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Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 37 - October/November 2010 > Women of Influence (by John Morris)

Women of Influence

by John Morris

Women of Influence

It's NEWS! Australia has its first female Prime Minister in the Federal Government since federation in 1900. On June 24, 2010 Julia Gillard took office at the unseating of Kevin Rudd, the previous Prime Minister, by the Labour Party caucus. The party was dismayed at voter polling results and there was the expectation that the Labour Party would have little chance of winning the next election. Since that date Gillard has called an early election and after gaining agreements with the Greens and Independents is now Prime Minister of a minority government.

Gillard joined a number of women holding prominent positions in Australian government including; Quentin Bryce, the Governor General and representative of the Queen of Australia; Kristina Keneally, the New South Wales state Premier; Marie Bashir, the New South Wales Governor; and Anna Bligh, the Queensland State premier, all exercising a generally indirect influence on all Australians.

You do not have to be a parliamentarian to have influence. There are and have been influential women in my life, and not an MP among them. First there is the "family package"; a lovely wife, 2 beautiful daughters, and 3 granddaughters ranging from 18 to 3 years of age. Then follows a wider circle with friends and business associates, various church members, the secretary at the church office, or the personal assistant at a client's office that stand out in service rendered, or perhaps the way that they have handled difficult times. The picture blurs as time passes leaving warm fuzzy memories that mark a life that did something for me.

I attended the Drummoyne Seventh-day Adventist church until I was 25 when Marcia (she who must be obeyed) and I moved to one of Sydney's northern suburbs. Mrs. Ethel Cox was a pillar of the Drummoyne church, being from one of the two families that started the Drummoyne Church held in my grandmother's house (later to be my home) in the early 1900's. I can still hear Mrs. Cox's greeting, "Jonathon Jollop from the land of far away" given even when I had reached adulthood. Her encouraging words and suggestions for various roles in the church for a child, then a teenager through the years showed a woman of intellect, and thoughtfulness, and Christian love.

At Strathfield High School (as it then was named) in years 8 and 9 one of our teachers was Mrs. Judith Gane. This lady was a big surprise in a little package. Mrs. Gane, never Judith even in recent years, was very refined, quietly spoken but with words that packed a punch, concise and to the point. We maintained contact irregularly until she died. She often indicated to me her pleasure in observing the growth and development of her charges over the years. Having no children of her own, she no doubt saw herself operating in loco parentis and mostly enjoying the role even though some of her charges were somewhat of a handful.

Lillian Skelly (my wife's grandmother) lived long through troublesome times and varied financial situations. Before WW2 Lillian and Clarence Skelly pioneered living in New Guinea. The adventuresome couple opened a hotel in Samari just off the eastern end of the New Guinea mainland out of Milne Bay. 5 daughters were born to the family, all in New Guinea. The war changed their fortunes but they were able to go back to New Guinea to pick up the pieces. Following the death of her husband, Lillian returned to Australia and in residence at Earlwood looked after a young man named Ray Dickson , well known in Australian entertainment circles in the 1950's and 1960's. Her influence led Ray to look to Jesus and he has given long and valued service to the Lord.

The Bible story tells of Mary, his mother, as the key woman in Jesus' life until he moved into the outreach business full time. This good lady had a major impact in training the Saviour of the world for his life's (short) work. There is little of the record of his growing years other than a brief note - Jesus "increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man" Luke 2:52. What a woman she must have been. Jesus really loved his mother as was evidenced in his gift of his mother to the apostle John to care for her and to enjoy the same relationship as Jesus had. "Woman, behold thy son" and "Behold thy mother" John 19:26,27.  There were sisters in the family (Mark 6:3) but there is no record other than this brief reference by Mark.

Luke in the first 3 verses of chapter 8 paints an interesting picture of some of the other women in Jesus' life who were found in the itinerant support team ministering to Him. This was no easy task given that the evangelistic programme was physically demanding in days when transport was mostly your own two feet. He went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. This was God on the go. Food, accommodation, the washing - all had to be organized. The scripture is broad brush only - the detail we have to imagine.

Mary Magdalene gets first mention representing a group of women who had been healed of devil possession and other infirmities. Who were the other women - we do not know. But given the reaction of the wild men in the cemetery at Gadara who, after meeting Jesus, wanted to follow him, I would not be surprised to find women in the support party such as the woman who was healed of a 12 year history of blood hemorrhaging by touching his garment. What a contrast to other encounters such as the rich young ruler. How Jesus would have welcomed him into the team but he chose to walk away.

Mary was somewhat unique within the group. Along with the devil possessed man of Gadara she had been afflicted with more than one devil. Mary was possessed by seven, the Gadarian by an unnumbered throng of evil personalities "And Jesus asked him saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion; because many devils were entered into him". Mary's love of Jesus and the change that he brought into her life brought her into the inner circle of the disciples. Mary was if not the first then in the first group of the women who came down on that Sunday morning to anoint Jesus' body for the formal burial. Mary is identified by name by each of the gospel writers and in so doing they pay tribute to Mary and her relationship with the Saviour.

Next to get a Guernsey was Joanna, the wife of Chuza "Herod's steward". Fascinating situation hidden here. Notice how the good news of salvation had spread into the inner sanctum of the court. Chuza was no minor functionary. "Her husband, Chuza, was a responsible official of Herod Antipas: whether in the household ('a steward of Herod's', NEB) or in government ('the chancellor', Moffat) is uncertain." (1)  The role of Chuza opens up more questions about Joanna that cannot be answered. Was Joanna one of those who were healed of devil possession? Did Joanna leave Chuza to follow Jesus or did she act as a roving reporter, dropping a note from her travels and filling in when she would return to the palace. Is this how Herod heard about the wonderful works Jesus did leading to the demand by Herod that Jesus perform a miracle? It appears that Joanna was financially independent. Given the position of women in the society of the day, financial independence was not the usual thing. Joanna, and the others, ministered unto him "of their substance".  Was Chuza a secret believer who provided the finance for Joanna in her support role?  Joanna was recorded by Luke as being with the other women in that early morning visit to the tomb.

Susanna and others are otherwise unidentified and get no mention elsewhere in scripture, but were in a similar position to Joanna, women of independent means, using those means to support Jesus and the disciples.

Then we have the ever busy Martha. The humble home in Bethany of Martha and her sister Mary and brother Lazarus became a little haven for the tired Jesus. He made a number of visits there. Martha's support was no doubt appreciated by Jesus even though he chided Martha for the imbalance in her life. Mary had got it wrong big time, but was turned around by the persistence and ongoing love of Jesus. Martha got her priorities wrong big time, but with Jesus' personal interest and encouragement, I would like to think that Martha finally drank deeply of the water of life.

John chapter 4 relates the story of the Samaritan woman who came to the well seeking water. She was a woman who desired companionship, love and support from her neighbours, who longed to be able to cross the street for a chat, who wanted to be able to go to the well when all the other women did, and to enjoy the chit chat and warmth of the village social set. What a difference that conversation with Jesus had on Jesus. From being faint with hunger and thirst and with inaccessible water right beside him at the bottom of a deep well, Jesus appeared as if his batteries had been recharged when the disciples returned with the midday meal. The short encounter is fascinating.

The return of Jesus to heaven does not leave scripture without women of influence. Paul in the letter to the Roman congregation commends to the church one, Phoebe. Paul puts on public record his appreciation for her services. He calls her his sister, and identifies her as a deaconess in the church in the port city for Corinth, Cenchrea. The use of the word deaconess ('servant' in the King James Translation of the bible) occurs only once in  the New Testament in this the feminine form of the word highlighting her service orientation. Phoebe had been a protector and a comforter to many including Paul himself. Paul charged the Rome fellowship to give Phoebe support as she might need it.

Immediately following is our introduction to Priscilla and Aquila. They were an active pair, having put themselves at great personal risk for the church. Paul unashamedly put on record that he was a beneficiary of their largesse. As well as being civic minded they fostered "The Way" and more than likely established the church family in their neighbourhood where the record tells of the church that met in their house. Most interesting is the placement of Priscilla ahead of Aquila perhaps emphasising that this good lady was the motivator in the  household.

Lydia originally of Thyatira, but lately of Philipi where her business was based, put the hard word on Paul and Silas following her baptism to lodge in her house. It was by no means a casual invitation dropped between the report on the day's marketing and the clouds over the west bank of the river. Luke's record of the story uses the word "constrained". Lydia persisted in her invitation until the itinerants "gave in" and enjoyed her hospitality.

Christian service is just as much needed today as when Jesus was itinerating, as when the Apostles were moving out from Jerusalem around the Mediterranean and beyond. Indeed, the need is probably greater as the good news encompasses the globe. The role of the support team is essential. "When a great and decisive work is to be done, God chooses men and women to do this work, and it will feel the loss if the talents of both are not combined." (2)

(1) The Illustrated Bible Dictionary J D Douglas Editor Inter-Varsity Press Leicester England 1980 Volume 2. P789

(2) Evangelism E.G. White Review & Herald Publishing Association Washington DC USA 1970 reprint. P469

This article is Copyright © 2010 by John L Morris.  Used by permission.

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