Judith Lieu assesses how unusual it was for Jesus to have female disciples.
It’s very difficult, I think, to say would people outside the immediate Jesus group have said, “wow, there’s all these women who are following him”. The Gospel writers in different places pick up the presence of women – Luke’s Gospel does it rather more than, say, Matthew’s Gospel. And in Luke’s Gospel the women who follow Jesus tend to be women of independent means, women therefore who are not bound by the conventions of family ties or duties at home.
Later on, when the stories focus on the idea of having Jesus having 12 disciples, a particular group, none of those 12 are women. But on the other hand, the traditions also remember – those that get written down in the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and also John – that it was women who remained faithful to Jesus, who were there close enough to the cross when others of the disciples had got cold feet. I think it is important to note that women play a significant role in the stories about Jesus. Not many of the stories make a great song and dance about it.
Something like, there’s a story in John’s Gospel where Jesus meets a woman at a well – but she’s also a Samaritan. And the story does reflect a little bit of unease and a little bit of surprise that that’s how it should be. But there are other stories that – there’s a story, for example, of one woman who uses her expensive ointment to show an act of devotion to Jesus – there’s different stories as to whether she pours the ointment over his head or over his feet – and the reaction is one of shock that so much expensive ointment should be used when it could have been given to the poor. But not necessarily that he allowed a woman to do it.