Rev Dr Wati Longchar
Women shamed the Romans on Easter morning. There was no power greater than Romans at the time of Jesus. Life in Judea was comparable to living in a huge prison house. Palestine was under the absolute control of the Romans. They extracted tribute or heavy taxes on almost everything. Common folk had to shell out approximately 55 percent of their income on taxes and levies. The Romans also insulted the religion of the Jews; they would appoint the King and High Priest against the will of the people. The religious establishment, or Judaism, became a mere instrument of the Romans’ interest. The Jewish priesthood themselves manipulated the laws of Judaism and made life unbearable for ordinary Jews. The Jews would often mount rebellion demanding justice, but the Romans would crush them without mercy. The Temple and the Romans had all earthly power: religious, political, economic and military. In terms of earthly power, Jesus, women and disciples had nothing on their side except the truth, self-denial, love towards one another, and the courage to stand against their enemy.
The Pharisees and other religious leaders would recite daily thanking God, “I am a man and NOT a woman”. This explains how women were treated in Jewish society at the time of Jesus. They were treated like slaves and as a mere sex objects. They were not given any political role. Women were denied priesthood and entry into the temple. A woman’s witness was not considered valid if they were not six in number.
Mark 16:3 captures the words of the women who were in great fear and despair on Easter morning. When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices for the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body. They were discussing who would roll the stone that was blocking the entrance of the grave. However, they saw that the very large stone had already been rolled away when they arrived. (Mk. 16:4).
There was a rumor that the disciples might come and take away the body of Jesus, so the Romans went and secured the tomb by putting a seal on the stone and posting guards at the entrance of the tomb (Mat 27:66 NIV). They protected the tomb in three ways: First, a large stone rolled against the tomb. Normally, stone covers for tombs weighted somewhere between 1 to 1½ to 2 tons or 1,361 kgs to 1,814 kgs. Therefore, levers were needed to move the stone, and the women couldn't roll away the stone. Second, the seal of the empire was affixed on the stone. It was against the law to remove the seal of the empire. Disobeying the empire was punishable by death. Third, the most powerful soldiers were stationed there. Several units (a unit consisting of four soldiers) were stationed in different directions. The soldiers were there by order of the emperor. Moreover, they were well armed and knew that failure on duty was punishable by death.
The Romans controlled the media, and nobody was allowed to issue any message contrary to Roman authority. Without the approval of the Roman authority, no one was allowed to speak anything. Thus, women’s testimony about the resurrection of Jesus is considered false. The Romans also had money and power. When the chief priests came to know that Jesus had risen, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble”. So, the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed, and this story was widely circulated among the Jews to this very day” (Mat 28:1-15). Using money, power, and false media propaganda, the Romans and the chief priests tried to suppress the truth and eliminate those who proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus, but they failed.
The women did not have any weapons to fight against the Romans. The only weapons they had were faith in Jesus, courage to sacrifice, commitment to witness, and love for Jesus and fellow beings. With these weapons, the women went to the tomb. The Romans could not defeat the weapons of the women. The mighty Roman power – media, money, military, and political machinery- were all trampled down when these women became fearless to die for Christ. This is the power of the powerless.
What are the large stones that deny people to live in peace and harmony today? What are the seals that block people from experiencing dignity of life? Who is guarding and protecting the unjust system? What weapons do people need to acquire to fight against unjust institutions? Perpetrators of unjust systems? What does the Easter message mean for the powerless people, especially those who continue to face the heavy stone structure of oppression?
The contemporary events seem to testify that we, believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, are on the retreat. The large stone that denies people to live in peace could be the one-sided development activities or no development initiative, multiple taxes by national workers, the massive corruption in public life and unmindful exploitation of the earth and its resources, the unjust political machinery, the male, or androcentric interpretation of the scripture, tradition, culture, consumerist lifestyle, casteism, tribalism, clanism, villageism etc. The stone-like Roman soldiers may be our political leaders and leaders of different organizations, departments, and churches who are simply enjoying the fruit of an unjust system sealed by wrong interpretation of the Bible, cultural values, selfishness, etc. To fight against this unjust system and institution, we have no option except to stand in solidarity with the people who have been crushed by unjust system. People’s solidarity in love and the courage to face death is the biggest enemies of those enjoying unjust power. People have to emulate the example set by the women – solidarity, courage to face unjust systems, commitment to systemic change, and love and care for one another. The women’s disciples brought down the empire’s values through their acts of solidarity, courage, love and care for one another. No power can defeat these weapons till today. To bring change, we need to mobilize community cutting across class, caste, tribe, gender, and religious communities to promote values and structures that enhance and liberate life and reject the forces and practices that destroy life. Easter empowers us to stand for truth in solidarity with courage and love to resist oppressive powers and structures.