Mk. 15:40-41, Lk. 8:1-3

                                                        Lalrinawmi Ralte


    The phrase "Discipleship of Equals"  is coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.  The question of “discipleship of equals” is very important in the church to which I belong because it becomes one of the criteria of rejecting women for ordination, and a barrier to partnership between men and women in the church.  Particularly, it is important to me because it is one of the roots of my  consciousness of inferiority, arising out of my experiences in the church.  First, as a woman, ordination is closed to me and all other women.  Further, we women are not given equal status and pay.  I ask why am I a secondary person in the church? I began to question the meaning of the "call to discipleship."  I ask myself and my God whether I am called to minister to God and people?  One of my disappointments with the church is their answer to me, saying  "Jesus did not call women.  Only twelve male disciples are named."
    It is important to raise this issue because on the one hand the church takes the Bible literally to support its stand against women's full participation in the leadership of the church.  On the other hand the male hierarchy uses this to further its own ends.  It liberally interprets the Bible to its advantage in maintaining power and position.  We therefore need a different interpretation of the Bible passages on discipleship.
    From our earliest days in Sunday School, we have heard the story of the twelve disciples (all men) called by Jesus, who left their fishing nets and other tasks to follow him (Lk. 6:12-16,  Mk. 1:16-18).  The question before us is whether Jesus calls women to be disciples or not?

Criteria of Discipleship:

    The criteria of discipleship is first of all to be called by Jesus. This call is inclusive, irrespective of sex, race and class.  A disciple is anyone who denies herself/himself for the sake of the reign of God and follows Jesus, according to Mk. 8:34, and who ever leaves everything to follow Jesus, according to Lk. 5:11.  Still again, a disciple is one who is willing to serve, and humble herself/himself to the service of God, and any one who lays down one’s life for the sake of Jesus (Lk. 9:24).   
    On the contrary, Jesus puts demands on those who would be his followers does not accept anyone who makes an excuse as his disciple, for example, a man said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Another one said, “I will follow you Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home” (Lk. 9:59-62).
    Elizabeth S. Malbon, in her article "Fallible Followers: Women and Men in the Gospel of Mark," says that "disciples" are ordinary people, imperfect, faulty, weak, uneducated, who do not hold position in the society.   Malbon extends her idea of discipleship beyond the twelve and says that the "call to discipleship" is both open-ended and demanding; "followership" is neither exclusive nor easy.
    In her further development of the “discipleship of equals,”  Fiorenza uses the Greek term diakonia, which means literally “waiting at tables,” and which is usually translated as “service” or “ministry.”  In its original sense the term means actual material service, waiting at table and other menial tasks.  The servant had a low social position, was dependent on her or his master/mistress, and could not command respect.  Despite the negative social connotations of its original meaning, “service” has become the key symbol for the revival of a “servant ecclesiology” -- selfless service is central to Christian identity and community.

Read  Luke 8:1-3 and Mark 15:40-41
    Luke and Mark  record the ministry of women differently.  Luke says  that women follow Jesus during the course of his ministry, starting from his `Galilean ministry’ (Lk. 8: 3).  In Mark women appear only in the later part of Jesus’ ministry, particularly at the passion and resurrection.
    Both Mark and Luke affirm that whoever had any connection with Jesus which led to their following or serving him could be considered a disciple of Jesus, whether, she/he ate with him, were healed and served him, were forgiven by Jesus.
    Mark and Luke have different names of women who follow Jesus.  According to Luke, women disciples whose names are recorded are - Mary, called Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna.  There are also many other women whose names are not recorded, but who provided their resources to Jesus (Lk. 8:1-3).   According to Mark, the women who follow Jesus are Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome (Mk.15:40). Mary Magdalene is the only name common to both Luke and Mark, and also named by John, indicating her prominence.  Mark also affirms that there are many unnamed women who follow Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem (Mk. 15:41).  John has pointed out women with different names, such as Mary the mother of Jesus, and her sister Mary the wife of  Clopas, and Mary Magdalene (Jn. 19:25).  

Women at the Crucifixion:

    In the most critical moment of Jesus’ life, and when he was deeply worried about his death, one of the most faithful disciples, Peter denied him three times.  But the women risked their lives by following Jesus to the mount of Calvary.  Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome and other women remained with Jesus at the time of the crucifixion (Mk. 15:40-41).  These were women who had followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem.
    Though the twelve have forsaken Jesus, betrayed and denied him, the women disciples, by contrast, are found under the cross, risking their own lives and safety.  That they are well aware of the danger of being arrested and executed as followers of a political insurrectionist crucified by the Romans is indicated in the remark that the women "were looking from afar."  They are thus characterized as Jesus' true disciples and true relatives. Discipleship is set before us as the model for followers of Jesus, both in relation to Jesus, and in relation to each other.
    According to Mark the leading male disciples do not understand this suffering messiahship of Jesus, reject it, and finally abandon him.  The women disciples, who have followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem, suddenly emerge as the true disciples in the passion narrative. They are Jesus' true followers who have understood that his ministry is not rule and kingly glory but service,  diakonia  (Mk. 15:41).  Thus the women emerge as the true Christian ministers and witnesses.
    I would rather call women who witnessed the crucifixion the true disciples, because with their own loving and caring of Jesus they gave support till Jesus' death.

At the Tomb:
    The women who followed Jesus in his ups and downs kept on following him till the end of his earthly career.  Women spent money to buy expensive spices to prepare  Jesus’ body for burial (Mk. 16:1) to show their love and faithfulness to Jesus.  They were looking up to Jesus on the cross (Mk. 15:40), watching his tomb at the burial (Mk. 15:47), and witnessing the empty tomb (16:1ff), in contrast to the male disciples who disappeared from the scene.

Women: First witnesses to the Resurrection:
    The two sources of Mark and Luke give different names of women. Mark recorded that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James and Salome (Mk. 16:1) went to the tomb early in the morning.  They were the first witnesses to resurrection.  These Galilean women were also the first to articulate their experience of the powerful goodness of God who did not leave the crucified Jesus in the grave but raised him from the dead.  
    The women characters shed light on what it means to follow Jesus by serving, by being faithful to Jesus, by anointing by encountering the risen Christ and witnessing the resurrection.  The women characters are especially appropriate for the role of faithful discipleship.

Feminist Critique:

    Mark and Luke are aware of female presence in Jesus' ministry from the beginning to the end, but obscure it.  How hard it is for men to give credit to women!  But what is important for us to remember is that though men may tell us that women are not disciples, Jesus did not limit discipleship to Jews or men only.  Jesus also called women and gentiles for the same cause.  Women experience good life and bad life for being the disciple of Jesus, for example, women followers too were put to death, hated for the sake of the gospel (Lk. 21:16-17).
    We have seen in various ways that Jesus calls disciples not on the basis of the status of the person who is called, but rather based on the level of their response.  For instance, the poor widow who gave away her last two coins was observed by Jesus and he used her as an example of faithful discipleship (Mk. 12:41-44).  The hemorrhaging woman was one of the disciples of Jesus because of her faith and boldness (Mk. 5:25).  The Syropheonician woman was given the privilege of healing for her daughter because of her faith (Mk. 7:24-30).  The centurion was not discriminated against because of his race by Jesus, instead his request of healing for his servants was fulfilled.  
    Galilean women were not only decisive for the extension of the Jesus movement to gentiles but also for the very continuation of this movement after Jesus' arrest and execution. The unnamed woman who annointed Jesus with a prophetic sign-action in Mark's Gospel is the paradigm of the true disciple.
    Though the twelve are identified as men, through the list of names taken over by Mark from tradition, the wider circle of disciples are not exclusively males as we have seen.  Just as in the beginning of the Gospel Mark presents four leading male disciples who hear Jesus' call to discipleship, so at the end he presents four leading women disciples and mentions them by name.  The four women disciples - Mary of Magdala, Mary, the daughter or wife of James the younger, the mother of Joses, and Salome - are prominent among the women disciples who have followed Jesus, just as Peter, Andrew, James and John are prominent among the twelve.


    By understanding the true meaning of "discipleship" we begin to liberate the oppressive androcentric text of the Bible into feminist liberating interpretation.  We begin to admire the women characters depicted as followers of Jesus.  The more carefully we read the gospel sources, the more we are influenced to believe that women are the disciples of Jesus Christ in his ministry, because discipleship refers to the service rendered to Jesus by his followers, both a male and female.

Questions for Discussion:

1.    Are injunctions imposed on women in your church?      Give examples?
2.    Discipleship of equals presents an alternative model.      How can women and men work in partnership towards     such a model?
3.    What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus in your     context?


1.    Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Discipleship of Equals,     London: SCM Press, 1993, p.
2.    Elizabeth S. Malbon, “Fallible Followers: Women and     Men in the Gospel of Mark”  Semeia 28,  Atlanta:     Scholars Press,  1993,  p. 32.
3.    Fiorenza,  Discipleship of Equals,  p. 298.
4.    Malbon,  p. 41
5.    Fiorenza, In Memory of Her, p. 320.
6.    Ibid.,  p. xiv.
7.    Malbon,  p. 41.
8.    Fiorenza,  In Memory of Her, p. 139.
9.    Ibid.
10.    Ibid.,  p. 320.


Fiorenza, Elisabeth S.,  Discipleship of Equals: A Critical     Feminist Ekklesia-logy of Liberation, London: SCM     Press, 1993.
Fiorenza, Elisabeth S.,  In Memory of Her:  A Feminist     Theological Reconstruction  of Christian Origins,  
    New York: Cross, 1988.
Malbon, Elizabeth S.,  Semeia 28,  Atlanta: Scholars Press,     1993.