green leaves

Carol Walsh is a Methodist minister of Irish origin who now is with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa. She is married to Michael Vorster (also a Methodist minister), and they have one grown-up daughter. She remains a member of the Corrymeela Community in Ireland and, within the South African context, has been involved in peace monitoring, training in handling stress and trauma, and working within a local church setting. She has worked in many cross-cultural settings in Ireland and South Africa and currently resides in Durban.



Luke 8

New Revised Standard Version

Some Women Accompany Jesus

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

The Parable of the Sower

When a great crowd gathered and people from town after town came to him, he said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell on the path and was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on the rock; and as it grew up, it withered for lack of moisture. Some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew with it and choked it. Some fell into good soil, and when it grew, it produced a hundredfold.” As he said this, he called out, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

The Purpose of the Parables

Then his disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but to others I speak in parables, so that

‘looking they may not perceive,

  and listening they may not understand.’

The Parable of the Sower Explained

11 “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. 12 The ones on the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 The ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe only for a while and in a time of testing fall away. 14 As for what fell among the thorns, these are the ones who hear; but as they go on their way, they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. 15 But as for that in the good soil, these are the ones who, when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.

A Lamp under a Jar

16 “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”

The True Kindred of Jesus

19 Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. 20 And he was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.” 21 But he said to them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

Jesus Calms a Storm

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they put out, 23 and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A windstorm swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. 24 They went to him and woke him up, shouting, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”

Jesus Heals the Gerasene Demoniac

26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. 27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— 29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.) 30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. 31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.

32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. 33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.

34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country. 35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. 37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. 38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed

40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” 49 While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.” 50 When Jesus heard this, he replied, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” 51 When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened.


The Biblical context

Our 21st-century eyes often fail to truly see the radical nature of the gospel. We have become numbed into the received traditions of conservative respectability that replaced much of the gospel’s offence, which radically challenged its context and the foundation of societal norms.

To try and hear what Jesus is pointing to concerning patriarchy, let us look at chapter 8 of Luke’s gospel. It has a nice flow and composition if we read it as a whole through the lens of deconstructing patriarchy.

In the context of Luke, women were part of a legislated second-class citizenry. They were protected but not recognized as fully reliable or autonomous. The chapter opens with the listing of those who were accompanying Jesus. This list included women. Indeed, women who were named! In his Greek Testament commentary to Luke, Howard Russell suggests that this entourage was there to witness and testify to the expansion of Jesus’ ministry. Women were there as witnesses! They were there as equals to the Twelve. This was unheard of when the law stipulated that witnesses needed to be 2 or 3 men. At the time, even women who had achieved some degree of autonomy could have their testimony overturned on the word of a male. While this continued to be true, the inclusion of the women and their naming is a significant symbol, if nothing else. It signals the importance of women within this new emerging ‘kingdom.’ (Perhaps a better word to describe what was emerging would be kin-dom. A world of new relationships.)

This list of introductions is then closely followed by the parable of the Sower and its interpretation. So, we are immediately made aware that much of what Jesus is saying will not find root. However, the next parable clearly says that those who have received light should let it shine. When I read these parables together, I am reminded of the famous Maya Angelou quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” It seems as if Jesus is under no illusion of how this new kin-dom will be met, but for those in whom it takes root, it becomes an obligation to not only embrace it but to project it and proclaim it.

In the middle of the chapter, we come to the second of the moments when the gaze is upon women when we are introduced to Jesus’ mother and brothers. We remember that, as a young woman, Mary had said ‘yes’ to God in extraordinary circumstances when she found herself pregnant. Now, as a woman, his mother has arrived, bringing with her the authority of men as she seeks to engage with her son. Jesus again draws his audience's attention to new relationships forged in the common acceptance of a deeper understanding of God’s way.

The following section describes the immense authority of Jesus over both the storm and the person possessed by demons. Both are beyond the capacity of others who have proclaimed themselves Messiahs, prophets, and holy men. Yet both are calmed and exorcised by this man Jesus, who is exploring a whole new way of living in the world – a world where women are noticed, valued, and equal.

This is affirmed in the final stories of the chapter; the stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman who has been haemorrhaging. Both women in these stories would be viewed as outside of God’s grace. The young woman would be dismissed because she had died young. The view of death in this context is certainly as nuanced as our views today. However, given that childlessness was not desirable within Hebrew families, it would not be seen as an auspicious death for a young woman to have died without producing a continuation of the line. The woman with the haemorrhage would have been deemed to be unclean. Women were not allowed to come to the holy places of worship when they were menstruating, and not being able to offer sacrifice meant simply that you were ‘unclean.’ This woman had been denied the privilege of seeking God’s presence. Both women in this narrative have been, in some way, condemned as they have not fulfilled life’s purpose –Jesus deals with them differently; he focuses his audiences on them. The young woman is asked to get up – he addresses her, not a demon, not a sickness, her. The older woman who could have received her healing anonymously is brought to the fore, identified, and applauded.


The challenges for our context

Our task is to see the breadth of Jesus’ vision and embrace the challenge in Chapter 8 of Luke’s Gospel. In terms of process:

  1. Become identified with the Jesus way and be prepared to be named
  2. Let the new idea become nurtured in us and grow it into something life-giving
  3. Realise that this new kin-ship now redefines all relationships
  4. Trust that the One whom God has sent comes with a higher (moral) authority
  5. Listen to the life-giving command and be prepared to be called to step into the light


For too long, women have been expected to be anonymous supporters of the good cause of the gospel. Their roles are often confined to the background and of a different nature to the roles that their male counterparts play. The roles males fill are, de facto, shaped to suit traditional male expectations. How, then, do women fill those roles and not become appropriated into the patriarchal model? We need to hold before us the realization that the Jesus model is not seeking to simply allow women into that space but is fundamentally attempting to redefine relationships. How do we help women who have gained access to that space to interrogate it helpfully? Have we grasped the full implications of what Jesus suggested, and do we have options to replace the patriarchal model? Are we not only intentional but imaginative enough to risk the journey into uncharted territory while others continue to uphold the tried and tested models of leadership and relationships?

The temptation in this journey is to want to simply replace men in leadership positions with women in leadership positions. However, Jesus implies that the system itself is corrosive for all and needs to be replaced by a new life-giving system.

The challenge then becomes not only decolonising patriarchy but reimaging a more equitable reality and negotiating the transition.

Questions to ponder

  1. Which of these women am I? One named as an equal? One who, despite knowing Jesus, still follows the rules of prevailing society? A woman lost who needs Jesus to propel her into life?
  2. Where has the seed of this idea fallen in my life? What is my rocky ground, my place of thorns? Can I see them clearly?
  3. What are the storms and demons that distract me? Those events and concerns that are so overwhelming that the high ideals of what Jesus wants are remote at this moment?
  4. Are there examples in your life or context when you can celebrate good things that have happened? Initiatives that made room for justice and equality? Can you think of seeds that have fallen in the good soil, storms that were stilled or persons that were healed?

An activity to stimulate reimagining

In most groups or institutions we belong to, there comes a moment when nominations or applications are required for a task or a job. Often the nominated or appointed person is male. Do a reimagining. Take an institution you know well, take time to look at the roles that need to be filled and the qualifications of those who fill them now, then within the broader circle, which women could fill those roles. Would that change the nature or functioning of the institution?

Resources consulted

“The Gospel of Luke. A Commentary on the Greek Text”, I Howard Marshall, The Paternoster Press 1978


God, who breaks traditions to make people whole, give me the wisdom and courage to see what continues to cripple people in the world I inhabit and in the seeing challenge it.

Let me not be afraid to break traditions that hold us back from fulfilling God’s promise for our lives, a promise of fullness and shalom.

Remind me that the task is not just to break down that which is destructive but to build up those you love even when they do not wish their world to change.