Now it’s time to get down to business. I still think I lost some of you by focusing so much on the Old Testament. But I can’t – and I can’t emphasize this enough – emphasize this enough. We simply cannot disregard the Hebrew Scriptures. That’s the only Bible Jesus and the apostles had. That’s the only Bible the church had for hundreds of years of its existence. If we don’t examine the bulk of Scripture, we miss out on the amazing Story that unfolds – Creation, Fall, New Creation.
Jesus’ whole mission was to inaugurate the New Creation. It’s right there at his baptism – the voice of God, the light, the Spirit hovering over the waters. It’s there in the prayer Jesus taught his disciples – Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. It’s there in all the miracles and signs Jesus performed. It’s there most fully in the resurrection.
The apostles remind us about this, too. Paul tells us that if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come. Paul goes so far as to say, “The only thing that matters is the new creation.” John tells us that the whole reason Jesus came was to undo the work of the devil, i.e. the fallen creation. Peter reminds us that we are all now a new nation, a kingdom of priests.
Through Jesus, God is initiating his ultimate plan to restore Creation as it was intended to be.
From his very first sermon, Jesus calls attention to this fact. He reads Isaiah 61, tells the people that Isaiah is talking about him, and sits down. He reassures John the Baptist that he is in fact the one to come – the Servant of Isaiah 61, the son of Eve who would deal the death blow to the serpent – by pointing to all the ways he has begun to set things right again.
So what does this mean for the purposes of this discussion?
Jesus breaks all the social norms and taboos for male/female platonic relationships of his day. He restores dignity and value and honor to those most oppressed and sidelined by society – including women, children, foreigners, and the disabled. Let’s just take a quick bullet-point journey through the gospels to see how Jesus does this particularly with women.
-Jesus performs his first miracle at the behest of his mother. (John 2)
-The first person to hear the news that Jesus is the Messiah is the Samaritan woman he meets at Jacob’s Well. After a deep theological conversation with her (which stands in sharp contrast to the conversation he has with Nicodemus), he entrusts her with this news and she takes the message back to her whole community. (John 4)
-One of the few people Jesus commends for exhibiting great faith and understanding was the Syrophoenecian woman in Mark 7. She is also one of the only people to ever “get” one of Jesus’ parables in real time.
-In John 8 Jesus calls attention to the double-standard of sexual ethics of men and women. They want to stone a woman for committing adultery. Jesus points out that they are all sinners, too. And it’s glaringly obvious that they are holding this woman to a different standard because there is no man on trial. Jesus preserves her life and her dignity while calling out the hypocrisy of the men around them.
-Jesus allows a woman of questionable repute to anoint him with oil (Luke 7). This whole scene is shocking. But we often miss the point that this kind of anointing was typically only done by the priests. Jesus allowed her to worship however she chose without being silenced by the men at the table.
-When asked about the question of divorce, Jesus appeals to Genesis 1 and 2 (which is where I get my hermeneutical inspiration). God created male and female in his own image. Jesus reaffirms that it is the man who leaves his father and mother to be joined to his wife – counter to the patriarchal practices of the day. And he goes further to say that what God has joined should not be separated by man – the only one who could legally file for divorce.
-The woman with the bleeding issue had the guts to touch Jesus. She was healed because of her faith, and Jesus even called her “daughter” – the only woman to receive that kind of welcome from him.
-When Jesus was at the home of Mary and Martha, Martha assumed the traditional expectations of women by staying in the back of the house and preparing the meal for Jesus and his disciples (there were NO female rabbis or disciples in that day). But where was Mary? She was learning at the feet of Jesus. That’s why Martha was so upset. Mary wasn’t just skipping out on meal prep. She was breaking all sorts of norms by taking her place as a disciple among the men! And Jesus was totally cool with it. In fact, he got on to Martha for being so upset by it. Mary had made the right choice. She was fully welcome in a place that was reserved for men.
-Throughout Jesus’ ministry he and his disciples received financial support from wealthy women.
-Finally, let’s not forget that on the first day of the week it was the women who got to the empty tomb first. It was the women who were sent on the mission to report the good news of the resurrection to the men. Mary Magdalene was the first person to encounter, touch, and speak to the resurrected Christ.
I could go on. You cannot read through the gospels without noticing how prominently women are featured in the life and ministry of Jesus. And every time, Jesus is subverting some sort of cultural norm in a way that brings healing or respect or dignity to these women. There is a place at the table. Women are welcome in the kingdom as fully equal citizens alongside men – as it was at the garden, so it will be in the kingdom.