Although I was going to write on a different topic, when I looked at my calendar and saw that this post would be uploaded on International Women’s Day (March 8th) I decided to focus my post on women, more specifically, on the worth of a woman. However, my hope in writing this post is not to encourage you to read Scripture from the lens of a woman of Jesus’ day. I won’t focus on the disparity of the roles or pay scales of women vs men in today’s society, although I will mention that currently 28% of the total student body at Calvin Theological Seminary is made up of women, with the ThM and PhD programs being skewed heavily towards men. I want to look instead at Jesus’ relationship with women in the Gospels. Being a woman is not a deficit. It is an honour and a blessing. I’m thankful that this latter sentiment is what Jesus displays in the Gospels. Let’s explore that further.
“An excellent woman [one who is spiritual, capable, intelligent, and virtuous], who is he who can find her? Her value is more precious than jewels and her worth is far above rubies or pearls.” Proverbs 31:10 AMP
Jesus was born into a culture where what you did and said were not a matter of being right or wrong, but instead would be the means to bring you either honour or shame. In the second century BC, Ben Sirach, a Hellenistic Jewish allegorist had some pretty strong thoughts on women. Among them was, “do not sit down with the women, for moth comes out of clothes, and a woman’s spite out of a woman. A man’s spite is preferable to a woman’s kindness. Women give rise to shame and reproach.”1 This theology travelled with a snowball effect over the next two hundred years up to the time of Jesus when women had long been placed on the shame end of the scale.
Enter Jesus. He came to turn things upside down. Or, was it right side up? Jesus takes the societal norms and shifts them on end (uncomfortably so for those who didn’t have the eyes or the heart to perceive or receive it). Jesus came restoring the original imago Dei in who a woman is, how He values her, and His posture toward her. There are multiple passages and themes that demonstrate that Jesus sees a woman as a human being worthy of love, respect and honour. These include the woman with the issue of bleeding (Lk 8:43–48), Mary with the alabaster jar (Lk 7:36-50), the woman at the well (John 4:4-42), Mary and Martha (Lk 10:38-42), among others. In each of these examples, Jesus brings a woman from a place of shame, and lifts her up, restoring her honour. He does this both publicly (as in the first two examples), and privately (as in the latter two passages I’ve listed). In each of these examples, we see Jesus defying Jewish tradition in that He taught and discipled women, spoke mercy to them (even to unclean and sinful women) and in the case of Mary and Jesus in the home of Simon the Pharisee, Jesus even upholds Mary as an example of proper Middle-Eastern hospitality, bringing shame upon the shoulders of Simon and showing grace and favour instead to Mary. I don’t have enough space in this short post to go into more detail than this here, but in resting with these various passages, it is an awe-some and beautiful thing that Jesus does for each of these women.
In addition to this, the first European convert to “the Way” was a woman, Lydia. Jesus’ band of disciples during His travels included both men and women, women were the first witnesses to the resurrection and it was a woman that Jesus first appeared to outside the tomb. In a culture where a woman wore a badge of shame, Jesus didn’t only care about women and love them, but He raised them up and restored their honour. The Gospels attest to this in the inclusion of these and other passages.
Jesus also often used gender pairing in His parables. This is found especially in the Gospel of Luke. Two examples of this pairing are found in the parable of the mustard seed (the seed was planted by a man) and the parable of the yeast (the yeast was used by a woman) in Luke 13:18-19, 20-21, and also in the parable of the lost sheep (the sheep was searched for by a male shepherd) and the parable of the lost coin (the coin was searched for by a woman) in Luke 15:3-7, 8-10. These are only two examples of several in which people, parables and points are gender paired. Luke’s Gospel highlights an important point in regards to gender, and that is that Jesus values, respects and honours (raises up) women, in and of themselves, and as equals with men. Ben Witherington observes that in Luke’s Gospel, men and women are shown as being equal recipients of God’s grace and equal participants in the community of Jesus’ followers.2
So, this begs me to ask: are women today living in a place of honour or of shame? Perhaps this question is a point of prayer in your own life or a conversation starter at your church or in your social circle. It’s not an easy question, and I don’t have an easy answer. This isn’t a question about the “right” or the “wrong” answer and it’s not about whether women belong in office, or in a leadership position within the Church. This question is about how we perceive, include, respect and value women. It is about how women have been treated through words, actions and unspoken intentions in the Church and in our society as a whole. If Jesus were living among us in the flesh in today’s Church and society what would He say? Where would He say our intentions lie? So, I venture to ask you again, are women today living in a place of honour or of shame? I’ll let you decide.
1. Bailey, Kenneth, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Cultural Studies In the Gospels. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008.
2. Mowczko, Marg, “Male-Female Pairs and Parallelism in Luke’s Gospel,” April 8, 2014. https://margmowczko.com/gendered-pairs-and-parallelism-in-lukes-gospel/
Jennifer Heidinga is a first-year MDiv distance student. She’s a wife and mom to two wonderful children in Ontario, Canada. She loves to sing and enjoys spending time with her family and springer spaniel in the great outdoors, including weeklong backcountry canoe trips in the summer.