Jesus and women
The revelations before the US election of Donald Trump’s boasting and allegations of sexual assault threw up stories of the pain suffered by literally millions of women around the world.
Despite many of the gains made in the last 100 years for women’s rights, it is clear that much still remains to be done.
Rich Stearns’ 2009 book, The Hole in Our Gospel, reveals some of the devastating statistics that highlight the plight of women around the world. Here are some of them:
- 2/3 of the world’s 800 million illiterate are women.
- Some two million children, mostly girls as young as five years old, are part of the growing commercial sex trade around the world.
- 500 thousand women die every year from complications in childbirth — one every minute.
- Girl babies are even killed in countries where males are considered more valuable. Those who survive are denied property rights and inheritance in many countries.
- Women own less than one percent of the world’s property.
- Women work 2/3 of all the world’s labour hours but earn only 10% of the world’s wages.
For us as followers of Jesus, this highlights the contrast of the fact that Jesus treated women with their full God-given dignity. The predicament of women in the Middle East during the time of Jesus was akin to what is listed above. For instance:
- most were restricted to roles of little or no authority,
- they were largely confined to their father’s or husband’s home,
- they were considered to be inferior to men and under the authority of men,
- they were not allowed to testify in court trials,
- they could not go out in public or talk to strangers, and
- when outside of their homes, they were to be doubly veiled.
Within this reality, the treatment of women by Jesus was simply revolutionary. When we understand the realities of the culture in which he lived, we can see that he literally put his life in danger by treating women the way he did.
Take the story of the woman at the well in John 4. N.T. Wright says that in that culture many devout Jewish men (remember Jesus was a Jew) would not have allowed themselves to be alone with a woman. If it was unavoidable they certainly wouldn’t have started a conversation with her.
This story also reveals that this woman was clearly sexually broken. She came to the well in the heat of the day when no one else was around, at least no one who knew her and her history. Out of shame she wouldn’t have wanted to be seen with other women of the town, nor they with her. Jesus soon reveals that he is well aware of her history, yet he still starts a conversation with her, melting her shame in a flood of grace.
There is a saying that goes, “God loves us just the way we are, but too much to leave us there.” God wants us to grow into people who are more human, who are able to live out our potential to be the best people we can be. This is exactly what Jesus did with the woman at the well. By speaking with her, he was breaking all the social taboos of the day, and in the process treating her with all the dignity offered to kings and other rulers.
Another story that illustrates this is that of the woman caught in adultery. This is a wonderful story of how Jesus takes on our pain and suffering. The woman is the one who has done wrong, but Jesus steps in and takes the blame for it. As N.T. Wright says again, the story begins with the religious leaders wanting to stone her but ends with them wanting to stone him.
A new acceptance
The gospels reveal that women found a new acceptance in Jesus which they didn’t find anywhere else. They were amongst his closest followers, they were the ones who stayed at the cross when most of his male friends fled the scene, and they were the first at the tomb on the morning of his resurrection (and when they went to tell Jesus’ disciples — men — they of course didn’t believe the women’s story).
It is an interesting fact that the portrayal of women in the gospel stories adds to their authenticity. Most serious biblical scholars say that, given the context of the time, no one would have made up a story about women being treated with such dignity and being portrayed as so central to the story if those stories weren’t true.
Jesus’ relationships with women are a complete contrast to those we have heard in the media in the last month or so. When we follow Jesus in his treatment of women, we show the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven and bring a desperately needed light to our broken culture.
Nils von Kalm is from Melbourne, Australia and has a passion for showing how the Gospel is relevant to life in the 21st century. He can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/nils.vonkalm and at http://nilsvonkalm.com
Originally published at www.christiantoday.com.au.