Sunday of the Myrrh Bearing Women – 2021
Jesus, in His public ministry, was hardly ever alone.
We often have a picture of Jesus and His 12 disciples wandering the Holy Land together almost like an extended camping trip, but even a quick reading of the Gospels reveals this to be a rare occurrence. As Jesus began to teach and heal, he soon attracted attention, and with that notoriety came a certain kind of celebrity, and, of course, the crowds of people who always seemed to be close to wherever He was.
Jesus last three years on this Earth were often spent in the middle of a crowd. His attempts to have people not publicize the healings and good deeds he did for them were ignored. In the story of the woman with a bleeding illness the Disciples were amazed when Jesus claimed someone had touched him. How could He have known that when he was surrounded by people? To even see Jesus in the throng Zacchaeus had to climb up a tree. The blind man seeking healing resorted to yelling at the top of his voice to get Jesus’ attention. The paralytic’s friends cut the roof off from a house because it was the only way to get him to Jesus. On one occasion Jesus needed to preach from a boat in the Sea of Galilee to avoid the crush. Several times Jesus was required to miraculously feed thousands of people who came to hear, and see, Him. Before Elvis and the Beatles, Jesus had to endure all the downsides of celebrity including people looking into every nook and cranny of His life for possible scandal.
There were, of course, times of rest. The Gospels record Jesus going to remote places to pray. Sometimes He took His disciples with Him and other times it appears He was alone. Yet it seems, for the most part, our Lord’s three years of public ministry were in the thick of the crowd, a near constant ebb and flow of people with private times few and far between and constant demands.
And all those people who came to Jesus, who surrounded Him, had as many motivations as there were multitudes. Some had deep needs and had run out of other kinds of help. Some were just curious about who this person was who had attracted so much attention. There was an occasion when the people, who had just witnessed Jesus miraculously feeding a multitude, wanted to make him King because even then there were folks who wanted the government to provide free food. Some, perhaps, wanted to see the “show” and hoped to witness a miracle. There were those who, jealous of Jesus’ teaching and power, followed Him from place to place trying to trap Him in His words and discredit Him. Every person in every crowd had their reasons to be around Jesus, and as famous people through history have often discovered, they mostly wanted whatever they could get from Him.
This, as an aside, is why we Orthodox Christians should, following the example of our Lord, never try to be famous. What seems, in an earthly sense, to at first be interesting and exciting can quickly become a burden and a trap and eventually destroy the person who seeks it. Public acclaim came to Jesus because His words and actions were remarkable, but He appears to have, at best, tolerated it and while He taught and served the masses, He also was remarkably unaffected by either their adulation or scorn. We can learn from this.
There was, however, one group of people who appeared to have been in Jesus’ life who traveled with Him, who followed Him, who served Him, not for what they needed or what they could get but rather for what they could give. We know them in our Tradition as the Myrrh Bearing Women.
The Bible gives us the names of some of them like Mary Magdalene, Salome, the sisters of Lazarus, and, of course, Jesus’ mother, but most of them have remained anonymous except to God. These women, from various backgrounds, became part of Jesus’s circle, something quite unusual for a Rabbi in that era, and provided support for our Lord and His ministry in a variety of ways. They were as essential as any of the Apostles and probably, as they could be, part of the traveling community that went with Jesus throughout the Holy Land. Their allegiance to our Lord was deep and unwavering, their love for Him was sincere, and their commitment firm.
And certainly their brightest moment was at the crucifixion of our Lord when they, unlike the majority of the Apostles, neither denied or fled Jesus but chose, instead, to be with Him, to hear the taunts against Him, to bear witness to His suffering, and to do what they could to support Him when the crowds that had acclaimed Him on Palm Sunday blasphemed Him on Good Friday. When the crowds abandoned Him they, out of a sincere love for Him, remained and when Jesus execution was completed, or rather when Jesus Himself made a completion of it, they took His battered remains and lovingly prepared them for burial.
In Jesus earthly ministry there were multitudes who wanted something from Him, throngs who were attracted to the idea of Him, and perhaps many more who followed Him not for what He was but their own projection of who He should’ve been. Even His closest disciples could fall into that trap. Few, it seems, truly loved Him and fewer still were willing to stand by Him when the fickle nature of celebrity had turned against Him and the crowds that had adored Him for their own reasons abandoned Him for the same. Perhaps this is why, in part, our Lord, after his resurrection, asked Peter three times if he loved Him
And in some ways, nothing has changed.
Jesus is still a kind of celebrity and people talk about Him, read about Him, and often follow Him for what they can get for themselves. They bend and twist His person, His words, His life, to their own ends. They use His name to justify their causes, their politics, and sometimes even their sins. Everyone seems to have their own idea of who He is, or at least who He should be, and what He could or should do for them.
But how many genuinely love Him?
How many of us have Jesus in our lives not for what we can get but purely for our love of Him? How many of us come to church simply to be with Him, to worship Him, and not as a kind of bargain where we trade showing up for His obligation to do nice things for us? How many of us love Jesus as much as our football team or our car? How many of us are perfectly content to bask in His glory but unwilling to share in His humility? And when the tough times come, as they always do, who of us will be willing to, for the sake of love, stand with Him at the cross while the rest of the world rejects Him?
I often ask myself if I truly love Jesus. Is my desire to be with and in Him motivated by anything less than a genuine love? Am I willing to be numbered among His faithful not for what I can get, but for what I can give? Would I be able, like the holy Myrrh Bearing women, to stand at the cross and make it my own? Do I His glory but not His humility? Does my heart truly belong to Him? The only answer I can give to those questions right now is “I’m trying, as best as I can.”
In the days to come as our culture changes, and being a follower of Christ begins to increasingly carry with it more stigma than approval, more consequences than adulation, all of us will be required to really ponder who, and whose, we are and whether our commitments are rooted in convenience or in a true and living love for Christ. There may be some very hard moments ahead for us.
And as we are challenged by the reality of our love for Jesus the lives, the works, the voices of these holy women from so long ago are calling out to us, and to me. They set an example we can follow, a path we must also walk, an attitude we must share, a love that must grip our souls and never let go. The spirit of these holy women, their courage, their devotion, their faithfulness even in the face of hostility, needs to become ours, to flow in and through us as Orthodox Christians and as a Parish. Let the crowds think what they want. Let our one love be only for Jesus and in so doing, and so being, may God grant us, even as we come to the tombs, to be filled with Christ’s resurrection.