Sometimes the life of a minor character in the Bible suddenly comes into focus. Since I wrote a post on the female disciples of Jesus, I’ve been fascinated by “the women,” a group of women from Galilee who took care of Jesus. My imagination has been particularly captured by “Mrs. Zebedee,” a simple fisherman’s wife.
There’s a few facts we know for sure, but there’s a lot we can legitimately surmise about the life of the wife of Zebedee, mother of James and John.
Here’s the core verse:
And many women who had come from Galilee with Jesus to care for him were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James and Joseph), and the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. (Matthew 27:55-56)
James and John were among the first disciples Jesus chose. They were fishermen, partnered with Andrew and Peter in their fishing business (Luke 5:10). This was more than a “mom and pop” business since when James and John left to follow Jesus, they left Zebedee in the boat with the hired men (Mark 1:20). Were Zebedee and his family people of means?
Since Peter and Andrew lived in Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 1:21, 29), it seems likely that their partners, Zebedee and his family, also lived nearby. I’m sure that James and John reported back to the family the story of Jesus turning the water into wine in nearby Cana (John 2:12). Were the Zebedee family in attendance at the synagogue in Capernaum the morning that Jesus cast out a spirit in the middle of the service? Later that day, after the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law in Peter and Andrew’s home when the whole town came to watch Jesus healing the sick, were Zebedee and his wife there too? (Mark 1:32) As word spread about what Jesus was doing as he traveled through Galilee, I’m sure the parents of James and John followed the news of what their kids were involved in with great interest. From time to time, did they join the large crowds from Galilee that followed him wherever he went? (Matthew 4:25)
Whatever they were involved in during Jesus’ early ministry, Zebedee’s wife became totally committed to the One who taught her sons to fish for men.
In the Matthew version of the women watching as Jesus hung from the cross and breathed his last, three women are mentioned, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of James and John (ie., Mrs Zebedee). The Mark version of that same story also lists three women, the two Mary’s and Salome (Mark 15:40). Was Zebedee’s wife’s name Salome?
Mrs. Zebedee was part of the group of women that accompanied Jesus on his final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Matthew 27:55). This group of women is described as Jesus’ friends (Luke 23:49). The journey from Galilee probably begins in Matthew 19:1.
This means that Mrs. Zebedee accompanied Jesus and was most likely present for the following:
- Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:1-11)
- The rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-28)
- The teaching on leaders being servants (Matthew 20:20-28)–she is specifically mentioned as present for this.
- The healing of two blind men (Matthew 20:29-33)
- The triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-11)
- The clearing of the temple (Matthew 21:12-17)
- The fig tree withering (Matthew 21:18-22)
- Jesus’ telling of various parables (Matthew 22 and 25)
- His altercations with the Pharisees (Matthew 23)
- His foretelling of the future (Matthew 24)
- Mary’s anointing Jesus for burial (Matthew 26:6-13)
How often do we assume, when the Gospels refer to the disciples (as opposed to the twelve) that women were not present? This example demonstrates their involvement.
I’d like to think so. What about you?