-to-digest and vitally important as His news was, Jesus first revealed it to and sent it out with a woman in a setting where women went unnoticed. And not just any woman either– He relied on a female mouthpiece who had a past reputation of being unstable and demon-stricken that should’ve ruled her out as a reliable witness. Except… of course… the Lord’s standards are not our own. Even though she’s just one woman with just a handful of women for backup… even though females weren’t even reliable to testify in the courts… even though none of the male apostles who were present at the tomb at nearly the same time could corroborate her story… Jesus rewarded her faith. How completely on-brand. He chose not huge public appearances… not mass conversions or I-told-you-so’s… not reputability or air-tight historicity… He chose to honor the persistent, smitten hearts of the women who bore witness trial to tomb, and especially the one that sought Him more fervently than the rest.
And by honor, I mean activate.
We find woman yet again hunting through an infamous, angelically-guarded garden for the key wisdom and life eternal (hear the Genesis echoes here). She ends up conversing with a supernatural being who reconfigures her ideas of God and activates her to carry the new way of relating to Him to her male counterparts, who completely miss the boat. And how we commend Mary Magdalene for this! She does not pass Go, does not collect $200— she pursues, learns, and hustles back to share her revelation with a boldness not unlike Eve’s. So how consistent are we prepared to be with the prescription of headship? Not very. We prescribe Eve more supervision, yet don’t critique Mary for not calling in backup to somehow lead her or double-check her conversation with Christ.
A conversation that called her to something problematic in our conservative, headship-driven churches: preaching.
Y’all, Mary Magdalene preached!
She testified what she’d experienced, delivered the word of God, and in conjunction with her girl friends, told some very important men to get off their hindquarters and GET MOVING to Galilee. I imagine her message points would sound very familiar: “Our God is bigger than any worldly authority — He is defeater of death and vanquisher of every dark thing that plagues us. I came face-to-face with Him, and He was so, so good to me. Here are the precious things He says about who you are… See?! He’s deeply fond of you too! If you want to find Him and see for yourself, here’s what He needs you to do. He’s waiting for you.”
Mary Magdalene preached the same gospel message we cradle Christians have heard countless times, complete with speaking authoritatively on behalf of God and demanding that faith manifest in real action. I can’t imagine there was any room for mousy, suggestionish wording when delivering a message from the risen Messiah. And I can’t think of a better term for this presentation than a sermon.
From a woman. Commissioned directly by Jesus. What in the world are we supposed to do with that?
My best advice?
Let’s let Jesus be our filter.
There’s so much more Scripture to filter on for men’s and women’s roles that I won’t even touch in this series, and I know seekers on this topic pore over it heavily. We don’t approach the Word lightly because we esteem the authority of Scripture. We love the Word’s authority because it reveals the perfect will of God for us. We pursue, in trusting God’s will, unity in the Spirit as the Body, the covenant people. We pursue early church structure as the healthiest for the Body. We pore over Paul’s letters as instructions for that structure. I so admire this tradition and its intentions.
But as we strive to be the first-century church, remember the first-century church strove to be Jesus. The Body we are is Jesus’s, the Spirit who binds us is Jesus’s, and the will of God we pursue is Jesus’s. It’s His Word we esteem, telling His mission of redemption. It was His design that willed us and our home into being. It’s His mind that conceived of male and female.
When we come to sticky junctions where Jesus’s example clashes with Paul’s instruction (and I’m so grateful to fellow writers for tackling these) let’s let our Emmanuel and Maker take precedence. If He is Lord of our lives, then let’s also make Him Lord of our study and take a very critical look at any ideology that requires us to twist His actions to conform to the instruction another. Especially when the other identifies as “a slave of Christ.”
Let’s make Jesus the standard, not the exception.
When we need consistency across Scripture, especially on such a tender subject, may our dearest Friend be the filter.