Jesus on Women – Part 4

October 31, 2012

Jesus and Women v. Jewish Religious Authorities

The Jewish religious leaders frequently felt threatened by the popularity of Jesus and his refusal to defer to their authority. Twice when they challenged Jesus, he used references to women in his responses. On another couple of occasions, the compassion of Jesus toward women itself became the point of contention.

The Queen of the South (Matthew 12:38-42) 

Some Pharisees and teachers of the law challenged Jesus one day to show them a miraculous sign. Jesus offered only that he would spend “three days and three nights in the heart of the earth,” comparable to Jonah’s three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish. Then, he told them, 

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.  (see also Luke 11:29-32) 

This Queen of the South is a reference to the queen of Sheba in the Old Testament, who visited King Solomon (I Kings 10:1-10 and II Chronicles 9:1-9). Scripture says she came to test him with hard questions, which Solomon answered easily. 

She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on the throne of Israel. Because of the Lord’s eternal love forIsrael, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness.”

She seems to have possessed a great deal of wisdom herself.

Tax Collectors and Prostitutes (Matthew 21:23, 28-32)

On another occasion Jesus followed up on questions about his authority with a parable I remember hearing as a child back in Sunday school:

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered.

I don’t think my Sunday school teachers ever told us how Jesus concluded this parable, however. I guess it would have been a little awkward to explain to a 6-year-old …

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of  God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

One of those prostitutes who believed became the topic of conversation on another occasion… 

The Sinful Woman (Luke 7:36-50) 

Jesus was having dinner in the home of Simon, a Pharisee, when a local “woman who lived a sinful life” popped in, cried enough tears to get Jesus’ feet wet, then wiped his feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with perfume. Simon was appalled that a rabbi would allow such a woman to touch him. Jesus could tell what he was thinking, so he confronted his host with a parable:

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii [a couple of years’ wages], and the other fifty [a couple of months’ wages]. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Once again, the penitent prostitute comes off looking better in God’s eyes than the Pharisee did.

The Woman with an Infirmity (Luke 13:10-17)

Later in Luke, as Jesus was teaching one Sabbath, he noticed a woman so crippled she couldn’t straighten her back. He immediately called her forward and set her free from her infirmity. The synagogue leader couldn’t let this violation of the Sabbath tradition go, so he addressed his rebuke to the people:

“There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

We see that in every conversation with Jewish religious authorities in which women became a topic, Jesus portrayed the women as more worthy of admiration than his opponents. The case of the poor widow who gave her last two coins fits the pattern, too (see Part 3 of this series).

Next week, we will look at other general teachings of Jesus that mention women.

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