I am delighted to introduce you to a new image of St. Phoebe commissioned by the Continental Deacon Circle and created by Brother Mickey McGrath! This wise and determined Phoebe was first revealed during our St. Phoebe Prayer for a Synodal Church on May 3rd. In this week’s blog, Teresa Runyon reflects on Mary Magdalene’s resurrection encounter with Jesus and how God chooses women for important work. In the header, Brother Mickey McGrath shares his thought process as he designed this new image of St. Phoebe. –Ellie
The morning earthquake on Resurrection Sunday signified a great change on earth. And women were chosen to be the first receivers of this wonderful change and good news. At the resurrection, Mary Magdalene was a tower of strength, never losing hope, shedding tears of joy. Mary was called by name and commissioned by Jesus to go and tell the good news. Unlike the many times in his ministry when he told others not to tell about their healing, Jesus told Mary it was time to tell the world, thus beginning Mary’s important work of telling the story, the story of Jesus, his teachings, and how he changed her life and that of so many others. Telling the world that death does not have the final word. Telling the world of God’s mercy, love and salvation through Jesus’ resurrection.
This is astonishing because in the patriarchal society of the first century, a woman would never have been chosen to be the public witness or ambassador. If you wanted to spread a story far and wide and one that was credible and impactful, you would not have chosen a woman as the spokesperson. Jewish women could be trustworthy in testimonials on private matters related to domestic and family life but not as a public witness. Josephus, the Jewish historian, stated that even multiple women as public witnesses would not be acceptable or trustworthy.
However, God is not bound by our human limitations and we know well that God chooses women for important work.
Have you ever reflected on the fact that, for a brief time, the whole of the resurrection, the entire good news rested in the heart of one woman? In the time it took Mary Magdalene to reach the men, the greatest news of all time was held only by a woman. Does this remind you of another Mary? Jesus’ mother who for nine months was the only person on earth to hold within her the greatest gift to the world.
The more I reflect on the female bookends of Jesus’ earthly life, the more convicted I am that women and our unique qualities and gifts are needed in this world, in our communities, in our church, for the church, for the mission.
Just as Jesus empowered Mary Magdalene to go and tell, Paul emboldened Phoebe. In the letter to the Romans 16:1-2, Paul commends Phoebe and introduces her to the church in Rome as a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. Paul asks them to receive her in the Lord in a manner worthy of the holy ones, and to help her in any way, for she was a benefactor to Paul and to many others. Thedescribes Phoebe best. She was a woman of great courage and deep love. She answered God’s call to minister to God’s people during the earliest days of the Church, when persecution against Christians was strong. She earned the trust of Paul, who depended on her to handle communications with the ecclesial community in Rome. In her biography of Phoebe, British theologian Paula Gooder notes that, in Greek, Phoebe means “shining.” Phoebe is another woman who, in spite of the danger, answered the call to do the important work.
Today we stand on the shoulders of Mary, Mary Magdalene, Phoebe, and a litany of saints and doctors of the church who courageously answered God’s call to go and tell. In our leading and in our generosity, may we always shine the light of Christ and be the midwives of resurrection hope.
Gospel reflection by Shannon Lenet and Teresa Runyon at the May 3rd St. Phoebe Prayer for a Synodal Church.
Margie Carroll introduces the new St Phoebe image during the May 3rd, 2023 St. Phoebe Prayer for a Synodal Church Prayer Service.