Jesus and WomenMelanie Mokgatla
At the centre of the Christian faith stands Jesus. As the ‘word became flesh’ (John 1:14), we can look to the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus to find out more about the Creator God, who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16). You want to see the Father? Look to Jesus (John 14:9). If you want to know how followers of Jesus are to relate to women, you are to look at the person of Christ. He shines as the example we are to follow, the one into whom we are being transformed. And as we live in a lost and broken world, we shine like lights, beacons of His Grace and Love.
You may be wondering about culture and context: Jesus was in a time, in a place, in a culture that seems so very different to ours. In various places in the Old Testament, we read of the prominent place women had in Jewish culture. We know through Jewish writings in Jesus’ time, however, that their rights, place and value had deteriorated in society. When we know how women were treated then, we recognize how very counter-cultural Jesus was.
How much, really, can we learn for today from that ancient culture? What was it like to live as a women in the time of Jesus?
- Women were considered less than men.
- A husband could divorce a woman for any reason and had no obligation to financially care for her
- Women were not trusted to stand trial in a court
- Women were treated as property, owned by their man
- Even a woman of stature could not engage in commerce
- Women needed to be accompanied in public
- Women who were menstruating were considered ceremonially unclean, excluding them from various community activities and religious rituals
The similarities to our context today
This may seem so very different, but let’s compare to today:
- The pay difference between men and women shows the current understanding of the value of women compared to men. Currently, it is estimated that women are paid 28% less than men.
- Whilst women can divorce men, 62% of births in South Africa do not have father’s details – meaning the father is not present. We have a fatherless generation.
- Women can stand in a court today, but have to overcome many barriers of disbelief. An estimated 90% of rape cases are not even report. This shows (amongst other things) how women do not share their experience for fear of not being believed.
- In today’s hyper-sexualised culture, women are seen as objects, something to arouse, be conquered and, ultimately, be discarded when no longer satisfying.
- Only 3.3% of JSE listed companies have female CEOs.
- In South Africa today, it can be said that women need to be accompanied for their own safety
- In South Africa, girls who cannot afford sanitary products miss crucial time in the classroom, placing them at a greater disadvantage. Up to 30% of girls do not attend school during their period.
Whilst the cultural practices may have looked different, the similarities between the lived experience of women in the ancient Near East and today help us to look at Jesus as one who spurned cultural norms in pursuit of showing what His Kingdom is really like.
Questions to help us read with new eyes
Author Philip Yancey, in The Jesus I never knew, writes, “For women and other oppressed people, Jesus turned upside down the accepted wisdom of his day. According to biblical scholar Walter Wink, Jesus violated the mores of his time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels.”
For men and women who have followed Jesus for many years, it is easy to gloss over portions of scripture with an air of familiarity. Many times we overlook the interactions Jesus had and miss something that will speak to us in today’s context. We have collected a range of interactions that Jesus had with women in the four gospels. Rather than explaining each text, we have these four questions to help guide or shape you as you read:
- How has this woman experienced men so far?
- What does she witness / experience in Jesus?
- What is the result of this interaction?
- How does this account shape the way you are to be countercultural as it relates to interacting with women?
We trust that as you read, you will have new eyes, and feel the move of the Holy Spirit towards becoming more like Jesus in your view and interaction with women.
5 starting points
We would encourage you to go through all four gospels yourself (even better with others), but here are five starting points. Texts you may be very familiar with. Open your Bible, read the text, read each question, and, under the illumination of the Spirit, explore what God may be saying to you today.
John 4:1–41 – Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the well
John 8:1-11 – Jesus and the Woman accused of adultery
Luke 13:10-17 – Jesus heals a crippled Woman
Luke 7:36-50 – Jesus is anointed by a Woman
John 19:25-27 – Jesus on the cross, with his mother
Walk through the gospels
We know that at key points, women were present to witness and participate in Jesus’ life (Matthew 27:55-61; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:55-56; John 19:25). This collection is a list of conversations and interactions Jesus had with women specifically. Hence, teachings and parables that involved women are not included. Repeated events across the synoptic gospels are included.
- 8:14-17 – Jesus heals Peter’s mother in law
- 9:18-19, 23-26 – Jesus heals a ruler’s daughter
- 9:20-22 – Jesus heals a woman with a bleeding disorder
- 12:46-50 – Jesus elevates women believers to sisterhood
- 15:21-28 – Jesus affirms the faith of a Canaanite woman and heals her daughter
- 20:20-28 – Jesus responding to James and John’s mother’s request
- 26:6-13 – Jesus is anointed
- 28:1-10 – The resurrected Jesus appears to women
- 1:29-31 – Jesus heals Peter’s mother in law
- 3:31-25 – Jesus elevates women believers to sisterhood
- 5:21-24, 35-43 – Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter
- 5:25-34 – Jesus heals a woman with a bleeding disorder
- 7:24-30 – Jesus exorcises a girl at the request of her Gentile mother
- 12:41-44 – Jesus commends the widow’s offering
- 14:3-9 – Jesus is anointed
- 16:1-11 – Women witness the empty tomb and Jesus appears to Mary
- 4:38-39 – Jesus heals Peter’s mother in law
- 7:11-17 – Jesus raises a widow’s son from death
- 7:36-50 – Jesus is anointed by a woman
- 8:1-3 – Women named who are close followers of Jesus
- 8:19-21 – Jesus elevates women believers to sisterhood
- 8:40-42, 49-56 – Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter
- 8:43-48 – Jesus heals a woman with a bleeding disorder
- 10:38-42 – Jesus with Mary and Martha
- 11:27-28 – Jesus responds to a woman calling from the crowd
- 13:10-17 – Jesus heals a woman with a disability
- 21:1-4 – Jesus commends the widow’s offering
- 24:1-12 – Women witness the empty tomb and tell the apostles
- 2:1-12 – Jesus turns water into wine, after conversing with his mother
- 4:1-41 – Jesus and the Samaritan woman
- 8:1-11 – Jesus and the woman accused of adultery
- 11:1-4, 17-44 – Jesus interacting with Mary and Martha as he raises their brother Lazarus from death
- 12:1-8 – Jesus is anointed
- 19:25-27 – Jesus on the cross, interacting with his mother
- 20:11-18 – Resurrected Jesus reveals himself to Mary
A shared future
Imagine for a moment what our society, our communities, our streets would feel like if every believer lived in this way when interacting with women and girls. What would our country be like? What would happen? What would the future of girl children be like? How we all long for that day!
This is not a matter of simply pulling yourself together in some kind of religious discipline. Instead, it is a matter of fixing your gaze on Jesus, the one who has the power to change you from within. Look to Jesus as the one who will transform your heart and mind, overcoming years of socialization. Look to Him, as the One who is Love, to ignite a new self-sacrificing love for others. The radical, counter-cultural Jesus dwells within his followers, eager to demonstrate his love through them. Will you heed his call to be like him, relate like him and honour women around you?