I’m assuming that the answer to that is yes. (Sorry if I’m wrong) Many of us, at times, feel alone or isolated or different from everyone else. We can feel taken for granted, by friends, families, partners – lots of women have told me that they feel invisible at times, like they could vanish and no one would notice.
Be it race, gender, education, class, personality type or even appearance – lots of us feel like freaks, or work very hard to make sure we’re not! We want to be accepted and approved of. To not rock the boat or make people dislike us, to avoid conflict.
It can come out as being passive and letting people walk over us, or defensive and prickly, making sure we don’t get taken advantage of. Either way there are some questions about our security in there; Junia might be able to help.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.
‘What’s so controversial?’ I hear you cry.
‘One verse at the end of Romans, in Paul’s Post script…how tricky can that be?’
Hmm… you’d wonder wouldn’t you!
Well, here’s the thing.
Why? Because Paul calls her ‘apostle’ and we all know apostles are men don’t we?
Unfortunately I’m not kidding. Historically the church does not have a great track record for honouring women, and translators, considering it impossible (from their cultural perspective) that a woman could possibly be an apostle, added a harmless little ‘s’- turning our girl into a man!
So Junia has been lost - for centuries.
Only fairly recently have translators looked again at the original language. The fact that ‘Junia’ is a very common female name at the time the letter was written and that there are no records of ‘Junias’ as a male name at all, make it pretty clear that Paul is referring to a woman. That her name is paired with Andronicus (definitely male by the way) suggests that they were a married couple.
So, a married couple – who were Christian before Paul got converted, makes them most likely to be Jews (most of the earliest followers of Jesus were.) The word ‘relative’ that Paul uses is a bit unclear here – it could mean biological relative, but given the metaphor of ‘brother and sisters in Christ’ it doesn’t necessarily, it might just mean fellow Jews. It does imply a level of intimacy and affection between them though. Paul loves and respects these two; thinks they are legends!
Basically apostles were those who had met Jesus face to face- that had been with him during his ministry and had then taken the gospel message out, to spread it as he had told them to. They were groundbreakers, carriers of a radical new faith – that the Messiah had come, died and risen from the dead and was offering forgiveness, a new start for anyone who believed in him.
Because we are inheritors of that message we often miss how shocking it is.
The Jews were God’s chosen people and only by keeping the Law of Moses could you gain God’s favour.
That God was now just giving it away, to slaves, children, Gentiles even, was beyond shocking – it was downright offensive! And here is a woman, with her husband, carrying this ‘blasphemous’ message of forgiveness and hope.
Only men can be rabbis.
Only men can be prophets.
Only men can be apostles
She should attend to her house like a good Jewish wife!
She was hard-core; outstanding among the apostles (including the remaining 11 disciples.) So committed that she had been arrested and imprisoned for the gospel. This is a lady who doesn’t back down. We don’t have records of her arrest but we have them of James, Peter, John and later Paul. Stories of their courage and the ability the Holy Spirit gave them when faced with persecution for their faith in Jesus. Given Paul’s commendation of her I think it’s fair to say she probably operated in a similar way to them.
So – it’s obvious what we can learn from her isn’t it? Well, what I want to suggest might surprise you.
Even though she suffered for the gospel, was a heroine of the early church; even though her name was in Paul’s letter to the Romans and she made it into Holy Scripture, she has been forgotten – blotted out. People couldn’t believe what she had done. Blinded by their own prejudice and assumption they rejected her as a woman – assumed that God used a man instead.
He remembers the sacrifices she made for His gospel. The risks she took for Jesus. The hard work, the tears she wept, the fear she felt, the hatred aimed at her, the humiliation of incarceration and uncertainty of what would happen. We don’t have the details, we don’t know – but He does.
Ultimately there will be justice; people WILL receive honour for the sacrifices they make for him. Even if others try to put them down, ignore them, blot them out. Even if they are rejected; even by the church.
Even if they defy stereotypes about how ‘someone like them’ should behave, what is or isn’t acceptable for them. Even then – God remembers.
Junia’s exclusion was because of her gender, but many of us are excluded for other reasons too.
Race, economic situation, disability, academic ability, weight, appearance, personality type – the list goes on. Well, Junia’s resurrection to our Bibles encourages me that even if humans don’t acknowledge us – God will. Many times the service of women is overlooked. The roles we fulfil are low status, low credit – unnoticed. Junia inspires us to be leaders, to take risks, to be evangelists, missionaries, but for me the most inspiring thing is not what she does for God, but what he ultimately does for her. It is that even if no one notices us, or alternatively tries to take credit and make us nothing. If no one says thank you or appreciates us, God will vindicate us. One day God will say “well done good and faithful servant” to Junia, I hope he’ll say that to me. And I’m inspired to keep going even if I get no credit or thanks.
You are not invisible; you are valued, approved of and loved. God is your defender, your encourager, your reward, just as he is Junia’s. I’m looking forward to meeting her; I bet she’s got some stories to tell!
© Ruth Perrin 2009. Last revised on 27 November 2009
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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