Sermon Series: Mom Emails, Part I ~ Women at the Last Supper? ~ September 16, 2018 ~ Luke 2:41-47
You all might remember this: This is called a letter, for you young folks! This is actually a letter, and inside, somebody would write on a piece of paper and fold it up, and put it inside an envelope. And then they would give it to somebody, and that person would carry it to the person who it was addressed to. It was the only form of communication we had for centuries! In fact, there was a man by the name of Pheidippides way back in the Greek times, and he was given a letter telling the leaders in Athens that the army had just won a major battle. So he takes this letter and he runs and runs and runs, mile upon mile upon mile as fast as he could. He gets to Athens, he delivers the letter to the leaders in Athens, and then he drops dead. His name was Pheidippides, and he was running from the battle of Marathon, which is where we got the term running a marathon! Hey, for a long time, ships would carry these things across the Atlantic and back, you would post something in New England and it would take the train across the country. Or you had the Pony Express and it was delivered by hand, sometimes it would take a week or so to get a letter from one point to the other! And you didn’t know what was happening until you got a letter back. It’s how people communicated. It’s very rare nowadays. When was the last time anybody here wrote an honest to goodness letter. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 people! It’s just kind of gone by the wayside, because after a while, we invented this: a phone! And it’s got a rotary dial, remember that? You have to spin and dial your number, and you could only go as far as the cord would let you! All you girls used to get extra long cords so you could hide in the closet and talk to your boyfriend! This was the method of communication for the longest time. And then all of a sudden we invented the computer, and along with the computer came email! After that, texting. So, I would say a high percentage of our communication nowadays is done through email and through text!
In fact, my mom – we’re going to talk a little bit about her today – she has a couple of grandchildren from my older brother’s sons, and she used to call them all the time and they would never pick up the phone, because they saw it was grandma! They’d let it go to voicemail. She couldn’t figure out how to say hi to her grandchildren! She finally gave in and she learned how to text. She texted them, they’d text her right back. That was the magic formula. So, we communicate nowadays, I would say primarily through email and text. And I have to say, my mom and I communicate mostly nowadays through email and text.
Recently I had mentioned to her that I was thinking about including women in our Last Supper service next year. Now I know this year we had some ladies doing a little bit of a scene prior to the meal. That’s not what I was talking about. I was talking about possibly having ladies sitting at the table next to Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Andrew, and Simon the zealot, because I know most of us, when they think about that last supper meeting, what comes into their mind is that painting by Leonardo da Vinci, right?
That’s what everybody thinks of when they think of the Last Supper. Well, the thing you have to realize about that painting is Leonardo painted it in 1490. That’s almost 1500 years after the event. Leo wasn’t there. He didn’t see what actually happened – even though we’re convinced that this is what actually happened. Like they’re all sitting on one side of the table like it’s a sitcom, right? And they’re all in these regal poses. We have no idea that’s what it looked like. We have no idea, completely, I don’t think, who was there.
So, including women might be different. However, not original. It’s not really an original idea. In the 2013 TV miniseries “The Bible,” Roma Downey and her husband Mark Burnett portrayed women – I don’t know if anybody noticed it – at the table.
Right to the left of Jesus there’s a lady. I never really noticed that before, but I thought to myself, “Roma Downey and Mark Burnett are pretty serious Christians.” That series, if you didn’t see it, “The Bible,” was awesome. They have DVDs out now, I would recommend purchasing it and having it in your library. They were accurate as they could be on everything they could do. So why – are they just trying to be politically correct? I don’t think Roma Downey or Mark Burnett would sacrifice biblical truth to be politically correct, and neither will I. But they got me thinking: Is it possible?
I believe there’s good reason to believe so, and that’s what I’m going to be looking at the next few weeks. Why? Well, men and women had been celebrating the Passover together – and that’s what that was, a Passover meal – together since God instituted it in Egypt. Every year, the family would get together and celebrate Passover – boys, girls, men, women. But women were not allowed to go to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem? That doesn’t make sense to me!
Well, my mom disagreed. She wrote, “The Bible doesn’t say anywhere that there were women at the table!” She said that to me in an email, and our conversation back and forth is what became this series, called Mom Emails. First one, “Women at the Last Supper?” Let’s talk about it! Please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the Word of God.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that we may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
So, I replied to my mom with my email, and I said, “You are correct, mom. Nowhere in the Bible does it specifically say that there were women in the Upper Room at the Last Supper. I don’t mean to imply that to be a fact. It’s just a theory of mine, and apparently, not just me – I think, with some good reasoning behind it, such as not everything that happened is spelled out in the Scriptures. John 21:25 tells us clearly:
Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written. (John 21:25)
So, we know that Jesus did other things. We know that other things happened. We don’t know exactly what they were, obviously, because the Bible doesn’t tell us.
Now, just because the Bible doesn’t say does not mean that we can just make stuff up. Anything we assume, or anything we use our common sense to come to a conclusion to, has to be consistent with biblical teaching. We can’t just make stuff up. But we know that there are other things that happened which were not written down, and it leaves us to make conclusions for ourselves, using biblical teaching and common sense. For instance, we know that Joseph and Mary were betrothed, right?
They got engaged, it says that in the Bible. You know what’s interesting? You never read, however, about a wedding taking place. Nowhere in the Scriptures does it talk about Joseph and Mary getting married. We are supposed to assume that happened, rightly, on our own, because biblical teaching tells us we’re not supposed to live together without being married. So God would not have Joseph and Mary living together and having a child, Jesus, out of wedlock. That doesn’t make sense. That is inconsistent with biblical teaching. So we can safely conclude that at some point, they did get married, even though it doesn’t explicitly say so in here. So we can conclude something happened, it made sense, it was consistent with biblical teaching, even though it’s not mentioned in here. That’s kind of my point.
Joseph and Mary’s marriage is just one example of not everything being in the Bible. Another is here, this morning, in our reading in the Gospel of Luke. We are in chapter 2:41-47.
Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. When Jesus was twelve years old, they attended the festival as usual. After the celebration was over, they started home to Nazareth, but Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents didn’t miss him at first, because they assumed he was among the other travelers. But when he didn’t show up that evening, they started looking for him among their relatives and friends.
They lost Jesus!
When they couldn’t find him, they went back to Jerusalem to search for him there. Three days later they finally discovered him in the Temple, sitting among the religious teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. (Luke 2:41-17)
The year is AD 21. Jesus was twelve years old, and that is germane to this story. Jesus and his family had joined a caravan of other families all traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Back then, families traveled in caravans – in groups – for protection from bandits. Absolutely true that marauders would look for caravans and then raid them. Now, normally the women and the children would be gathered at the front of the caravan, and the men would be at the rear, because bandits usually attacked the weakest part of the caravan, which was the back.
Now, as I said, Jesus was twelve years old, remember that, because in the Jewish faith, up until the age of twelve, you were known as a child, and you were not accountable, completely, for your actions. However, once you turned thirteen, things changed. You were now held to the same standard as the men, as the women, as the adults. Once you turned thirteen, you are accountable to the law, God’s law. You become what you call a son of the law. Now, the Hebrew word for son is “bar,” just like when you read about Simon Bar Jonah. It actually means Simon, son of John. The Hebrew word for law is “Mitzvot.” So you become a son of the law, when you become Bar Mitzvot. To this day, Jews still celebrate Bar Mitzvah, when you turn thirteen, you are a son of the law. You are an adult in your community. You are held accountable for your actions. Why is this important? Because Jesus was twelve. He was right on the edge.
So, Mary and all the young children are at the front of the caravan. She doesn’t notice that Jesus is missing, because she’s figuring he’s twelve years old, he’s almost thirteen, he’s probably back with the men. Everyone who’s twelve wants to be thirteen. Joseph, at the end of the caravan doesn’t see his son Jesus, and he figures, well, he’s only twelve. He’s still a child. I’m sure he’s up with Mary and the children. When they stop for the night, they all gather their families to start their cook fires and eat their dinner, that’s the first time Joseph and Mary said, “You don’t have him?” “I don’t have him, I thought you had him!” And they start freaking out.
Now, first of all, I don’t know about you, but I always find some small consolation in this story in knowing that Joseph and Mary lost track of their kid. That makes me feel a little better about my parenting abilities. If the Holy Family could lose track of a kid, then maybe I’m not doing so bad. Anybody here ever lost track of a kid? Don’t feel bad! Even Joseph and Mary lost Jesus! But that’s not exactly where I’m going today in this story.
Remember, we have no record of Joseph and Mary’s wedding, but we’re sure they got married. Joseph is a part of Jesus’ life up until this story.
He was there when he was born. He was teaching him the tools of the trade as a carpenter. He was giving him advice and counsel. He was raising his son in the faith – Joseph and Mary were very faithful Jews. He was an active and participating dad, until this story. After this story, Joseph mysteriously disappears from the narrative. We never hear about Joseph ever again. What happened to him? It’s not written down, we don’t know.
Now, I seriously doubt he ran off with another woman. I don’t think he deserted them. That would be inconsistent to the kind of man that Joseph was. The most likely conclusion is that Joseph died. Now, I don’t know why that is not written down. It seems like it should be an important part of the story, but it’s not. Nowhere in Scripture does it mention Joseph’s death, but it is only logical, because it is a fact – people die.
Another fact – when Mary and another woman and John were there at Calvary watching as Jesus was hung on the cross, would Joseph have missed that, skipped that, if he were still alive? I don’t think so. I think he would have been there alongside his wife, heartbroken. So to me, the only logical explanation, the only logical assumption, was Joseph was dead, even though it does not specifically say so in Scripture. That conclusion is based on fact – people die – and common sense – Joseph is never mentioned anywhere in the Bible after this story ever again.
Just because some things happen that are not in the Bible – like Joseph and Mary’s wedding, like Joseph’s death – does this mean that there were women at the Last Supper? No. Not in and of itself. But as you look at and as you study Jesus’ attitude towards women, maybe it might make you think a little bit. I mean, Jesus was a champion of women. He included them, which was very unusual in the Jewish culture of the day. In Mark 12, Jesus lifts up the widow who dropped two coins in the collection box as an example of faith. A woman? The hero of the story? As an example of faith? Never! Not in a male dominated culture that we’re looking at at this time. The first century was very patriarchal, in both Jewish and Roman culture.
Roman culture had a concept called Pater familias.
Pater familias was the idea that the oldest living male in the household was the unquestioned spokesman of a Roman family, and he exercised complete authority over his extended family. So, if the husband died from a disease, or war, or whatever it may be, the person now in charge of the family was the oldest son. So, the oldest son would even have the authority to order around his mom! We know that ain’t happening! But that’s how male oriented society and culture was at the time, not just in the Jewish culture but in the Roman culture as well.
Jesus, however, treated women much differently. His love and compassion did not parallel what was happening in our culture at the time. He forgave the sinful woman in Luke chapter 7. He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4. Those things were not done! He offered grace to the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8. Mary and Martha are acknowledged in the Bible as Jesus’ close friends. Who anointed Jesus’ feet with essence of nard in Mark 14? A woman. And who agreed to betray Jesus? A man, Judas Iscariot, just saying. In Luke 11 verse 5, we read that Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus, and yet, Mary and Martha weren’t allowed to come to Jesus’ Passover celebration in Jerusalem?
Not only does that not make sense to me, it is inconsistent with biblical teaching. It is not the way Jesus treated women all along. Now, Jesus’ public ministry was three years long, which means he celebrated Passover three times. Do you think there were women at the first one? I do. At the second one? I do. At the third one? BIBLE DOESN’T SAY SO! It seems inconsistent. Passover had been celebrated by both men and women since God instituted it in the beginning in Egypt. Why would we not accept, or why would we not hear about women being at the Upper Room on that Last Supper night. Well, there’s a reason for that you’re going to hear. I mean, Jesus’ attitude towards women – I think we have to take into consideration when we read about the Last Supper – not everything is written down. Joseph and Mary were married, I believe that. It’s not in here. Joseph died. I believe that, it’s not in here. Were women at the Last Supper? It’s not in here. We’ll see. I mean, in Luke chapter 8 we read that it was the women who bankrolled Jesus’ ministry. I talked about that not too long ago. Without the resources of Joanna and Susanna and Mary, Jesus and his disciples would not have been able to do what it is they did. So, he’s going to take their money, but tell them they can’t come to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem – the Passover celebration that he knew was going to be the most important one in all of human history, because what does Jesus do at that Passover meal? “This bread is my body, broken for you.” It’s no longer representative of a hasty retreat out of Egypt. We couldn’t wait for the bread to rise so we couldn’t put any leaven in it. No. At that Passover meal, he says, “This is my body broken for you.” He takes the cup and says, “This is my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins.” He knew that that Passover meal was going to be different than any Passover meal in human history, and that’s the one time he says to Mary, and Martha, and Joanna, and Susanna, and Mary, who funded his ministry for three years, “Sorry, men only.”
I’m not buying it, but you’re not required to agree with me. We’ll talk more about these women who bankrolled Jesus’ ministry next week, if you will join me for Mom Emails Part II! Same time, same place, next Sunday. Invite a friend! Would you stand and pray with me?