Paying Attention to Lydia and Women who Led from the Beginning

I recently attended a zoom conversation sponsored by FutureChurch featuring biblical scholar Michael Peppard, of Fordham University. This installation of a conversation series called “Women Erased,” explored scripture passages about women that have been excluded from the Catholic lectionary, made “optional,” or are not read on Sundays. Prof. Peppard noted that for many Catholics, the lectionary is, de facto, the bible. These are the passages that we hear read and preached. When women are left out of the lectionary, a precious opportunity to become familiar with their stories, their relationships with Jesus and other disciples, and crucially, their ministry and leadership in the early church, is lost.

One case in point is Lydia, who does make it into the lectionary, and whose story will be read from the Acts of the Apostles this year on May 19th, Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter. Lydia, “a dealer in purple cloth,” a description that suggests some autonomy and wealth, hears the gospel from Paul, is baptized along with her household, and then invites the disciples to her home. She is clearly an important figure, someone who helps to support and sustain the early church, and yet, many Catholics have never heard of her. Her heart was opened, and she “paid attention.” When Lydia heard the good news, she responded with hospitality and we might imagine that the disciples worshipped in the house church presided over by her. Catholics today should hear the good news of Lydia’s ministry.

These passages from Acts are paired with a reading from the gospel of John, that is all the more poignant when we stop and pay attention to Lydia.

And you also testify,
because you have been with me from the beginning.
I have told you this so that you may not fall away.
They will expel you from the synagogues;
in fact, the hour is coming when everyone who kills you
will think he is offering worship to God.
They will do this because they have not known either the Father or me.
I have told you this so that when their hour comes
you may remember that I told you.
Let us recall and celebrate the women like Lydia who were with Jesus and the disciples from the beginning, and who stayed with them until the end. Women whose ministry and preaching has been expelled from the church. Let us pray for women whose ministry today is silenced by those who claim to be offering worship. Let us remember what Jesus has told us, that we have been loved and called from the beginning, and that we have an advocate in the Holy Spirit.

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