The Last Week of Jesus, Last Year of King: Women in the Movement prepared by Onleilove Alston for The Poverty Initiative, 2009
This Bible Study Resource is one part of a series of Bible Studies that examine The Last Week of Christ Life and The Last Year of Rev. King’s Life, created by The
Poverty Initiative an organization “dedicated to Building a Movement to End
Poverty Led by the Poor”. This is an interactive, multimedia Bible Study that can be used in various settings. We offer a variety of resource choices so that you can tailor the study to the needs of your group. This type of Bible Study was created by The Poverty Initiative by working with grassroots community groups and is called a textual reflection, where we engage the Biblical text with contemporary writings. In no way is this Bible Study comparing the life of Dr. King to the life of Christ but by looking at the life of our fellow man we can see that it is possible to live out the teachings of Jesus in the public square to the end of social change. This Bible Study examines the role women played in the ministry of Jesus and in Dr. King's Poor People's Campaign, showing that the leadership of women is needed in ministry and social movements; Christ set this example.
Choose one or two activities from each category that best fit your group and your context. Adapt the activities to fit your needs.
Focus (exploring our current experience of this area of our lives):
1.) Have each participant think of an influential woman in their life, either someone they know personally or someone whose public work has significantly impacted their life. Write down three qualities of that woman. Share in small groups. What did the women do that exemplified these qualities? Why are these qualities significant? 2.) Take a walk around your church building. Note all of the places that women work within the church (i.e., the pulpit, the kitchen, the nursery, the board room, etc). Did you think of places and work that women do that goes unnoticed? Why is that work so often hidden from our consciousness? How can we do a better job of honoring the work that women do in our churches?
3.) Pass out pictures and a brief biography of women involved in social movements, historically and currently, locally and globally. (Perhaps we would either suggest names of these women or include pictures and the biography as part of this packet.) In small groups have each person introduce the woman in their picture. Reflect on the common characteristics of these women. How were the respective social movements transformed by the involvement of these women?
Join the Story (encountering the Bible and learning from those who have gone
1.) Engage in Lectio Divina with the story from John 12: 1-11 2.) Read the excerpt from pages 104-105 of The Last Week: What the Gospels Really
Teach About Jesus's Final Days in Jerusalem by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan
(See excerpt below) this piece is about Mary of Bethany and her contribution to Christ
ministry. What role does Mary play in Jesus‟ ministry according to John‟s gospel? (See
also John 11 and John 20). What do you think Mary‟s relationship with Judas might have
been? With the other disciples?
3.) Read the excerpt from pages 248-249 of Passion for Equality by Nick Kotz -pages.
This piece discusses how the leaders of The National Welfare Rights Movement
challenged Dr. King as he planned The Poor People‟s Campaign. What does this piece show us about the agency of poor women? Why do you think Dr. King listened to these
women? What does this teach us for our work? Who do we listen to and who do we
Challenge (stretching ourselves to live more faithfully) As a church community or organization publicly honor a woman who has served and led.
Examples of this could be acknowledging her in worship, a newsletter or giving her a
certificate of appreciation get creative as the Bible says “give honor to who honor is due”.
Worship (offering God thanks and praise)
During personal prayer time thank God for the women in your life who have encouraged,
inspired, led and served you.
Link (related websites, videos, music, books and other resources) The Poverty Initiative
The National Welfare Rights Union
Jesus Christ Superstar Everything is Alright Video Serving
As a group collect fragrances or perfume and deliver to a senior citizen center.
Crossan and Borg, The Last Week
“She (the woman who anoints Jesus) is, for Mark, the first believer. She is, for us, the
first Christian. And she believed from the word of Jesus before any discovery of an
empty tomb. Futhermore, her action was a graphic demonstration of the paradoxical
leadership cited by Jesus for himself and all his followers on the model of child, servant
and slave…The unnamed woman is not only the first believer; she is also the model leader…She was both one of those „many other women‟ and the first and only one who
believed what Jesus had been telling…The unnamed woman represents the perfect
disciple-leader and is contrasted with Judas, who represents the worst one possible.” (104-105) “There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary
Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These
used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many
other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem. (Mark 15:40-41) “From what is said about Mary Magdalene in other gospels, she was the most important of Jesus‟s
women followers. About the other Mary, „the mother of James the younger and of Joses,‟
we know nothing. About the third woman, we can say only that Salome was a common
woman‟s name in the first century.The presence of the women reminds us that Jesus‟s
men followers are not present. They have all fled. Perhaps it was safer for women to be
nearby; they were less likely to be suspected by the authorities of being dangerous
subversives. Whatever the reason, in Mark (and all the gospels) women play a major role
in the story of Good Friday and Easter. They witness Jesus‟s death. They follow his body
after his death and see where he is buried. In all the gospels, they are the first ones to go
to the tomb on Sunday and experience the news of Easter. In Mark, as we shall see in our
chapter on Easter Sunday, they are the only ones. The role of women in Mark‟s story of Good Friday raises an interesting question. Why would first-century Jewish women (and
slightly later, gentile women) be attracted to Jesus? For the same reasons that first
century men were, yes. But in addition it seems clear that Jesus and earliest Christianity
gave to women an identity and status that they did not experience within the conventional
wisdom of the time. Women in both Jewish and gentile cultures were subordinated in
many ways. Jesus and the early Christian movement subverted the conventional wisdom
about women among both Jews and gentiles. The subversion has been denied by much of
Christian history, but it is right here, in a prominent place in the story of the climactic
events of Jesus‟s life; Good Friday and Easter.” (151-152) A Passion for Equality: George Wiley and the Movement In early February, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was coming to Chicago to meet with
Wiley and his executive board – at NWRO‟s demand. It promised to be a showdown.
King was planning a “Poor People‟s Campaign” for Washington, D.C. – a tactic born in
desperation, as the civil rights movement was in shreds. King had failed, during the
previous two years, to solve the riddle of further effective action against northern racism
and poverty. The new campaign called for thousands of the poor to encamp in
Washington, dramatizing the issues for Congress and the country. The campaign needed
foot soldiers. Wiley had them – ten thousand paying members in one hundred functioning
chapters – and felt that King was trying to divert NWRO members to the Poor People‟s
Campaign with any recognition of NWRO and its own purposes, program, and strategy.
When King walked through the lobby of the downtown Chicago YMCA on February 3,
1968, he was immediately surrounded by admirers – a crowd seeking to glimpse or touch the famous, charismatic leader. He moved upstairs, with his lieutenants – Ralph
Abernathy, Andrew Young, Bernard Lafayette, and Al Sampson – to a meeting-room
where Wiley and his thirty-member committee sat waiting. There were place-cards
around the big rectangular table so that Johnnie Tillmon would be seated in the center,
with Wiley on her right and Dr. King on her left. King would be separated from his
lieutenants, who were surrounded in each corner by the welfare-recipient leadership. Tim
Sampson characterized Wiley‟s seating arrangement as „a grand piece of psychological
warfare.‟To the ladies, King and the SCLC‟s Poor People‟s Campaign was a threat. They
were angry that King‟s lieutenants had moved around the country contacting local welfare rights groups, asking them to join the banner at the cost of abandoning their own
welfare-organizing efforts. „The women‟s concern was that they had a major constituency
organization,‟ said Sampson. „They had created it with their blood, sweat, and tears, and it was something magnificent to them. Not to be recognized was an attack on their very
being. And to have it taken away was unthinkable.”While Johnnie Tillmon presided,
holding her grandchild in her lap, King waited quietly until each woman introduced
herself. He then began to describe the purposes of the forthcoming Washington campaign.
„We need your support,‟ he concluded. Then Etta Horn opened the barrage: „How do you
stand on P.L. 90-248?‟ Puzzled, Dr. King looked toward the Reverend Andrew Young, his executive director. „She means the Anti-Welfare bill, H.R. 12080, passed by the Congress on December 15, and signed into law by Lyndon Baines Johnson on January 2,‟
interrupted Mrs. Tillmon. „Where were you last October, when we were down in Washington trying to get support for Senator Kennedy‟s amendments?‟ Beulah Sanders
held up a copy of the NWRO pamphlet The Kennedy Welfare Amendments. King was
bewildered by the technical discussion of the new law as his staff tried to fend off the
women‟s hostile questions. Finally, Johnnie Tillmon said, “You now, Dr. King, if you
don‟t know about these questions, you should say you don‟t know, and then we could go
on with the meeting.‟ „You‟re right, Mrs. Tillmon,‟ King replied. „We don‟t know
anything about welfare. We are here to learn.‟ The NWRO members proceeded to bring
Dr. King up to date on the history of what they saw as welfare repression in Congress and
the nation. (248-249)