On the Sunday of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, it is important for us to reflect on the importance of listening to one another.
Intrepid. That’s the word I would use to describe the Myrrh-Bearing women. The Disciples were cowering in fear, locked behind closed doors not knowing what to do. The Myrrh Bearers, on the other hand, were out before dawn bringing to the tomb the spices that they had prepared in order to anoint the Body of Jesus. But how were they going to roll the stone away from the tomb? They didn’t know, but that didn’t stop them. What about the soldiers guarding the tomb? Would they hurt them? Would they help them? The Myrrh Bearers didn’t know, but that didn’t stop them. The Myrrh Bearers led by Mary the Theotokos and Mary Magdalen wouldn’t be stopped. Before the sun had risen, they were on their way to the tomb.
And because of their intrepidness, the Myrrh Bearers are the first to learn of the Resurrection of Christ—from an Angel, no less. The Angel instructs them to “go quickly” and tell the Disciples that Jesus is risen from the dead. But on their way, Jesus Himself appears to them, telling them not to be afraid, but to go and tell the Disciples (“My Brethren”) to meet Him in Galilee. Twice, once by an Angel and once by the Lord Himself, the Myrrh Bearers are told to tell the Disciples about the Resurrection and to instruct them on what to do next.
So that’s what happened, but my question is why didn’t Jesus first appear to the disciples themselves—they were, after all, the leaders Jesus had appointed. Why did Jesus make the leaders of His new community, the Church, listen to the Myrrh-Bearing Women first, before He revealed Himself to the Disciples directly?
I think it has something to do with the lesson Jesus was teaching His Disciples just before His arrest and Crucifixion. Remember that on the way to Jerusalem, the Disciples had been arguing about who was first. Jesus, their Master, washed their feet to teach them that the first is the servant of all. It’s a hard lesson to learn, so I think Jesus is still teaching it to His Disciples after His Resurrection. Mark’s Gospel tells us that even among the Myrrh bearers, Mary Magdalen, “out of whom He had cast seven demons,” was the first to see the resurrected Lord: Not Mary the Theotokos, but Mary Magdalen. It seems Jesus comes first to the least.
And not only does Jesus come first to the least, but he also commissions the least to be an Apostle to the Apostles (Mary Magdalen is often referred to as the Apostle to the Apostles). This is one of the mysteries and ironies of the Christian experience. God has established a hierarchy and order, yet God often instructs and guides that hierarchy by the mouth of the least: “Out of the mouths of babes and infants.” God’s gifts and graces are manifest throughout the Body of the Church “as He wills,” St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians. And you would think, or at least I would think, that if God distributes His charismatic gifts so broadly, there would be no need for a hierarchy. But that is not the case at all. We are told in the Gospel that Jesus appointed the twelve Disciples to be Apostles. Hierarchy is God’s idea.
The implications for hierarchy seem to me to be obvious (any hierarchy—Church, family, business, government). If God often speaks to and through the least, leaders themselves do not have all that they need in order to lead; therefore, leaders must listen very carefully to those whom they lead. But this requires humility, the very quality Jesus was impressing on His Disciples by washing their feet, and perhaps by appearing first to the Myrrh Bearers and the Disciples being instructed by them. But humility is a quantity in short supply in most hierarchies. This drought of humility seems to at both ends and in the middle of most hierarchies. In my experience, it takes almost as much humility to speak from the bottom of a hierarchy as it does to listen from the top. It’s just easier to be quiet when your near the bottom of a hierarch, it takes less intrepidtude. And at the top, it’s so much easier to assume that you already know all that you need to know.
I am a pastor, which puts me near the top of the hierarchy in our local parish church. However, in the hierarchy of the Church generally, I am a mere squeak and a whisper. I hope I have done my best to speak—when I have something I believe God has given me to say—to my bishop. But what I am afraid I have not done well is listen to those whom God has sent to speak to me. As the pastor of a parish church, I too easily forget that I do not have all of the gifts and graces necessary to lead this community. I need to listen. I particularly need to listen to those who are on the edges, those who struggle the most, those who might need some extra encouragement to say anything at all. These I must listen to, for God has shown us through the Myrrh Bearers that in listening to the least, we listen to Christ.