Jesus on Women – Part 1 – New Six-Week Series

October 5, 2012

The Gospels are not filled with teachings about women, I’ll grant you that. You can read through a lot of crimson ink in your red-letter edition of the Gospels without finding a female reference. Clearly, Jesus and the four men who chronicled his ministry considered other messages to be of prime importance—like the coming kingdom and God’s true nature—so those topics received much broader coverage.

Yet women do show up in the Gospels from time to time. A survey of the ways Jesus spoke to and about women gives us important insights into God’s views of women and his expectations for us as valued disciples. If you’ve read any of my prior posts or heard me speak, you know that I have thoroughly (but not yet exhaustively!) explored Jesus’ interactions with women during his ministry.

I decided it was time to broaden my own horizons and look beyond what Jesus said to women and discover more of what he said about women. For six weeks beginning today, I’ll share with you some things I’m learning.

Women in His Story Illustrations

Jesus has often been called a master teacher, and one reason for that is the way he enriched his sermons with stories, parables, illustrations, and pointed questions. These techniques successfully connected spiritual truths with everyday situations familiar to his hearers. In many of the parables and illustrations Jesus used, men are the subjects, but he did take care to occasionally acknowledge the women in his audiences by including feminine subjects.

We’ll look at four of those instances today and leave a fifth example to next week’s post.

One day Jesus began speaking to a crowd on the lakeshore that eventually grew so large he had to get in a boat and push out a bit from shore. He began riffing at length on God’s kingdom, beginning with the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3 and using of a variety of parables and similitudes to describe kingdom characteristics:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…”
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field…”
“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls…”
“The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake…”

On this particular occasion, Matthew tells us, “Jesus…did not say anything to [the crowd] without using a parable.” (13:34) Right in the middle of these illustrations, though, he threw in one that would appeal to the experience of those who usually do the baking around the house:

“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
(Matthew 13:33)

Now, 60 pounds of flour is a lot! One commentary suggested it would have produced enough bread to feed a hundred people. That’s the salient point about the yeast, though. Baked dough without leavening is dense and hard and not worth eating. Believe me, I’ve tried it (after a failed attempt at breadmaking). A little bit of yeast, though, is all it takes to produce a major chemical transformation in the dough, and it changes everything. God’s kingdom can make that kind of difference when it spreads throughout a home, a neighborhood, an office, or a community.

An interesting note is that Luke includes only two of these brief kingdom illustrations, this one about the yeast and the one about the mustard seed. They are found in Luke 13, where Jesus uses them on a Sabbath day immediately after healing a physically disabled woman and being forced by the synagogue ruler to defend the timing of his compassionate act.

Luke included another parable with a woman as subject. Chapter 15 opens with this introduction:

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus proceeds then with a parable of a lost sheep, followed by a parable featuring a woman:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
(Luke 15:8-10)

Back in Matthew, Jesus was again on roll in Matthew 24-25, this time on the subject of the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age. Near the end of this discourse, Jesus told another parable describing the kingdom of heaven—one featuring women as subjects. Notice that just as with men, some of these women are wise and some of them are foolish.

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!” Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.” “No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”

But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!” “But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.
(Matthew 25:1-13)

John doesn’t record many of Jesus’ parables but on his last evening with his disciples, he sought to prepare them for his physical departure:

At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”
(John 16:17-18)

In the face of his disciples’ confusion and fear, Jesus turned to a common feminine experience to help them understand:

… Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.
(John 16:20-22)

This series about Jesus on Women will continue next Thursday, when we discover some other places where he included women in his teachings. Be sure to subscribe here and check back for Part 2!

I welcome your comments about these stories.

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