The afterglow of the resurrection continues in the lives of spiritually liberated people. Christ’s triumph over death made possible the liberation of the human heart from the fear of dying. God has always been on the side of the oppressed and the down-trodden. Whether that be the condition of the Israelites in Egyptian bondage or of the human race enslaved by the fear of death. Liberation really means the freedom to give respect and love to others, and to constructively seek for their well being. True freedom will always eventuate in our living responsibly before God and in right relationship with other persons. Therefore, when Mark includes the following words in the post-resurrection account, he was seeking to reveal something about a truly liberated woman:
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils (16:9).
Mary was there because she had been set free by this Divine Emancipator. All of the shackles of slavery still remained but Christ had released her so that she might be a free person. Now she had returned out of respect and love for this “man of sorrows,” giving evidence of her gratitude for such freedom.
The slavery of tradition—that which some people believe women should always do—had been broken. Even in that early day the concept that a woman’s only place was in the home, doing what some term “women’s work,” had become a prison. It didn’t allow a woman to develop her full potential in other areas of life. Although Mary was set free, the slavery still remains for countless women who desire to be free but have not found that liberty. Jesus knew that there was no limit to what a woman can do when liberated from the chains of custom. C. E. Bowman has stated the thought in a very enlightening manner in this bit of poetry:
They talk about a woman’s place as though it had a limit;
There’s not a place in earth or heaven,
There’s not a task to mankind given,
There’s not a blessing or a woe,
There’s not a whispered yes or no,
There’s not a life, or death, or birth,
That has a feather’s weight of worth . . .
Without a woman in it.
Jesus recognized the value of liberated womanhood. He was not threatened by it; but as the Savior of the whole world, his ministry included bringing “delivery to the captives”—even those bound by tradition. Having experienced this deliverance, Mary came to honor the Christ.
We may place alongside this type of bondage a number of other social customs to which we become attached. Many of these are peculiar to particular communities or cultures in which a person grows up. For example, the custom that every young woman should marry and raise a family is much more pronounced in some communities than others. In Jesus’ day among Jewish families this was the expected role of every woman. Really, not to have children was to be looked upon with pity or scorn. Although Jesus did not support such a custom it has been picked up and carried over across the centuries. Christ valued persons because of who they were rather than for what they did or what they produced. He respected the individual personality and sought to liberate every person. This makes very plain that our redemption is not predicated on the keeping of a particular custom but upon obedience to Christ, who alone is able to save. We do great injustice to women when we seek to squeeze them into a particular mold.
While many women may find fulfillment in this particular role of wife and/or mother, it is not the only means of fulfillment. After years of pastoral care and counseling, I am convinced that many women would have been much more content to become career-oriented persons, finding fulfillment in achieving specific goals which they have personally established for themselves. Or how many, if only liberated from social customs, could have enjoyed both marriage and a successful career? How cruel that, even today, there are those who make the single woman feel she is a failure because she had not married by a certain age in life. God intends for all persons to be free from the bondage of social custom that keep us from becoming the persons he desires us to be.
Jesus had also set Mary free from the discrimination that destroys personal dignity. True, the discriminatory practices still existed, but she was free. Discrimination against one’s sex, race, or religion does not go away when Christ sets us free. However, he does enable us to be free of the destructive powers of such action. Although womanhood was elevated by Christ it is still obvious that much discrimination against womanhood still remains.
Jesus said, “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Liberation is not something that must be grasped greedily; it is given freely. Let us therefore accept it humbly and exercise it wisely, honoring the Christ who makes freedom available to every person.
Newell, Arlo F. (May, 1978). Editorials: A Liberated Woman. Vital Christianity, 5-6.