Feminist reflections on the resurrected Jesus (a sermon on Luke 24:36b-48)

Hi friends,

Last month I had the great joy of being warmly welcomed into a new-to-me church to speak. Plus I got to take a ferry ride to get there, and meet Oscar the Bird King after!

At the gracious suggestion of the pastor who invited me to preach, I spoke quite a bit from some of the stuff of Nice Churchy Patriarchy. I’ll let you acquire the book to see that part :). (Or I suppose you could watch the sermon video if you want.) 

Drawing on parts of Nice Churchy Patriarchy, I spoke about feminist interpretation of scripture. Which is really just any way of reading scripture that pays attention to gender dynamics and holds the value of gender equality in mind. 

I spoke about this because it has been life-changing for me, and continues to be. There are simple questions we can bring to a Bible passage that we often just don’t think to bring—or, perhaps, that we have been trained and taught not to bring.

Questions like:

  • Where are the women? Where is their presence directly mentioned? Where might it be implied?
  • What are women doing or not doing, saying or not saying? Are they doing anything that might have pushed back against common norms or expectations for women of their time and place? 
  • Where do women take initiative, provide leadership, or otherwise exercise agency? 
  • How might this passage affirm or challenge our own cultural notions of gender?

With these questions in mind, I got into the morning’s lectionary text: Luke 24:36b-48. Here’s the passage (in the NRSV):

Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 

38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see, for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 

41 Yet for all their joy they were still disbelieving and wondering, and he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

I think this is such a cool passage. I also think it’s an interesting passage to look at through a lens of feminist interpretation—because there aren’t any women directly mentioned. 

What do we make of a passage like this? How might we see it through feminist eyes?

Here are a few reflections I shared with that congregation:

When we look at this passage about the resurrected Jesus through feminist eyes, we might first ask the question: Where are the women

This is one of those places where we might assume that Jesus is with a group of male apostles. But if we look at the context, to see who all is there when Jesus appears and stands among them, we see that it’s “the eleven and their companions” (v. 33)—and also the two disciples who had met Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus in the story just told in verses 13-32. 

Those two disciples? Some scholars think they may have been a husband and wife couple. After all, they’re going to the same home, planning to eat dinner together. And the gospel of John mentions a Mary the wife of Clopas; in the road to Emmaus story, Luke names one of the two disciples as Cleopas, a similar enough name that this may have been the same person. So it’s possible there was a female disciple in that pair. 

And then there are “the eleven and their companions”—a group that almost certainly included women. Verse 22 specifically mentions the women who first saw the empty tomb and the angels, and the two disciples going to Emmaus call these women “some women of our group.” 

So when we read Luke 24:36b-48, we can imagine a mixed-gender group.

People of all genders got to see the resurrected Jesus. They got to process the shock and joy and wonder of it all together. They had their minds opened to the scriptures, together. And they were called by Jesus, together, to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in his name, to be honest and courageous witnesses willing to talk about everything they had seen and experienced. 

No gendered distinctions in any of this. In a time and place where men’s and women’s roles were in many ways more strictly defined and policed than our own time and place today, this is radical. This is the kind of community Jesus wanted to build.

The second thing I see, when I look at Luke 24:36b-48 through a feminist lens, is all of the emotions. So many emotions. 

This mixed-gender group of disciples has so many feelings. And I love that all these feelings get recorded in our text. 

Jesus wishes the disciples peace. The disciples are startled and terrified. Jesus asks, Why are you frightened? He shows them his hands and feet, and they feel such an intense, so-very-human mix of joy, disbelief, and wonder. All at the same time! Peace, shock, surprise, fear, joy, skepticism, awe—so many feelings.

Folks who study gender say that, in the way our dominant US culture constructs gender, feelings are often considered part of the feminine realm. It’s often much more socially acceptable for women to talk about our feelings than for men to.

Folks who study these things also say that the only acceptable emotion for men, under these cultural rules, is anger. Feeling anything else? Stuff it inside. Don’t name it. Don’t talk about it. Acknowledging your emotions—anything other than anger—is weak. And men must not be weak—at all costs. (I’m especially drawing on Brené Brown, here, and her research on gendered shame.)

Hopefully it sounds clear, when I put it this starkly, that something is deeply wrong. 

Women are humans who experience a full range of human emotions, including the ones deemed un-feminine, like anger. And men are humans who experience a full range of emotions that go so far beyond anger—so many different emotions that are interesting and complex and worth attending to.

So I see the emotions in this passage—their depth, and their complexity, and the way the disciples are feeling so many different things at the same time. 

In a patriarchal world, where ways of being that are considered masculine are considered better and stronger and more desirable than ways of being that are considered feminine, we need scripture texts like this one that value emotion. We need texts that name emotion, process emotion, honor emotion as an important part of our shared experience as humans. 

And, as we all become more free to name and feel and share and speak about our ranges of emotions without shame, we become more equal across genders. We become more whole together.

The third and last thing I want to reflect on about this passage from a feminist perspective is Jesus’ embodiment. The resurrected Jesus has a body! 

The resurrected Jesus is a body. The gospel writer Luke wants us to know this. It was important for the disciples to know this.

They thought he was a ghost—which makes all the sense in the world, since they knew that he had died!—but Jesus wants them to see that he’s no ghost. He’s got hands and feet that they can see and touch. He’s got a mouth and teeth and tongue and esophagus and stomach and all the other body parts you need if you’re going to eat a piece of fish. The resurrected Jesus is embodied. 

This feels important—and I connect this with looking through a feminist lens—because historically, both within the Christian tradition, and in writings by a ton of influential (male) historical Christian theologians, and also in the thinking of these early theologians’ Greek contemporaries—men have often been associated with the mind or spirit, and women with the body. These male theologians often then considered the mind or spirit what’s really important, and the body secondary. Body, as something to dominate and rule and gain and keep control over; not something to listen to and honor and treasure and respect. 

In a world full of this kind of view, Jesus makes a big point of saying, in effect, Look, I’m a body. My body matters. Your bodies matter. We’re not just disembodied souls; our lives and experiences as whole human beings matter.

This is good news for women, whose lives and experiences and bodies have often been devalued, treated as if we do not matter, or as if our experiences matter less than men’s. 

And it’s a challenge—a good challenge—for all of us, to become more and more fully our whole embodied selves. To pay attention to the wisdom of our bodies. To take care of our bodies. To re-integrate our whole beings in a world that often pulls us apart from ourselves.

These are a few reflections, looking at this passage through a feminist lens. I love this kind of stuff because I think there’s so much good news that emerges from so many of these texts. And I love that it doesn’t take a seminary degree or any other kind of degree to do this kind of thing. 

It just involves asking some questions: Where are the women? Where might we have overlooked them? What can we learn from them? How does this passage affirm or challenge particular notions of what gender is, of who men or women are, of how we exist together in loving communities of equals? 

The ways we read scripture matters. Who we center as we read scripture matters. Seeing the women in scripture matters. Seeing how scripture can point us toward gender equality matters. Because women matter, and because the ways we operate in community together matter.

Our God is a God of justice, a God who longs for the flourishing of all people. Attending to gender equality in scripture and in every aspect of our lives and communities is part of how we move with God toward fuller justice. It’s one way we follow God’s Spirit in the direction of flourishing. May we do so, together.

Wishing you ways of reading and hearing and seeing and being that move toward gender equality this week,



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