It is an uncomfortable truth that throughout much of history, women have often been forgotten about, silenced, and mistreated. Yet God’s plan for women, from the beginning of time, has been so much more perfect, so much more fruitful than what the world has been able to offer. Sojourner Truth, in her speech “Ain’t I A Woman,” given to the Women’s Rights Convention in 1851, reminds us of this reality when she wrote the following: “Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman!” The Catholic Church and the Bible are overflowing with women who have played monumental roles in helping to advance God’s salvific plan.
While Mary is certainly the pinnacle of women who have helped to achieve God’s plan (I mean, Mother of God, you can’t get a better title than that), there are many other biblical women who were strong, brave, and courageous in giving their own “yes” to God.
Jochebed & Miriam
Virtues: Faith, Courage
Imagine giving birth to a son and being faced with the reality that at any moment this child will be killed just because the leader is afraid of his power being overthrown? It’s unfathomable! Yet that is exactly the situation Jochebeb found herself in when she gave birth to her son, Moses. Rather than relinquishing her maternal role to the greedy pharaoh, Jochebed devised a plan to give her child life, but this would mean surrendering her desires — to raise her own son — and entrusting this child to God. When Moses was three months old, and she could no longer hide him, she put him in a basket and placed him in the banks of a river, near a place where Pharaoh’s daughter frequented. Jochebed sent her older daughter, Miriam, to watch. Providentially, Pharaoh’s daughter sees Moses, takes pity on him, and decides to raise him as her own. Miriam boldly asks Pharaoh’s wife if she needed someone to nurse the baby, Pharaoh’s wife said yes, and Jochebed was hired to take care (unknowingly) of her own son.
Though their stories are short, we learn from Jochebed the importance of trusting an unknown future to a known God and not succumbing to fear and caving under corrupt leadership; from Miriam, we see the power of being brave and asking for the things which our heart desires: “how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11).
Virtue: Wisdom & Right Judgment
Deborah is a prophetess and the only known female judge of Israel, which is pretty radical given that it was a male-dominated society! We read about her in chapters 4&5 of Judges. Deborah encouraged a military leader, Barak, to conquer the Canaanites, people who were oppressing the Israelites, God’s chosen people. Sisera, the leader of the Canaanite army, was especially powerful. Barak asked Deborah to accompany him, she agreed but warned Barak that the victory would not be his, but of woman’s, and ultimately, God’s: “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman” (4:9) and when Barak doubted that they could overcome Sisera’s powerful army, Deborah reminded Barak that God was on their side: “Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. The Lord is indeed going out before you” (Judges 4:14). All of the army of Sisera was defeated, but Sisera escaped to the home of a local woman, Jael. Then, just as Deborah had predicted, Jael, recognizing that Sisera was an evil man, killed him. Deborah and Barak praised God (Judges 5) and Israel had peace for 40 years.
From Deborah, we learn how wisdom and right judgment can help us to follow God’s plan and that following God’s plan always brings about peace.
Ruth is one of two women in the Bible who has an entire book named after her (Esther being the other), so that alone is pretty awesome. In this book, we first meet Naomi’s family, comprised of her husband and her two sons. Naomi’s husband dies, her sons go on to marry Ruth and Orpah (not Oprah), but they also end up dying. So all that’s left are these three widowed women — a very vulnerable status for a woman. Naomi decides to move back to Israel, where she’s from, knowing life would be difficult for her as an old, widowed woman. But Ruth, a Moabite, vows to stay by Namoi’s side: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Ruth meets a nobleman named Boaz, who despite Ruth’s status as a foreigner and a widow, shows mercy and helps provide food for her and her family. Ruth eventually approaches Boaz and, in a bold move, asks if he will marry her and provide for her and Naomi. Boaz agrees and comments on Ruth’s virtuous character remarking on her incredible loyalty. Ruth goes on to be the great-great-grandmother of King David and a descendant of Jesus.
Ruth teaches us that loyalty to others is also a way of being loyal to God. God rewards our loyalty and turns our sorrows into joys. Ruth’s little actions surmount to her being in the lineage of Jesus, never underestimate the power of little, loyal actions in the eyes of God!
We encounter Anna for a fleeting moment in the Gospel of Luke. An elderly widow, we read that Anna is 84 years of age, and has lived in the Temple, fasting and praying, every day since her husband died after a short, seven-year marriage. We can gather that Anna has been in this temple for decades. She has heard the promise of the Messiah, the Chosen One who would redeem all of Jerusalem. She has been waiting, hoping, praying. How many people, I wonder, did Anna see come in and out of that temple? Did she ever wonder if she would live to see her salvation?
When Joseph and Mary — a poor couple from Nazareth — arrive in the Temple to consecrate their son, Jesus, to God, per the Jewish custom, Anna is able to recognize the Savior in the face of a tiny, poor infant and “at that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).
From Anna we learn the power of hope – hope that we have a God who will fulfill his promises. And we also learn something else that is powerful — when we fix our eyes on God instead of being distracted by the world, worshipping him through prayer and fasting, we will be given the grace to recognize him. God is present in ordinary moments, ordinary people, he is present (perhaps especially) in lowly, if only we have the eyes to see.