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Women Looking on From a Distance

Mark 15:40 describes this heartbreaking scene in one short sentence.

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome.

“Looking on from a distance.” How do you explain it? These women had followed Christ from Galilee. Mark 41 says they ministered to Him. But in this dark and horrible hour, they were not at the foot of the cross to offer comfort, but watching from a distance.

We can only speculate about the reason. Perhaps they feared to make His suffering worse as He watched theirs. Perhaps they could not bear to witness His face in such pain, and could not bear to leave while He still suffered. In this tension, perhaps they chose to watch from a distance. Or maybe they had a flicker of hope that He would come down off the cross to take up the reigns of the earthly kingdom, and they wanted to be there to see it.  Matthew 27:55 and Luke 23:49 tell us that they stood with many other women followers and acquaintances of Jesus, but the Bible singles out these three for our observation.

I think I know these women.

Mary Magdalene was delivered from great darkness – the Bible says that she had seven demons.  As in the passage above, her name is nearly always listed first among the women. This may mean she either was a leader among women or greatly esteemed among all the followers, or both. Mary Magdalene was likely unmarried and childless, free to travel with and grateful to serve Jesus unfettered. She had left everything for He who delivered her.  I’ve met a woman like her at Faith.

Mary the mother of James and Joses came with her sons to follow Jesus. We know little about her background. Her older son, known as James the less, was one of the twelve. Like her son, she was unobtrusive in her service.  She may have been one of those people to whom Pastor Tim referred to in his recent sermon, the one working behind the scenes for the common good; the one whom God will honor. I’ve met a woman like her at Faith.

Salome was the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John, whom Jesus called “The sons of thunder.” I think they might have inherited that trait from their mom. She certainly wasn’t shy about asking Jesus for places of honor in the kingdom for her two sons. Some scholars think that Salome might have been the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus. If this is true, it might explain her boldness a little.  I imagine Salome as that woman with a plan, the one who constantly has to remind herself that she isn’t in charge and that she shouldn’t try to manipulate others. She loves greatly and sometimes expresses it poorly. She acts the part of everyone’s mom, and was probably equally endearing and annoying. I’ve met a woman like her at Faith.

These women-who-are-like-us watched from a distance. Tell me, sister, are you also watching someone from a distance? Are you straining to see or hear from an estranged child? Are you watching someone you love heading down a destructive path as they reject your advice and comfort? Are you watching helplessly and praying constantly for a parent or sibling tortured by addiction or depression?

Jesus sees.

These very women are the first ones to receive the good news of the resurrection. Jesus personally comforted Mary Magdalene outside the tomb.  He sent angels to the others. The great news that angels longed to look into came first to the women who watched, who followed His body to the tomb, and who returned to minister to Him even in death. Those heartbroken women who had served Jesus did not escape His gaze. They watched in agony from a distance. He came to them personally.

Praying today for the heartbroken men and women at Faith, that Jesus may comfort you personally, up close, through His Word and Spirit.

 

Susan Verstraete is the church secretary at Faith Community Church. She and her husband have two grown sons, Patrick and Christopher.

Posted in: Bible study, Women's Ministry

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