In ancient culture men are central. Most stories are about men. The readings at Morning Prayer this day jumped out for that reason.
Judges 4:4 "Deborah , a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time."
There were not a huge number of female judges, she is the only one written about, but the fact that she is a Judge is significant. In fact, the man she sends to general the army refuses to go without her. As a result, the enemy king falls into the hand of another woman who drives a tent peg through his temple as he sleeps. The graphic description aside, we have a tale of female cunning and heroism. There are whole books centered on women: the Books of Ruth, Esther, and Judith. There are also key women like Miriam and the prophetess Huldah who crop up in other books. The Canticle of Canticles is predominantly female in voice. The Patriarch's wives in Genesis are sometimes more active than the men. There are even female villains (Jezebel comes to mind).
God is not limited by our human constructions of society. ( in the end, every social configuration is affected by sins, whether woman or man). I do not go to the Bible expecting it to provide me with "the divine mandate" for gender roles and social order. More and more I simply find myself asking "what is God communicating in the text?" How does God raise up this man, and today, that woman, for His purposes? Or perhaps, how are this man's and that woman's activity being used by God to further His goals.
The Gospel today, from the end of Matthew, recounts the women present at the foot of the cross. If it is true women did not count in the ancient world, then one advantage of not counting is that you are not noticed. Perhaps the men who followed Jesus knew their presence meant they would die? My guess is the women loved Jesus and that personal relationship trumped any concern for their own well being. Yet that is speculation. What is clear is women saw Him die and women first learned of His resurrection. Women are not listed by Paul as witnesses, perhaps because of their legal status (or lack thereof). They are witness to the saving moment of the Cross. They are there--sharing in His suffering by loving Him. It is hard to see such a thing. One can imagine their heartbreak. What we know about the crucifixion comes from them because they were there.
So today is "Ladies Night" a time to celebrate those real live women who stood up for God and were faithful. They are an example to us all, male and female. In their love for God they act in different ways, much as you and I shall today. The key is the heart belongs to Him .Maybe these stories raise more questions than answers. If so, perhaps that is as God intended as well...