Every time I hear this Bible passage (I guess that’s about once every three years when it comes up in the lectionary), I’m transported back to a classroom in my seminary days and an event that changed me.
Here’s the story.
Right after college, I went to a very conservative seminary in the Reformed tradition, to get a degree in Christian education. A good thing that I didn’t want to be a pastor at that point, because that school didn’t even allow women to enroll in the Master of Divinity program. I told you it was conservative.
There were about a dozen women in a school of 250 or so students. When a female friend and I decided to take a summer Greek intensive course, some of our male colleagues protested to the administration. “Why should women be allowed to study Greek? What are they going to do with it, since they can’t preach?” I’m not sure what discussions went on in meetings, but we were allowed to take the class. The professor was very kind and treated us the same as he did the guys.
The following semester, she and I enrolled in a Greek exegesis class, studying texts and their meaning in the original language. Same prof, many of the same students—more than 50 of us. One day this text rolled around. After Jesus had forgiven a woman who was “a sinner” and who was intruding on a men’s meal, we have a seemingly offhand comment about some other women.
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. [From Luke 8]
After some Greek study, our professor read these few verses aloud in English. Then he leaned across the lectern with his hands on the edges, his elbows sticking out to the sides, and used a tone I only heard come from him this once as he said, “And, gentlemen, they weren’t just making the sandwiches.”
“What do you mean?” someone asked.
“Well, they appear to have been an integral part of the followers of Jesus.”
“What did their husbands and fathers and rabbis think?”
“I have no idea.”
“What are you saying?”
“The question is,” he said, “what shall we learn from this?” Then the class was over. As I walked out, I saw some angry students lined up around the professor to challenge what he’d said.
I never heard him bring up the text or the subject again. He’d said all he could without getting sideways with many students and faculty. Yet I still remember it.
I remember it because I was in a minority that didn’t count for much, and someone in authority spoke words of grace, just as Jesus and Luke did several hundred years earlier.
That’s what people in authority are supposed to do: look out for those who are on the edges, and bring them into the center.
It’s never just about the sandwiches. It’s about the people.
© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier