The Gospel for Sunday, July 22, 2007
Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Just before his Ascension into heaven, Christ commands the Apostles: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation" (Mk 16:15). To preach the Gospel is to carry out the prophetic mission which has different forms in the Church, according to the charism granted to each individual (cf. Eph 4:11-13). In that circumstance, since it was a question of the Apostles and their own particular mission, this task was entrusted to certain men; but if we read the Gospel accounts carefully, especially that of John, we cannot but be struck by the fact that the prophetic mission, considered in all its breadth and diversification, is given to both men and women. Suffice it to mention, for example, the Samaritan woman and her dialogue with Christ at Jacob's Well in Sychar (cf. Jn 4:1-42): it is to her, a Samaritan woman and a sinner, that Jesus reveals the depths of the true worship of God, who is concerned not about the place but rather about the attitude of worship "in spirit and truth".
And what shall we say of the sisters of Lazarus, Mary and Martha? The Synoptics, speaking of the "contemplative" Mary, note the pre-eminence which Christ gives to contemplation over activity (cf. Lk 10:42). Still more important is what Saint John writes in the context of the raising of their brother Lazarus. In this case it is to Martha, the more "active" of the two, that Jesus reveals the profound mysteries of his mission: "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn 11:25-26). The Paschal Mystery is summed up in these words addressed to a woman.
But let us proceed in the Gospel account and enter into the Passion narrative. Is it not an incontestable fact that women were the ones closest to Christ along the way of the cross and at the hour of his death? A man, Simon of Cyrene, is forced to carry the cross (cf. Mt 27:32); but many women of Jerusalem spontaneously show him compassion along the "via crucis" (cf. Lk 23:27). The figure of Veronica, albeit not biblical, expresses well the feelings of the women of Jerusalem along the via dolorosa.
Beneath the cross there is only one Apostle, John, the son of Zebedee, whereas there are several women (cf. Mt 27:55-56): the Mother of Christ who, according to tradition, had followed him on his journey to Calvary; Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, John and James; Mary, the mother of James the Less and Joseph; and Mary Magdalen. All these women were fearless witnesses of Jesus' agony; all were present at the anointing and the laying of his body in the tomb. After his burial, as the day before the Sabbath draws to a close, they depart, but with the intention of returning as soon as it is allowed. And it is they who will be the first to go to the tomb, early in the morning on the day after the feast. They will be the first witnesses of the empty tomb, and again they will be the ones to tell the Apostles (cf. Jn 20:1-2). Mary Magdalen, lingering at the tomb in tears, is the first to meet the Risen One, who sends her to the Apostles as the first herald of his Resurrection (cf. Jn 20:11-18). With good reason therefore the Eastern tradition places Mary Magdalen almost on a par with the Apostles, since she was the first to proclaim the truth of the Resurrection, followed by the Apostles and Christ's disciples.
Thus women too, together with men, have a part in the prophetic mission of Christ. And the same can be said of their sharing in his priestly and royal mission. The universal priesthood of the faithful and the royal dignity belong to both men and women.