Jesus and Peter sat upon the ground together. It was the day after Jesus had first freed an unknown woman from chronic ritual uncleanliness, and then had visited the house of Jairus to snatch his daughter from death. They - Jesus and Peter - had been discussing these two incidents, and Peter had been moved to tackle Jesus on the subject of women, and their place in society. Peter had suggested that, in light of his almost unprejudiced attitude to women, Jesus should consider the appointment of a female disciple. Notably, Mary Magdalene.
Jesus looked at Peter, and smiled.
"You suggest that we have thirteen disciples?" He asked.
"Yes, " said Peter. "Mary Magdalene should be the thirteenth."
"Some people might feel", said Jesus, "that thirteen might be an unlucky choice. There could come a time when the quantity of disciples might be more of an issue than the quality".
Peter frowned. "I can’t think why", he said.
"No matter," said Jesus. "Let’s talk about gender then. A female disciple." He settled himself more comfortably. Peter, like the others, did not always understand Jesus, and explanations often took time. He looked at Peter. He was enthusiastic - perhaps the most enthusiastic - and much would depend on that enthusiasm. But he also tended to run ahead sometimes, when overconfidence and what might almost be called arrogance took over. He meant well - always - but he was not quite the man he thought he was. Not yet, at least.
"What do the scriptures say about women?" Asked Jesus. "And I don’t mean literally, but rather what are the general messages?"
Peter thought for a moment. Jesus had this disconcerting habit of asking questions that needed a really good deep-down think. You had to really know what-was-what with Jesus.
"Well", he began, "they are secondary to men, but not less important". He stopped for a moment expecting an interruption or a comment, but when none came, he continued. "Our Father created women both to care for us, and to be cared for BY us. " He said. "They are not slaves, yet they are not masters. They are not objects, or things to be owned, bought, sold, or willed away, yet nor are they free spirits...." He broke off, as Jesus raised his hand.
"Stop", said Jesus. "Did My Father not create both Adam and Eve?"
"Yes", said Peter, wondering what he had said wrong.
"Did not My Father give the entirety of Eden to both Adam and Eve?"
"Did My Father not give to both the choice to either obey, or to consume the fruit that was forbidden?" Jesus asked Peter.
"Yes, Lord" said Peter, not quite sure where the questions were leading
"And was Eve not free to choose to take the apple, or to leave it?".
"Yes", said Peter.
"Then", said Jesus, "Truly, woman are as free of spirit as men. This was the gift of equality that He gave to them" He paused, while Peter considered what he had said. Then, he asked him "Peter, do you think that My Father loves his male children more than his female children?"
Peter shook his head. "His love is all-encompassing, and unbiased, and unlimited" he said.
"As is mine," said Jesus. "So why do I not make Mary Magdalene the thirteenth disciple"
Peter shook his head again. "I don’t know", he said.
Jesus stood up. "Let’s walk" he said.
Peter stood, and together they began to walk, side by side. From a distance, it might have been any two friends, taking a gentle stroll together.
"Peter", said Jesus. "Do you see that synagogue yonder?" He pointed to a building a little way away from them. It was clearly a synagogue, and a few people crowded by the entrance.
"Yes," said Peter.
"Does it have women rabbis?" Asked Jesus.
"No," said Peter, a little shocked at the question.
"No." Said Jesus. "Does it permit women to make sacrifices?"
"No", said Peter.
Jesus stopped walking, and put his arm on Peter’s shoulder. He pointed to a youngish woman of about thirty who was carrying a jug of water. "Do you see the woman, there, who carries the water?"
"Yes," said Peter. "It is the wife of Gaal"
"It was not always so, though." Said Jesus. "Was she not the wife of Simon, brother of Gaal?"
"That is true, my Lord. But Simon died, and she became the wife of Gaal, in accordance with the Law."
"Come", said Jesus, "let us walk on a little further."
They strolled leisurely on until they drew level with a couple of donkeys. The donkeys were tethered, and two men stood by them in conversation. A women stood a little further off, on her own.
"Do you see those men?" Asked Jesus.
"The ones with the donkeys - yes."
"Are they not Aaron and Simon asked Jesus.
"Yes, my Lord, they are. They are brothers." Said Peter, who had coincidentally met them the previous day. "And that is their sister, Tamar."
"Why does she stand apart? Why does she not walk with them?" Jesus asked Peter.
"It is not permitted", said Peter. He looked at Jesus quizzically. Did not Jesus know all of this already?
"I think", said Jesus, "that we had better sit down again. Over here, by this wall. It shall provide some comfort, and afford us a good view."
They sat against a small stone wall. For a few moments, they sat in silence. Jesus seemed lost in thought, and Peter wondered if ’that was it". He debated with himself whether or not to raise the subject of Mary Magdalene again. He noticed a young woman walking, head down, and shoulders slumped. She seemed to radiate an air of misery. He watched her approach a house, hesitate, and then enter. After a few moments, she came running out. She tore at her hair, and wailed, and ran, almost blindly, away from the house, falling, getting up, running on, falling again. Soon she had disappeared into the distance.
"She’ll be back" said Jesus, sadly.
"Who was she?" Asked Peter.
"Just a woman", said Jesus. "That is the house of her friend. Inside is her husband and her friend. She now knows what previously she only suspected."
"He is committing adultery?" Asked Peter.
"No." Said Jesus, and he sighed. "The friend has no husband, therefore the law does not consider it to be adultery."
They sat a little while longer. There was the sound of donkeys braying in the distance. Some sheep - unseen - baa’d plaintively, as if aware of some impending doom soon to befall them. Other sounds, some women talking, a few children at play, tinkled like water in a creek.
Presently, Jesus looked at Peter, who had closed his eyes and begun to relax.
"Peter", said Jesus in a strong, but not loud voice.
"Er, yes Lord. I was not asleep, just thinking. You have been asking me a lot of questions, but you haven’t answered mine yet. Is it," he stopped, then continued. "Is it because of her - of Mary Magdalene’s - past?"
Jesus laughed. "Who is without sin? I would have no followers if I rejected all but those without sin. The demons of her past are gone with her past."
"Then" began Peter.
"My Father’s love shines on all - men and women - equally, just as it shines on the waters and the lands" said Jesus. "And so, too, it is with me. In this, you are my witness - I am servant to those with faith, respecting not their sex, nor colour, nor family, nor wealth. These have no more importance than the shapes of clouds." He waved his hand indiscriminantly at the sky.
"I could, if I chose, call Mary Magdalene to be my thirteenth disciple. It would be easy. For she has seen both light AND darkness, and she is better for the experience.
"But if in my eyes, she presents with equal worth, say not that this is true of others, for their sight is not so clear as mine.
"And if in my heart, all those who are women and all those who are men shall find room without favour of one over the other, then say not that it is true of others, for their hearts are not so large, nor so open as mine.
"For, just as walls may imprison those that they were intended to protect, so customs and laws may imprison those that THAY were intended to protect.
"I say to you, Peter, that the time shall come when man and woman will meet upon the road and talk without fear of reproach. When Holy Places will be Holy for both, and Places for both. There shall come a time when they shall be treated by the law without discrimination.
"Know, Peter, that when that time comes, the message that I bring to you from my father, will be preached by man and woman alike. This time shall arise, just as certainly as the darkness of night falls away to the break of day.
"But now is not that time"
Peter looked at Jesus.
"When", he asked, "When will it come? And how will it come, if you do not start it now?"
Jesus looked at Peter in surprise. "But I have started it." He said. "Do I not attend to all without discrimination? Do I not publicly greet those who are male and those who are female?"
"Have you not heard me when I said that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully is guilty of committing adultery in his heart? Or that if a man divorces his wife for any reason other than adultery then HE is guilty of making her commit adultery?
"You said these things" said Peter, solemnly
"All long journeys begin with a single step. So, too, the journey of womanhood", said Jesus. "These are but the first steps.
"You ask me when this time will come?"
"Yes", said Peter.
Peter looked at Jesus. He was looking away, into the distance, almost as though he was looking ... somewhere else.
"This time will come, when the Spirit blows the cobwebs away from the hearts of Men, and when the musty odour of tradition is replaced with the fresh air of love".