Daily office commentary, Acts 12:11-17; “believe the women”

Yesterday’s daily office reading included this passage from Acts:

At the first intersection the angel left him, going his own way. That’s when Peter realized it was no dream. “I can’t believe it—this really happened! The Master sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s vicious little production and the spectacle the Jewish mob was looking forward to.” 12-14 Still shaking his head, amazed, he went to Mary’s house, the Mary who was John Mark’s mother. The house was packed with praying friends. When he knocked on the door to the courtyard, a young woman named Rhoda came to see who it was. But when she recognized his voice—Peter’s voice!—she was so excited and eager to tell everyone Peter was there that she forgot to open the door and left him standing in the street. 15-16 But they wouldn’t believe her, dismissing her, dismissing her report. “You’re crazy,” they said. She stuck by her story, insisting. They still wouldn’t believe her and said, “It must be his angel.” All this time poor Peter was standing out in the street, knocking away. 16-17 Finally they opened up and saw him—and went wild! Peter put his hands up and calmed them down. He described how the Master had gotten him out of jail, then said, “Tell James and the brothers what’s happened.” He left them and went off to another place.

Acts 12:11-17, The Message Bible

I like the way this is translated by Eugene Peterson. One can sense the excitement that Rhoda has in this story: enough that she completely forgets about her guest waiting at the door!

As others have undoubtedly observed, the parallels with an early account by the same author (who recorded both Luke and Acts) are apparent:

9-11 They left the tomb and broke the news of all this to the Eleven and the rest. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them kept telling these things to the apostles, but the apostles didn’t believe a word of it, thought they were making it all up. 12 But Peter jumped to his feet and ran to the tomb. He stooped to look in and saw a few grave clothes, that’s all. He walked away puzzled, shaking his head.

Luke 24: 9-12, The Message Bible

In both cases, the “resurrected” protagonist (Jesus miraculously raised from the dead; Peter miraculously saved from prison) chooses to first seek out the women in their communities (“Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them” in Luke and “Mary who was John Mark’s mother” in Acts). In both cases, a woman or multiple women are witnesses to a miracle: Jesus’s absence in the tomb and subsequent resurrection and Peter’s liberation from the prison and subsequent arrival back with his friends. In both cases, the women go to tell others with excitement about what they’ve seen. In both cases, their audience was skeptical and dismissed them as “crazy” (in Acts) or that they were “making it all up” (in Luke). In both cases, the women were ultimately vindicated as others came to see what they had seen and came to know what they first had known.

How much of the skepticism in these stories can we attribute to the subordinate place that women occupied in the social hierarchy of the time? Were women’s accounts routinely brushed off as being emotional reactions or just “crazy,” even by those of good hearts (including the Apostles and other early Christians)?

How much have things changed in our day? How often do we “believe the women” when they have something important and incredible to tell us?

This is one of the many lessons we can take away from these stories: believe the women; they are usually among the first to receive knowledge of God’s work among us.

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