Sisters in Christ – Part 2

January 21, 2013

Jesus and Sisters

Ladies, when is the last time you turned to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for guidance on building stronger connections with Madelyn, Maia, Lakeesha, and Joan?

In the past, I would never have expected to glean anything from the Gospels that would help strengthen my relationships with other women. Then I began a more in-depth study of Jesus. I discovered all the love, compassion, respect, and empowerment he offered to the women he encountered.

My first reaction was to apply it all to myself and just bask in the utter assurance that Jesus (and, by inference, God) valued me, too—even though I’m not a man! That’s awesome!

Right in the middle of feeling all warm and fuzzy and confident, though, a second truth hit me. Just as Jesus was the face of God, putting a human face on the Almighty, I’m supposed to be the face Jesus.

I am supposed to treat other women just as well as Jesus did.

Wow. Now I’m faced with a real challenge. One I’m still working on. One I’ll be encouraging you to work on throughout this series, Sisters in Christ.

First things first, though. Let’s talk about where Jesus set the bar. (Here’s one example from Gospel of John the Film.)

Jesus and Women in Need

The Gospels tell us about Jesus meeting up with a variety of women during his ministry who endured physical, mental, and emotional pain. Even though Jesus was a busy man on a three-year mission, he noticed women and their needs.

From the widow of Nain who had lost her only son to the crippled woman quietly doubled over at the back of a synagogue to the desperate, chronically bleeding woman who stole his power with a touch of his hem to Mary, sister of Martha, weeping over their brother’s untimely death.

Yes, Jesus noticed women. He stopped what he was doing to listen to them, as if their needs mattered to him, and he never relegated them to silence.

He healed them too—lots of them—women who were diseased, disabled, demon-possessed, and dead. Even the women who were outsiders, foreigners like the Samaritan woman at the well and the Gentile women near Tyre, merited his attention. As a matter of fact, his recorded conversation with the Samaritan woman is the longest dialog in the Gospels. And the Gentile mother was the only woman the Gospel record who spoke to Jesus before being spoken to first. He allowed her to have the upper hand in their repartee and then marveled at her great faith.

Jesus and Women Struggling with Sin 

Can you name any men in the Gospels who were labeled as sexually immoral? No? That’s because there are none! Now, name a sexually immoral woman. 

I can think of three of them: the woman caught in adultery, the Samaritan woman who was co-habitating, and the “woman who had lived a sinful life” (likely a euphemism for “prostitute”). 

The context of these stories assures us that men, especially pious men, had no mercy on these women. Yet, here’s what I see about the way Jesus treated them: He did not permit the Pharisees to harm the woman caught in adultery or to be cruel to the prostitute weeping at his feet. He himself did not scold, shame, or rebuke these women—even though under Jewish law they really had sinned. He acknowledged their behavior but refrained from condemning them. 

Jesus clearly did not equate their particular brand of sin with diminished human worth. He never labeled them with ugly names associated with their sin—like “slut” or worse words we call women whose behavior we disapprove of. 

Describing both the sexual history of these women and how Jesus responded to them conveyed a hugely important point about the full extent of the Good News for women that couldn’t have been made any other way.  

Jesus and Women Following Him 

The Gospels writers give us only clues and snippets of detail about the women among Jesus’ disciples, but they were definitely there: 

Jesus began a tour of the nearby towns and villages, preaching and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom of God. He took his twelve disciples with him, along with some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases. Among them were Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s business manager; Susanna; and many others who were contributing their own resources to support Jesus and his disciples. (Luke 8:1-3) 

In John, these women are never mentioned at all. In Matthew and Mark, even though they had clearly been there all along, they are not mentioned until the crucifixion, when their presence was no longer overshadowed by the males:

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome.In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. (Mark 15:40-41) 

Jesus evidently welcomed these women into his ministry—married or not, mothers or not—and allowed them to contribute their skills and their resources. A review of his teachings shows that as he taught he frequently acknowledged the presence of women among his audiences. He then rewarded the unwavering devotion of these women by giving them a starring role in the climactic moment of his story. They were the first witnesses of the empty tomb (if not them, then who would have noticed?) and the first proclaimers of resurrection! 

The relationship of Jesus with two other female disciples cannot be ignored, the sisters Mary and Martha (also not married) who hosted Him in their home. We know of two specific instances when Jesus defended Mary from other disciples who criticized her unconventional behavior. He also related to both Mary (Luke 10) and Martha (John 11) as a friend and teacher who respected their intellectual capabilities to engage in theological conversation. 

I’ll give you some time to ponder these facts about Jesus and how they might inform our own relationships with other women. I welcome your thoughts and questions.

Next week, I’ll share what I have learned and how I have been challenged to grow. 

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