Scripture study offers insight into Jesus’ society

Martha Popson

By Martha Popson

Two Sundays ago was the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, formerly known as the feast of Corpus Christi. 

The Gospel reading was the one from Mark, wherein Jesus tells two of his followers to “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him.”

I have casually wondered, from time to time, just how those two disciples were supposed to know which man carrying a jar of water they were to follow. Note that I didn’t doubt the Gospel, just wondered. 

Often I prepare for Sunday by reading the St. Louis University Liturgy Web site ( and, therein, finally, I got an answer:


In Jerusalem, Jesus had a disciple upon whom he could rely to provide a place for himself and the Twelve to celebrate this ceremony. A man carrying a water jar would be very easy to spot. Drawing and carrying water was a woman’s task (Genesis 24:11) and any man present at the well or spring would be a challenge to the honor of all the fathers, brothers and husbands with whom the women gathered were associated. If a man did carry water, it was more often in a skin than a jar. Women carry water in a jar balanced upon their heads. Men carry it in a skin slung over the shoulder or under the arm. A man carrying a water jar (Mark 14:13) is a cultural anomaly — easy to spot. 

And that, dear faithful reader, is one of the reasons I do so love Scripture study. There’s always so much that I did not know. There always will be.

But now I have learned that, even by these few words of finding a male carrying a jug of water, Jesus broke the conventional limits of what men — and women — “should” do. It’s another example of how he really meant that part about loving God and neighbor being more important than cultural constraints. Amen.  

God, thank you so much for the jar-carrying men in my life. Thank you that they have pushed the boundaries of what men are supposed to be. Thank you that I have been graced to share in their challenges and their lives. Help us, always, to be open to learning more about what you really mean for us to do and be and not get bogged down in gender issues. Amen. 

(Martha Popson is a member of St. Anthony Parish in Knoxville.)

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