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From: "A Slice of Infinity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Tue, May 10, 2011 3:02 am
Subject: [Slice 2458] Unlikely Witnesses (May 10, 2011)
To: "jen grace" <email@example.com>
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A careful reading of the four evangelists' remembrances of the resurrection reveals many different emphases and details. Matthew, for example, tells us that a great earthquake occurred as an angel of the Lord descended and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. Mark, on the other hand, tells us that a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe was inside the tomb to announce Jesus's resurrection. Luke tells us that two men suddenly stood near the women in dazzling apparel and John, the beloved disciple, reports his own discovery of the linen wrappings abandoned in the empty tomb.(1)
There are many other differences in the retelling of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, but there is one feature that is the same in all four accounts: the resurrection announcement is made first to the women who followed Jesus (Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 23:55-24:5; John 20:1). Many reasons have been offered as to why women serve as the immediate witnesses to the resurrection: the women stayed with him through the crucifixion, so he appeared first to those who stuck with him to the last; women traditionally carried out the burial rituals in first century Judaism, so they were witnesses by default. Others suggest that the first women witnesses represent Jesus's elevation of the status for women of the first century, and for women in general.
While all of these are plausible reasons, there is another strategic, indeed, apologetic reason why the women were the first witnesses. Women were the witnesses because no man in his right mind would give credence to a woman's testimony in the first century. They simply were not credible witnesses in court, or anywhere else, for that matter. Why then did the gospel writers report them as witnesses? If women were not credible witnesses, why would the gospel writers insist that they were witnesses, indeed, the first witnesses for the resurrection? Wouldn't it have made more sense to offer some credible, male testimonial?
Anglican priest and physicist John Polkinghorne answers this question with a resounding "No!" He writes: "Perhaps the strongest reason of taking the stories of the empty tomb absolutely seriously lies in the fact that it is women who play the leading role. It would have been very unlikely for anyone in the ancient world who was concocting a story to assign the principal part to women since, in those times, they were not considered capable of being reliable witnesses in a court of law. It is surely much more probable that they appear in the gospel accounts precisely because they actually fulfilled the role that the stories assign to them, and in so doing, they make a startling discovery."(2)
In this sense, the women offer the strongest apologetic for the witness of the gospel writers. It is the very fact that they were not considered reliable witnesses that makes credible the accounting of the evangelists, for who would make up a story like this with women as the central characters in its dramatic conclusion?
This example gives witness to God's unexpected apologetic. God continually uses those whom we least expect in ways that are profoundly remarkable. Of course, this is God's apologetic throughout redemption history: Deborah, a woman, judge over Israel; Gideon, the least and the youngest in his tribe and family to defeat the Midianites; David, the youngest of his family and a simple shepherd to be king; Jael, a non-Israelite woman to defeat the Canaanite king Sisera; Josiah, king of Israel at only eight years old, to reform the nation; Amos, a simple sheepherder, to be a prophet among the people of God; and finally, tax-collectors, fishermen, and women, Mary, the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, Martha, and Salome as key witnesses to the ministry of Jesus. God chooses those we might be tempted to overlook or ignore—those who were the last and the least in their society—to bear witness to the great work of God to transform the kingdom of this world into the kingdom of the Lord!
All of these witnesses are unexpected in their day and time for a variety of reasons. But they serve to remind us of an unexpected apologetic: God uses and chooses those we least expect, and would not anticipate, to give witness to God's work in this world, and in our lives. Who might you be overlooking?
Margaret Manning is member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.
(1) cf. Matthew 28:2; Mark 14:5; Luke 24:4; John 20:5.
(2) John Polkinghorne, Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005), 86-87.
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