In the church we have a good appreciation of what Jesus did for us, but we don’t really understand all he did for women. If we did, you can be sure we would treat them better than we do.
In my last article in this series, I introduced the idea that Jesus empowered women. In this article I want to highlight two radical things Jesus did for women: he spoke to them and he defended them. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but it should be. Men, if your mother, wife, and daughters get the respect they deserve, you can thank Jesus. Ladies, if you are treated with decency, give all credit to the Lord. Because he was the first.
Jesus spoke to women
When the disciples found Jesus chatting with the woman at the well, they were astonished (John 4:27). This was because in Biblical times, as in some societies today, women were not supposed to talk to men who weren’t their husbands. It was a bad look, suggestive of an inappropriate relationship.
The Jewish Sages discouraged women from talking to men (“you’ll look like an adulterer”) and they discouraged men from talking to women (“you’ll go to hell”). Yes, they actually said you could “inherit Gehenna” or go to hell for talking to a woman.
Thankfully, Jesus ignored the rabbis and their rules, and he spoke to any woman who wanted to speak to him.
The Jews would’ve been shocked by this. Not only did Jesus treat women with dignity, but he spoke to the very worst sort of women – foreign women, an unclean woman with a haemorrhage, and a woman caught in adultery.
He not only spoke to them, but he physically touched them (Matt. 8:15, Mark 5:41, Luke 13:13) and befriended them. His affection for the sisters Mary and Martha was no secret (John 11:5). When the woman with the alabaster jar poured perfume over his feet, he didn’t recoil in horror but he allowed her to minister to him and then praised her for doing so.
On one occasion Jesus was teaching in a synagogue and he saw a woman who had been bent double for eighteen years. This woman would’ve been sitting with the other women behind a mechitzah or divider, but Jesus saw her. He called her to him. “Woman, come forward.” He invited the woman to step past the manmade barrier and draw near to him. She came forward, he laid hands on her and freed her from her sickness. The crippled woman stood up straight and praised God (Luke 13:10-13).
It’s a small story yet it gives us a wonderful insight into Christ’s heart for humanity. He calls all of us, especially women, to step out from behind whatever barriers have been placed between us and him. Do this, and the result will be joy for us and a hostile reaction from those who built the barriers.
Jesus defended women
After the crippled woman was healed in the synagogue she let loose with praises to God. She whooped and shouted and cried tears of joy. Eighteen long years of bondage had come to an end. By the grace of God she was whole! Those who knew shouted for joy with her. Perhaps Jesus took her by the hand and danced with her around the platform.
What a disgrace!
At least that’s what the synagogue ruler thought. He was indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath. But he was also a coward, for instead of confronting Jesus, he rebuked the poor woman. “There are six days for work, so come and be healed on those days and not the Sabbath” (Luke 13:14). With his frown the party was over. The woman stopped dancing. Her friends sheepishly took their seats.
But Jesus was having none of it.
He got right back in the man’s face and accused him of the worst thing a religious man can be accused of – hypocrisy. “Don’t you untie your donkeys and lead them to water on the Sabbath? Is that not work?”
The ruler wanted to put the woman back behind the barrier, but Jesus set her free with irrefutable wisdom. “Satan kept this woman bound for eighteen years. If you see fit to untie your donkeys, should not this daughter of Abraham have been released from her bonds on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16). Ashamed of himself, the man had nothing to say.
Whenever Jesus encountered women who were being bullied or oppressed, he stood up for them. He warned people against looking at women with lustful eyes (Matt. 5:27-28). He put himself between angry men and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:3-11). He defended the sinful woman who anointed him with perfume (Luke 7:37-48).
When Mary stepped out from her place in the kitchen to sit at his feet, he commended her choice (Luke 10:42). When the woman with the issue of blood went out in public and violated all the commands regarding ceremonial cleanness, Jesus did not condemn her for her ritual impurity. He called her “daughter” and sent her away in peace (Luke 8:48).
Long before medieval knights developed their chivalric code, Jesus showed men how to protect the weak and defend women.
If your workplace or church does not treat women fairly, the remedy is to look to Jesus who showed the way. Jesus treated women as friends. He loved them, cared for them, and elevated them.
Jesus was the original champion of women.
More articles about “Women in the Church.”