by Marianne Meye Thompson, Arise, 7/4/15.
|When we think about the question of “women’s roles” in the church today, we are pressed to ask how the Scriptures portray and define the roles that women may and ought to exercise in the church. For some interpreters, the question comes down to offices that women were authorized to hold, or to which they were “ordained.” Thus, one asks: were women called and designated as “apostles” or “teachers” or “overseers” or other apparently somewhat official roles in the church? Backing up a bit, the question has often been asked, were women among the Twelve chosen by Jesus? If not, does this mean that they ought not to serve as “leaders” in the church? In other words, how one conceives of women’s roles today often rests on how one pictures any official positions that they were authorized to hold in the early church.
On this score, the Gospel of John provides an interesting case study. There are two persons who figure importantly in the Gospel: Simon Peter, and the disciple simply known throughout the Gospel as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (often designated by the shorthand “beloved disciple”). At the end of the Gospel of John, in Jesus’ final recorded resurrection appearance in that Gospel, Jesus commissions Peter to “tend my flock” and “feed my sheep.” In other words, Jesus now gives to Peter a role that he earlier claimed for himself (John 10:1-11), that of shepherd or, in Latin, a pastor.
The point is not that Peter becomes Jesus, or exercises the task of shepherd in precisely the same way, but that there are striking parallels between what Jesus has done and what Peter must do as he is entrusted to care for Jesus’ own sheep. The Roman Catholic church traditionally emphasizes the distinctiveness of Peter’s calling; he is the first “pope” of the church. Other interpretations have justified the limitation of the pastoral office to men on the grounds that it is Peter, a male disciple, who is given that role, walking in the footsteps of Jesus to shepherd the people in his charge…