Tabitha’s Daughters – “Every woman has a story AND every woman’s story matters to God.”
INTRODUCTION – In the period of time between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, to the holy day which Scripture describes as “the day of Pentecost,” in the book of Acts, what was it like for Jesus’ followers? How did they manage the disorientation and disappointment of creating a new existence without Jesus’ constant earthly presence?
Yes, the Eleven were blessed with the presence of Jesus from time to time after his resurrection, but what did those ordinary days and hours feel like for them, when Jesus was not with them? What did they do with this mundane time and how did they manage to keep the embers of their faith and belief in Jesus alive until “the Way”** was firmly rooted, as the new paradigm for worshipping their Messiah, their prophet, and their Lord?
**The Way: In the New Testament writings, this term took on a specific meaning. Jesus was identified as the Way to a new relationship with God which issued a new quality of life and a new way of living. One of the earliest designations for the emerging Christian community appears to have been that of followers of “the Way.” (Acts 19:9, 23, 24:22).
These questions are rarely discussed in sermons or bible studies because the evidence of the very earliest followers of the faith (or the Way) is scant, indeed. There is a tendency for us to jump from the “Road to Emmaus” to the “Day of Pentecost,” without much thought about how the earliest believers arrived there. Yet, our lack of consideration for this period of time, does not erase the questions we should have about the rooting of the earliest period of the Church, and who was responsible for managing this vulnerable time period, since there was so much uncertainty and danger, as to how “the Way” would grow and mature into what we understand and experience as the Christian church.
As contemporary Christians, we are certainly familiar with the construct and framework of the beginnings and growth of the Christian ethos, as outlined in Acts: “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had.” But, where was this “one place” and who did this “one place” belong to? Definitively, this “one place” was an environment of hospitality, openness, and goodness to the infant community of believers; for without it, where would the underground movement of the faithful gather? Yes, Scripture is very quiet about this “one place,” however, if we are diligent enough to follow the context clues in the New Testament, we will find this “one place” and the phenomenal woman who hosted the birth of the Christian church – Mary, the mother of John Mark.
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor…………………………………………………………………………..
Act 1: 12: “Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of a half a mile. When they arrived, they went to the upstairs room of the house where they were staying. Here are the names of those how were present: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Thomas, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alphaeus), Simon, and Judas (son of James).
Acts 1: 14: “They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary, the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.”
Acts 2: 1: “On the day of Pentecost, all the believers were meeting together in one place.”
Acts 2:44: “And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything the had.”
Acts 12:12: “When he realized this, [Peter], he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many gathered for prayer. He knocked at the door of the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it.”
The only time John Mark’s mother is actually mentioned by name is in Acts 12:12. Despite the lack of information about this extraordinary hostess, we can glean several important points about her life: Mary was most likely a wealthy widow and mother of John Mark, the biographer of Jesus. (She had at least one servant, Rhoda, who opened the gate for Peter). She was the aunt of the missionary Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). She was a prominent member of the infant Christian movement, because after Peter makes his prison break, he comes to her house, knowing help, protection, and hospitality can be found there.
The extraordinary story of Mary’s bold and uncommon courage, while obscured, can be unearthed in New Testament history. We can make the educated assumption that the extension of the hospitality of her home was essential to the survival of the infant Christian community.
Consider the early martyrs of the Christian movement, Stephen and James (the brother of John) whose deaths are profiled in the book of Acts. Their fates were tied to Jewish persecution and criminalization of following Jesus. Their untimely deaths assist us to understand, as New Testament students, being a follower of Jesus was a dangerous act of rebellion and resistance. Yet, Mary welcomes believers into her home at great personal risk – the risk of losing EVERYTHING she owned, and more importantly, the risk of being martyred herself:
“…The narrative of Mary in the Acts was by Mark, which would account for the details of his mother’s large house being a well-known center of Christian life and worship. There is a legend to the effect that this same house was the scene of a still more sacred gathering when, in its upper room, Jesus observed the Lord’s Supper on the night of His betrayal. Peter had a peculiar affection for the godly home. He called Mark, “his son” (1 Peter 5:13), having led him to tied his life to the Saviour. The way in which the saints met in Mary’s home bespeaks her tried steadfastness and the bond of intimacy that existed between them.” (biblegateway.com – Mary, Mother of John Mark).
Mary, John Mark’s mother, was more than a hostess – she was a hospitality minister. The extension of her Christian goodness can be compared with those who “hosted” the enslaved runaways in a framework we recognize as “The Underground Railroad.” Mary’s home was THE FIRST STOP in the “Underground Railroad Movement of the Way.” Without her radical, self-sacrificing hospitality and compassion, the tender and fledgling movement of the Christian church would have been further exposed to persecution and destruction.
So, in some scholarly circles, Mary, the mother of John Mark is called “The Mother of the Christian Church,” and rightfully so. Her definitive acts of rebellion to provide a home for the new faith was as radical as it gets. Here is solid evidence of the “womb-like” love of God. Like a mother whose womb protects her child, throughout the 9-month gestational period until the child is ready to be born, Mary’s home was an incubator for the tender nurturing of “the Way” which became Christianity, one of the three greatest, monotheistic religions of the earth.
We, as women, understand the sacrifice of John Mark’s mother because we are still the purveyors of the home. It is the “heart of our homes” which nurture our families and ultimately our communities. Our homes produce the spiritual energy and life that encourage familial and communal togetherness. We can testify to the hospitality of this widow and mother whose extraordinary offerings to the earliest believers provided resources, comfort, love, and radical compassion, because we, as women, have experienced it and we still provide it.
In a most provocative understanding of partnership with God, Mary, in loving obedience to Jesus, opens up her home to provide the sacred space where some of the first miracles of the Church occur, including the Pentecost, which took place in Jerusalem, where Mary’s house was located. Yet, her acts of faith are largely ignored in Christian history. Instead, we learn of the birth of the Church, as if women were absent. Even so, biblical scholarship confirms the profound nature of Christian hospitality that flourished in the houses of women. Communion happened in the houses of women. Prayer happened in the houses of women. Worship happened in the houses of women. The Church was born in the houses of women!
A deep dive into the book of Acts confirms this fact, even as the early Church Fathers such as Tertullian, Origen, Justin Martyr, and Saint Augustine sought to diminish the contributions of women, as to strengthen their misogynistic intentions of removing women from the leadership of the early Church. In the book, “Mary and Early Christian Women – Hidden Leadership,” the author, Ally Kateusz, explains as follows:
“Almost all the house churches named in the New Testament are identified by the name of women who apparently oversaw them: Chloe, Nympha, Apphia, Priscilla, Lydia, Mary the mother of Mark, as well as unnamed women. Additional evidence suggests that women continued for several centuries in the role of overseer, or bishop, of churches in various communities around the Mediterranean.”
In the book of Acts and in several Pauline letters to the churches, wealthy women, such as Mary, functioned as patrons for the early Christian communities and were critical to the maturation of the Church. The Church depended upon the economic contributions of women like Mary, and particularly wealthy widows. While men may have occupied the public roles of leadership, behind the scenes were women, like Mary, who were undergirding the Christian movement with their own personal means. These women were the midwives of The Movement, and without their courage, obedience, generosity, hospitality, and compassion, the framework of what we now enjoy as “Church” may have never been born.
This discovery brings new meaning to the articulation of Jesus who said: “When two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20). As Jesus affirms His divine intentionality to be present amongst his early disciples, as well as contemporary believers of His church, these ancient disciples sought unity through prayer, worship, and praise in faith community. Their sacred gatherings first occurred in the homes of women, like Mary, the mother of John Mark.
Just as the women stood by at the cross to support Jesus, made their way to the tomb to bury Jesus, and took out the blessed message of Jesus’ resurrection to the world to honor and celebrate Jesus, some of these same women hosted the first sacred gatherings of the “ecclesia.” (the collective congregation of the Christian church). John Mark’s mother, Mary, was not only a blessed member of the first congregation of the faithful followers of Jesus, but also an important patron and leader of “the Way” which would ultimately become the most important religious movement of the earth.
Again, and once again, we discover that knowing the stories of women in Scripture empowers and inspires us all. We are reminded, as Michelle Obama said: ” There is power in our stories.” Mary’s story not only informs us of the importance of feminine hospitality, with its power to support the early church, but also to transform the world. As such, we acknowledge one of the mantra of Tabitha’s Daughters that connects us to the very idea of female empowerment and leadership: “When she embraces the power of her story, she will awaken and be unstoppable!
Questions for our discussion and consideration:
The early Church fathers were notorious for dampening the rise of female leadership in the Church. If women had been able to maintain the leadership roles in the early church, how would the Christian church have been different?
We so often think of the Church in institutional terms, i.e., a denomination, a building, a religion. How can the idea of a house church assist us in doing “church” in new and different ways?
The idea of “goodness” as a fruit of the Holy Spirit can be found in the story of Mary, the mother of John Mark. How is Christian goodness different than what the world perceives of being or acting good?
Our Sending Prayer:
Spirit, we call Your name! You are Creator: Father and Mother.
You are Provider: bread and wine.
You are Counselor: guide and beacon.
You are Helper: physician and comfort.
You are Reconciler: first step and bridge.
You are Presence: host and guest.
Our God, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy names! Come to us, Oh Holy Spirit, on
earth, as in heaven we pray. Amen!
“The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters Bible Empowerment Series. They may be used by you with our permission, which may be revoked at any time. All copies of the materials must include the following notice: This material is Copyright  Maxine E. Garret and Tabitha’s Daughters and is distributed with permission.”