Whilst we may feel that there is still a long way to go in our society, and our churches , before we are truly reflecting the fact that both men and women are equally made in the image of God, one thing which I think we can all agree on is that the status of women in British society today is much better than it was in Jesus’ time. As we read scripture through a 21st century lens it is sometimes easy to overlook just how radical Jesus was and in particular in the way that he related with women. Over the next four months I want to share four short reflections on how I believe that Jesus related to women and what we can learn from this. The first reflection will start to address the issue by taking a brief look at how Jesus interacted with many different women throughout his ministry and what this overview reveals to us today.
Before we take a look at Jesus’ ministry we need to start by understanding a little of what it was like to be a woman during the 1st century. The role of women in 1st century Palestine was primarily restricted to the home and being a wife and mother. The public role of women was very limited. In order to guard a woman’s sexual purity women were kept away from the public view of men so that the men would be protected from lust. A rabbi would not even acknowledge his wife in the street. In worship women and men were also segregated. In the temple, for example, women were restricted to the outer courts. Perhaps the view of women is most starkly summed up in the daily prayer of a pious Jew who would thank God that he was not a Gentile, a woman or a slave. Women were in effect treated as second-class citizens, not as those equally made in God’s image. It is into this context that Jesus comes and relates with women in a totally radical way.
In Luke’s gospel there are numerous examples of Jesus interacting with women during his ministry. We see him healing women as well as men (Luke 4: 38-40); having compassion for them (Luke 7:13); allowing them to touch him (Luke 7:38) and forgiving their sins (Luke 7:48). Jesus also allows women to accompany him and his disciples as they travelled around preaching and he allows the women to support them financially (Luke 8:1-3). Women listened to Jesus’ teaching (Luke 10:39) and they were the
first witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:9-10). Considering that a rabbi would not even acknowledge his wife in public, Jesus’ interaction with so many women was clearly counter-cultural and would not have gone unnoticed.
From this brief look at Jesus’ interaction with women, the way he acknowledged them, had empathy for them and responded to both their physical and spiritual needs we see someone who was able to relate to women on an equal level, as people made in God’s image, not as second-class citizens. He showed that he valued women through the way he respected them, cared for them and healed them. Such things may seem to us just a given, but such behaviour by a man towards a woman in the 1st century would certainly have been radical. In fact it probably brought Jesus’ own credibility as a teacher into question with the Jewish authorities. Perhaps even more radical though was the fact that Jesus allowed women as well as men to be amongst his followers and to serve him. Something that would have been totally radical considering women were only allowed in the outer courts of the Temple.
- How does the fact that Jesus was so counter-cultural in his
relationships with women make you feel?
- Think of a man you know who treats women in the way that Jesus did and
give thanks to God for him.