The #MeTooMovement has opened up new interpretive possibilities within Christianity. It reminds us that, in the case of Scripture, meaning is not just in the text, ossified and waiting to be retrieved, but it is also, always something we inevitably bring to the text, as in a conversation.
In particular, it has enabled us to uncover a connection between Mary Magdalene, who was not believed, and many survivors of sexual assault.
But we can trace this scriptural thread back even further. Another Mary, the one who gave birth to Jesus, also was not initially believed when she explained the circumstances of her son’s conception. She, like many other women throughout history was not considered competent to interpret her own experience. Her survival also rested far too heavily upon her credibility to a man. If Joseph did not believe her, no one else would have either.
But this is not the only incredible truth Mary the Mother told: she testified to God’s unbreakable loyalty to the Jewish people and his equally unexpected preference for and alliance with the poor. It also was perhaps not a coincidence that she recited this improbable prophesy in the presence of another woman, her cousin Elizabeth.
In these ways, the #MeToo Movement adds new layers of meaning to the fact that women, including both Mary, Jesus’s Mother and Mary of Magdala, were the ones who stayed with Jesus to the very end of his life. They remained with Jesus even after crucifixion had discredited him in the eyes of the world.
Nor is it now surprising that the resurrected Jesus would first appear to Mary Magdalene. She believed when Jesus’ male apostles did not; she was unafraid and out in the open while they were huddled together in fear behind the closed doors of the upper room. And of course, despite her status as “apostle to the apostles,” the Catholic church recognizes only Jesus’ twelve male followers as true apostles and cites their maleness as a major reason why women cannot be priests.
The #MeToo Movement also focuses our attention on the uncomfortable fact that, simply by being crucified, Jesus experienced and assumed a feminized vulnerability to sexual violence. Although the gospels do not include sexual violence in their Passion narratives, historians note that in ancient Rome, crucified criminals were sexually violated routinely. Even Jesus’ nudity both on the cross and on the way to it qualify as forms of sexual degradation and abuse. On Good Friday, Jesus’ body also was penetrated, by spears and nails. This matters because, in his historical context, truly male bodies were supposed to penetrate; they were not penetrated. They inflicted violence upon and inside of other bodies; they did not receive such violence in their own.
The crucifixion thus exposes our gendered expectations of violence precisely by refusing to abide by them. Jesus is not in control of his body; he cannot say “no;” he has no consent to give. His powerless is used against him, evidence of his shamefulness and ignominy.
Jesus was put to death in shame at the hands of male crucifiers, but he rose in glory in the presence of a female companion.