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Jesus' Attitude

Jesus’ Attitude


(Italics in the text by John Wijngaards)

Arms of John Paul II


9. Jesus Christ did not call any woman to become part of the Twelve. If he acted in this way, it was not in order to conform to the customs of his time, for his attitude towards women was quite different from that of his milieu, and he deliberately and courageously broke with it.

10. For example, to the great astonishment of his own disciples Jesus converses publicly with the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4 :27); he takes no notice of the state of legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from haemorrhages (cf. Mt. 9:20-22); he allows a sinful woman to approach him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk. 7:37 ff. ); and by pardoning the woman taken in adultery, he means to show that one must not be more severe towards the fault of a woman than towards that of a man (cf. Jn 8:11). He does not hesitate to depart from the Mosaic Law in order to affirm the equality of the rights and duties of men and women with regard to the marriage bond (cf. Mk 10:2-11; Mt 19:3-9).

11. In his itinerant ministry Jesus was accompanied not only by the Twelve but also by a group of women: ‘Mary, surnamed the Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and several others who provided for them out of their own resources’ (Lk. 8:2-3). Contrary to the Jewish mentality, which did not accord great value to the testimony of women, as Jewish law attests, it was nevertheless women who were the first to have the privilege of seeing the risen Lord, and it was they who were charged by Jesus to take the first paschal message to the Apostles themselves (cf. Mt.28:7-10; Lk. 24:9-10; Jn 20:11-18), in order to prepare the latter to become the official witnesses to the Resurrection.

12. It is true that these facts do not make the matter immediately obvious. This is no surprise, for the questions that the Word of God brings before us go beyond the obvious. In order to reach the ultimate meaning of the mission of Jesus and the ultimate meaning of Scripture, a purely historical exegesis of the texts cannot suffice. But it must be recognized that we have here a number of convergent indications that make all the more remarkable the fact that Jesus did not entrust the apostolic charge (l0) to women.

Note 10. Some have also wished to explain this tact by a symbolic intention of Jesus: the Twelve were to represent the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Mt. 19:28. Lk. 22:30). But in these texts it is only a question of their participation in the eschatological judgment. The essential meaning of the choice of the Twelve should rather be sought in the totality of their mission (cf. Mk 3:14): they are to represent Jesus to the people and carry on his work.

For the full text, see: INTER INSIGNIORES.

From the Commentary by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the Declaration Inter Insigniores:

Sacred Congregation for Doctrine

The attitude of Christ

40. In the light of tradition, then, it seems that the essential reason moving the Church to call only men to the sacrament of order and to the strictly priestly ministry is her intention to remain faithful to the type of ordained ministry willed by the Lord Jesus Christ and carefully maintained by the apostles. It is therefore no surprise that in the controversy there has been a careful examination of the facts and texts of the New Testament, in which tradition has seen an example establishing a norm.

41. This brings us to a fundamental observation: we must not expect the New Testament on its own to resolve in a clear fashion the question of the possibility of women acceding to the priesthood, in the same way that it does not on its own enable us to give an account of certain sacraments, and especially of the structure of the sacrament of order.

42. Keeping to the sacred text alone and to the points of the history of Christian origins that can be obtained by analysing that text by itself would be to go back four centuries and find oneself once more amid the controversies of the Reformation. We cannot omit the study of tradition: it is the Church that scrutinizes the Lord’s thought by reading scripture, and it is the Church that gives witness to the correctness of its interpretation.

43. It is tradition that has unceasingly set forth as an expression of Christ’s will the fact that he chose only men to form the group of the twelve. There is no disputing this fact, but can it be proved with absolute certainty that it was a question of a deliberate decision by Christ?

44. It is understandable that the partisans of a change in discipline bring all their efforts to bear against the significance of this fact. In particular, they object that, if Christ did not bring women into the group of the twelve, it was because the prejudices of his time did not allow him to: it would have been an imprudence that would have compromised his work irreparably.

45. However, it has to be recognized that Jesus did not shrink from other ‘imprudences’, which did in fact stir up the hostility of his fellow citizens against him, especially his freedom with regard to the rabbinical interpretations of the Sabbath. With regard to women his attitude was a complete innovation: all the commentators recognize that he went against many prejudices, and the facts that are noted add up to an impressive total.

46. For this reason greater stress is laid today on another objection: if Jesus chose only men to form the group of the twelve, it was because he intended them to be a symbol representing the ancestors of the tribes of Israel (‘You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones and judge the tribes of Israel’: Mt. 19:28; cf. Lk. 22:30); and this special motive, it is added, obviously referred only to the twelve and would be no proof that the apostolic ministry should thereafter always be reserved to men. It is not a convincing argument.

47. We may note in the first place how little importance was given to this symbolism: Mark and John do not mention it. And in Matthew and Luke this phrase of Jesus about the twelve tribes of Israel is not put in the context of the call of the twelve (Mt. 1-10:1-4) but at a relatively late stage of Jesus’ public life, when the apostles have long since been given their ‘constitution’: they have been called by Jesus, have worked with him and been sent on missions.

48. Furthermore, the symbolism of Mt. 19:28 and Lk. 22:30 is not as certain as is claimed: the number could designate simply the whole of Israel. Finally, these two texts deal only with a particular aspect of the mission of the twelve: Jesus is promising them that they will take part in the eschatological judgment.(39) Therefore the essential meaning of their being chosen is not to be sought in this symbolism but in the totality of the mission given them by Jesus: ‘he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to preach’ (Mk 3:14).

49. As Jesus before them, the twelve were above all to preach the good news (Mk 3:14; 6:12). Their mission in Galilee (Mk 6:7-13) was to become the model of the universal mission (Mk 12:10; cf. Mt. 28:16-20). Within the messianic people the twelve represent Jesus. That is the real reason why it is fitting that the apostles should be men: they act in the name of Christ and must continue his work. . . .

For the full text, see: Official Commentary on INTER INSIGNIORES.

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