I have been reading a book by James Martin, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage.” I skipped ahead in Holy Week to read his chapters on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his passion and death, and now I’m reading his chapters on the resurrection. One of the interesting points Martin makes is about the role of women in reporting the stories of Jesus’ resurrection. He considers it remarkable because at that time women were often considered unreliable witnesses. One of the arguments against the notion that the Resurrection accounts were somehow “made up” is that if the evangelists wanted to concoct a story designed to convince doubters, they would not have chosen women as the main witnesses.
But careful readers of the gospels will have seen women at every stage of Jesus’ ministry. Remember that at the Annunciation Mary does not feel required to ask a man – either her father or her betrothed – for permission to accept God’s invitation to bear a son. It is Mary who gently prods Jesus to perform his first miracle at the Wedding Feast at Cana. Many of Jesus’ miracles are performed to heal women and those for whom women plead: he cures a woman with a hemorrhage; he raises the son of a widow in the town of Nain; he heals a woman with scoliosis or curvature of the spine.
The inclusion of women was a central part of Jesus’ ministry. They are the first to believe. “The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ,” said Pope Francis early in his pontificate, “not the women, however!” Mary Magdalene in particular is noted the first of the faithful to see Jesus.
Not until Jesus speaks her name does Mary know him. At first, Mary couldn’t recognize him, but she knew that distinctive voice with the
Nazarean accent – the voice that called her into wholeness when it expelled whatever demons troubled her, the voice that welcomed her into his circle of friends, the voice that told her she was valued in the eyes of God, the voice that answered her questions, the voice that laughed over a meal, the voice that counseled her near the end of his earthly life, the voice that cried out in pain from the cross. Mary knew that voice because it was a voice that had spoken to her in love. Then she recognized who it was. Because sometimes seeing is not believing. Loving is.
We learn to recognize the voice of God in our lives, but often only gradually. St. Ignatius Loyola said that the voice of God can be recognized because it is uplifting, consoling, encouraging. In time we learn to listen for that voice in our hearts; it becomes easier to identify, and when we hear it clearly, it is easier to answer. It is the voice that calls us to be who we are meant to be.