Why were they there?
Neh. 3:12 Next to him Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, made repairs, he and his daughters.
Luke 23:28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
Luke 23:29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’
Luke 23:30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’
Luke 23:31 For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
In both of today's readings we find women present in rather improbably situations. In the story from Nehemiah we find a ruler of Jerusalem who, along with his daughters is making repairs to the walls of the city. Why were they there? Some commentators suggest that they were not really physically present, rebuilding the walls, but simply were wealthy women who could pay laborers to rebuild their section. While this might be true, the actual mention of the women in this place becomes curious. The reality is that as you read through Nehemiah it doesn't sound like there were many "extra" people around who could have been paid to do the labor. Every person they could grab in the city was either helping to physically rebuild a section of the wall, or standing guard, protecting them from their enemies. This would lead us to believe that these women truly were out there with the men of the city, working with their bare hands to rebuild a section of the wall. And why not? They were living in desperate times and their father was head over half of the city! One would image that he did not have any sons and so it appears that he rallied his entire family to go and work together with the rest of the believing community to build a future for all of them. Unusual times required unusual action!
This brings us to the New Testament passage where Luke interjects these women into the story where Matthew and Mark do not include them. Why? Somehow Luke seems to notice the women in the entire Gospel story more than Matthew and Mark. Combined Matthew and Mark mention women 49 times in their gospels, but Luke alone mentions them 43 times. What was it about the presence of the women that Luke believes is important for us to know? Somehow he wants us to know why they were there. On the day of the crucifixion the mobs and cried out for the death of Jesus. The very ones who had experienced what Jesus had to offer were now the ones who wanted him dead. Somehow we have thought that it was a turn-around of the entire crowd, but Luke gives us a glimpse into the confusion which was occurring that day. Not everyone wanted Jesus crucified and the women of Jerusalem saw him for what he really was. They were not crying out for him to be crucified, but were weeping and beating their breasts because he was dying!
Jesus turns and looks at them and tells them not to weep, but this is not a condemnation, but rather a comfort. He doesn't want them to worry about him because he knows that worse days are coming for these women. Jerusalem would fall in a few short years and the suffering that the women of the city would endure would be more than many could bear. It had always been the prayer of women that they would not be barren, that God would open their wombs and they would bear children. However, today Jesus looks at them, knowing the suffering that lies ahead and tells that they will now be blessed if they do not have children in the coming years because if they do, they will suffer even more watching their children go through persecution. It would be better at that time to not have children! It would be better if creation -- the mountains would cover and protect them from what is to come.
While it may seem out of place that the women were present in these circumstances, it appears that God was using them to make a difference. Whether we are male or female, it doesn't matter, but there are times when we find ourselves in unusual situations. The important thing is that no matter the circumstance, we are to be obedient to God. Circumstances should not dictate our behavior -- and for that matter, nor should culture. Over and over again we recognize that being faithful to God is counter-cultural and in that way we may end up in places that we may never have imagined. Why were these unusual people there? Because they looked beyond the expectations of others and were simply obedient to God.
Lord, may I be willing to walk into whatever circumstance that you desire -- for your glory! Amen.