Women’s voices speaking with love to the world this Christmas

For a little over a year now, I have been editing a quarterly publication called With Love to the World. It provides short commentaries on the biblical passages offered in the Revised Common Lectionary, which is used by mainstream denominations of the Christian church around the world. The four passages offered each week are read in worship and one or more of them usually form the basis for the sermon in that service of worship. The publication seeks to prepare people to think about the passages in the week before they hear them in Sunday worship.

Recently, I have been working with material submitted by a group of contributors who have been working with the four lectionary passages, and an additional three biblical texts drawn from a recently-created lectionary, known as the Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church. The contributions received form a special all-female issue of With Love to the World. (Well, all female, except for the Editor, yours truly!) This issue covers the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, and runs from mid November to mid February.

WLW has historically had more male contributors than females; in some issues, the ratio has been very one-sided. I have been seeking, since beginning as Editor, to have a better balance of gender amongst the contributors. So this issue is an attempt to provide a pendulum swing-to begin to redress the balance by having an all-female list of contributors.

Alongside that, I invited the contributors to “play” a little with the biblical texts offered each week. Amongst the seven passages each week, the four set lectionary readings need to be included; that is the staple of weekly reading for our many thousands of subscribers, and, of course, that is what is read and preached on in those churches which follow the Revised Common Lectionary.

The other three readings for each week come from the work of Professor Wilda C. Gafney, a Hebrew Bible scholar and Episcopal priest in the USA, who both serves in an AME Zion Church and teaches at Brite Divinity School. She has published a series of Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church (Church Publishing, NY, 2021) in which she offers four readings for each week, following the usual pattern of Hebrew Bible, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel.

The readings seek to offer the people of God “a lectionary centering women’s stories, chosen with womanist and feminist commitments in mind, fram[ing] the presentation of scriptures for proclamation and teaching” (Women’s Lectionary Year A, p.xxi). You can see the work that Prof. Gafney does at https://www.wilgafney.com/womenslectionary/

In a recent interview, published in Christian Century, she explains the theological and hermeneutical aspects of her approach; see https://www.christiancentury.org/article/interview/new-lectionary-centers-women

I’ve been enjoying the challenge, and the refreshing vitality, in the way that she highlights women in the texts, invites readers to imagine God in ways beyond the limited patriarchal understandings, and engages us with the creative imagination for understanding that we all possess.

She writes, “Part of what I want to accomplish is for people to know that even though the Bible is androcentric—parts of it are patriarchal, parts of it are paternalistic, and parts of it are misogynist—it’s possible to frame preaching texts around passages that include women and tell some new stories, while reckoning with how women are treated. If the gospel isn’t good news to the women in the passage, is it still good news? If it’s not good news to those who are enslaved in the passage, is it still good news?”

So, for the cover of this issue, Geraldine Wheeler has contributed a wonderful “Madonna and child”, contextualised to Australia, just as artists of other times and places have contextualised the story for their own settings (see below). Inside, Barbara Allen tells readers about her unusual spiritual discipline of writing haikus during Advent.

To start the series of commentaries, Anne Wright invites us to ponder, “if darkness, death, and despair have been defeated, how shall we live in the kingdom of light?” Continuing during the four weeks of Advent, Anita Monro meditates on “the way of the Womb of Life” as the theme for the season and explores “the responsibility we are given to act in and for” this way; and then Sarah Agnew ponders the paradox of a genealogy in which women “disrupt the male-dominated narrative of ancestry”, yet Mary is silenced and almost written out of the story of the birth of Jesus (Matt 1–2).

During the rather short Christmas season, Monica Melanchthon notes “the enormity of Israel’s need for a mothering God” (Isa 63); she observes how, in the Christmas story, “the divine mother changes grief into consolation” while “Joseph paves the way for a new understanding of masculinity”.

As we enter the season of Epiphany, Janice Mcrandal reflects on how we might read scripture in a way that “avoids simplistic readings and points us to a faith in Jesus that is not tied to idolatrous ideals of masculinity”, drawing from Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s critique of kyriarky. Kylie Crabbe then muses about what it might mean to read key biblical texts with an informed understanding of trauma, noting how “foreign occupation, violation, removal from country, and slavery” are narrated in Hebrew Scripture (and in the story of Jesus).

Elaine Ledgerwood follows the lead offered by Wilda Gafney by reading biblical texts, noting that “women’s voices were silenced in the patriarchal society of ancient cultures”, and inviting readers to replace male-focussed language with female-oriented terms; she asks, “what difference does this make for you?”

Reflecting on the image on the cover of the issue, Radhika Sukumar White comments “when a girl birthed the Saviour, they showed the world that the human body is not unclean, but holy, regardless of gender, orientation, ethnicity, and ability”. Alex Sangster concludes the issue with an invitation to “be in comfortable, curious contact with ‘negative’ emotions”, and then to “imagine Jesus holding your hand and saying, ‘you are my Beloved Child’”.

This issue of With Love to the World is now available. It can be ordered as a printed resource for just $24 for a year’s subscription (see http://www.withlovetotheworld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Ordering-and-paying-for-Website-7.vii_.2020.pdf) or it can be accessed on phones and iPads via an App, for a subscription of $24.49 per year (go to the App Store or Google Play).

Personal notes from Paul (II): Luke and John Mark (2 Tim 4; Pentecost 20C)

The second letter in the New Testament that is addressed to Timothy presents a scenario that sees Paul in prison (1:8; 2:9), where he is in contact with a group otherwise unknown from his letters—Phygelus and Hermogenes (1:15), Crescens (4:10), Carpus (4:13), Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia (4:21)—as well as with others known from letters of Paul and/or that narrative of Acts—Onesiphorus (1:16), Demas and Titus (4:10), Luke and Mark (4:11), Tychicus (4:12), Prisca and Aquila (4:19), Erastus (4:20), Trophimus (4:20), and Timothy himself (1:2).

We have already considered a number of these people connected with Paul; see https://johntsquires.com/2022/10/19/personal-notes-from-paul-i-timothy-and-titus-demas-and-crescens-2-tim-4-pentecost-20c/

In this post, we encounter two figures who are well-known in Christian history—because their names have been attached to two of the four Gospels that are included in the New Testament.


The author appears to have been a part of a larger group of co-workers, now somewhat diminished; “only Luke is with me” (4:11). There are two other mentions of Luke in Pauline material. One comes at the end of the personal letter to Philemon: “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers” (Phlm 23–24). So Luke was a real historical figure, and a fellow worker alongside Paul at some stage.

The other is in the letter to the Colossians, where the writer reports that “Luke, the beloved physician, and Demas greet you” (Col 4:14). This short note appears in a longer concluding section (Col 4:10–18) which shares many qualities with 2 Tim 4:9–22, since a number of individuals are identified as a way of strengthening relationships across the communities of faith as a way to conclude the letter.

The Colossians description of Luke as “the beloved physician” was swiftly adopted in the developing second century apologetic which sought to identify each of the four canonical Gospels with figures in the apostolic age. Matthew and John were attributed to individuals named within “the twelve”, whilst Mark was associated with Peter, another of “the twelve”. (Outside the canon, the same apologetic move is undertaken in relation to the Letter of Barnabas; similar apologetic claims are placed in opening verse of the Gospel of Thomas.)

The third Gospel was linked with Paul through the purported author, “Luke, the beloved physician, companion of Paul”—a description which collates the mentions of Luke in Philemon, Colossians, and 2 Timothy, into one person, claimed (with no supporting evidence in the actual manuscript texts) to have been the author of “the orderly account of the things being fulfilled” which was addressed to “most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:1–4).

The authorship of Colossians is debated; I see this as a letter written by a student of Paul after his life, evoking many of his ideas and using much of his familiar language, although reworked for the different context that was in view in that letter. (Others claim it as an authentic letter of the historical Paul). The description of Luke as a physician is thus, in my view, later than Paul’s time. Likewise, the notion that Luke, the companion of Paul, is reflected in the “we passages” in Acts, is based on a misreading of the purpose of those passages.

John Mark

Alongside Luke, the letter mentions Mark: “get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry” (4:11). The figure of Mark appears at various places in other New Testament documents. In Acts, where he is introduced as John Mark, he is accompanying Barnabas and Saul (as he was then known) as they return to Jerusalem (Acts 12:25) after the year they have spent in Antioch (Acts 11:25–26).

Some time later, we are told, after a meeting in Jerusalem concerning preaching activity amongst the Gentiles (Acts 15:1–36), as Paul invites Barnabas to revisit the places they had been previously, “Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark” (15:37), but Paul disagreed. “Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work” (15:38). This refers to the fact that John Mark left them in Perga, before they went on to Antioch in Pisidia (13:13–14).

“The disagreement became so sharp”, the author of Acts reports, “that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus; Paul chose Silas and set out” through Syria and Cilicia (15:41), and eventually across into Macedonia (16:9-10). Why John Mark had decided to leave the group in Perga is never explained. Presumably Barnabas and Mark were active in Cyprus and other places, not reported in Acts.

Two documents dated to the 5th and 6th centuries respectively, the Acts of Barnabas and the Encomium of the Apostle St. Barnabas, do pick up from Acts 13:14, recounting the missionary journey and indeed the martyrdom of Barnabas in Cyprus. In the Encomium, John Mark continues on from Cyprus to Ephesus, and eventually writes the second Gospel. But none of this is evident in any New Testament text.

In both Philemon (1:24) and Colossians (4:10), Mark is mentioned along with Aristarchus; the latter reference identifies Aristarchus as “my fellow prisoner” and Mark as “the cousin of Barnabas” (4:10). Whatever breach had occurred between Paul and Mark appears not to have been enduring, as the directive to the Colossians concerning Mark is, “if he comes to you, welcome him”.

Mark is also mentioned at the end of the first letter attributed to Peter, where greetings are sent to “the exiles of the dispersion” from “your sister church in Babylon … and my son Mark” (1 Pet 5:13). The relationship evident here between Peter and Mark seems to have contributed to the second century perception, attributed to Papias of Heirapolis, who in turn claimed that “John the Elder … in his capacity as Peter’s interpreter, wrote down accurately as many things as he recalled from memory—though not in an ordered form—of the things either said or done by the Lord” (quoted by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclestiastical History 3.39).


still more to come … … …