Jesus on Women – Part 2

October 11, 2012

Featuring Widows

In Part 1 of my series ” Jesus on Women” last week, we looked at several times in the Gospels when Jesus used women as the subjects of his parables and illustrations. Today, in Part 2 we will begin with one more parable of Jesus. It’s about a widow, which is a significant enough topic in scripture to focus on all by itself. We’ll be camping out mostly in the Gospel of Luke for this study.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

First, I just have to say that I find it funny that the NIV 2011 translators chose the phrase “come and attack me” in verse 5. The 1984 version says, “so she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming,” and the English Standard Version translates it, “so she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” This is a very determined lady, but I don’t think the message is that she will turn violent if she doesn’t get relief. That would put a whole different spin on the story’s point—although the vision of this judge fearing the widow’s attack does make me smile.

In the world of first-centuryPalestine, a woman without a man (husband, brother, father, or grown son) was usually a woman headed for poverty. Widows could easily find themselves in a vulnerable position—one in which they could be taken advantage of by people with more power and privilege.

I like that Jesus chose not just a woman but a widow as the subject of this story. Yet, even she was not totally powerless—her persistence paid off.

Luke speaks of widows throughout his Gospel, a theme he likely picked up from the Old Testament. From the first revelation of God’s will to the Israelites, he had insisted that his people notice and care for the needs of widows.  Check out some of these passages:

Exodus 22:22-24
Deuteronomy 14:28-29
Deuteronomy 24:17-22
Psalm 68:4-5
Psalm 146:9

Job cited his kindness to widows as one evidence of his righteousness (Job 29:13 and 31:16, 18).

In the Old Testament when God’s people stopped turning to him they often started exploiting defenseless people. See how God warns his unfaithful people in these books of prophecy:

Isaiah 1:16-17
Jeremiah 7:5-7

In Jesus’ day the Jews in Palestine had a fairly organized system for helping the poor in their communities, financed through the Temple tax in Jerusalem and through tithes collected in individual synagogues. Even then, poverty was not alleviated.

As you might guess, in a society where religious leaders saw prosperity as a sign of God’s favor and misfortune a sign of his displeasure, widows and other poor people might be looked on with pity, at best, or with moral superiority, at worst.  They were definitely not considered social equals.

As Luke wrote his Gospel, he seemed to key in on the way Jesus reflected God’s care of widows. He tells us that one widow’s life intersected very early on with Jesus’—on the day of his circumcision (Luke 2:36-38). Anna the prophetess gave thanks to God when she saw this child, because she knew that he was the one who would bring redemption of Jerusalem.

Early in his ministry, Jesus uses a story of a widow from the Old Testament (I Kings 17) in response to the skepticism he encountered inNazareth:

“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows inIsrael in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. (Luke 4:24-26)

This scriptural reference nearly got Jesus thrown off a cliff (4:28-30).

Two other statements Jesus made about widows are paired together, both in Luke and in Mark (12:38-44). Here’s Luke’s version:

While all the people were listening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 20:45-21:4)

I love that Jesus looked out for the widows as much as he did. He’s clearly disgusted by people who put on pious airs and then coldly exploit God’s beloved daughters. Then, he turns the tables and says that the poor widow with two measly coins is the one who is worthy of commendation— not the rich folks who dumped in wads of money. The victim becomes the heroine.

While we’re in Luke, there is one narrative story we should not neglect, because it’s so relevant.

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. (Luke 7:11-15)

Isn’t Jesus’ compassion for this grieving mother so beautiful?

In each of these references to widows in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sends a clear message:
God notices, God hears, and God cares for the women in this world who must make it on their own.

Later in the New Testament we learn that God still expects his people to follow his example:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
James 1:26-27

Check back next Thursday for Part 3 of the series! Subscribe here so you don’t miss a thing.

One response to “Jesus on Women – Part 2”

  1. Jeff P says:

    God notices, God hears, God cares…. Truer words have never been written. Great series, I am looking forward to more.

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