To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in the truth… – 2 John 1:1 (NRSV)
The lady of John’s second letter is not only elect, she’s also mysterious. Nobody really knows who she is, though she’s the one the letter’s addressed to. Whoever she is, she merits her own word. The Greek here translated “lady” is kyria, used nowhere else in the Christian Scriptures, at least not in this feminine form. The masculine form, kyrios, shows up all over the place, though: it means “Lord,” and it’s what they call Jesus.
Of all the formidable women in the Christian scriptures—Lydia, Junia, the Marys, Martha, and the rest—to only one gets ascribed the kind of mastery and dominion they gave Jesus. Who in the world was this woman who got Jesus-level respect?
Because patriarchy, people have often assumed she’s not an actual person, but rather just a metaphor for a church. Others have thought her first name might be Kyria. Both of those understandings rest on the assumption that women weren’t in charge of stuff in the early church.
But if you assume that women were sometimes in charge, then the meaning seems quite plain: the author was writing to the chosen leader of a group of Christians—what today we might call an “ordained minister” or “called pastor”—and to the members of her congregation.
That still doesn’t tell us who exactly this masterful ancient pastor is. But if we don’t know her, thanks be to God we get to know her daughters: the elect, the called, the ordained, the formidable, the masterful kyriai who lead our churches still today.
For all the women who from earliest days have led our churches in ways deserving of Jesus-level respect, thank you. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.