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Jesus and Women

Jesus the Game Changer  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Jesus raised the profile of women showing that the way they are to follow Jesus is the same as any man.

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Today’s feminism

When we hear the word feminist today there can sometimes be a bit of cringing. It’s a word that gets thrown around so much that it can almost take on a life of its own.
At it’s best, feminism reaches out to women who have been unfairly treated, sometimes to the point of abuse, and gives them back their sense of worth.
At it’s worst, it redefines what it means to be female into what is essentially a power grab.
One of the things that has become apparent as we’ve gone through this series on the game changer is that quite often, secular society takes a beautiful ideal given to us by God, and turned it into something that while seemingly beautiful, turns ugly quite quickly.
We saw this with the notion of equality last week. Our Western culture has turned the notion of equality into something that ignores our differences. It suggests all ideas are equal. That to disagree with someone, or suggest that they don’t have access to something, shows a level of inequality.
Unfortunately, when all ideas are equal, you inevitably come upon conflicts in your own thinking.
But as we saw last week, equality is based on the knowledge that we have all been made in the image of God. This allows for differences while always acknowledging that everyone has worth.
Now in a similar way in which equality has been twisted in our modern culture, feminism also has a God given ideal which is sometimes twisted.
And so my purpose this morning is to explore this topic from the perspective of how Jesus dealt with women.
I’m going to explore it first from the perspective of what it was like in the days of Jesus, and following that I will attempt to see what that would look like for us today.

A passage about Jesus and women

Now what we find when we explore Jesus’ view on such things, there are not many, if any passages where his main teaching point is specifically about the fact that women are of value, that being said, as you read through the Gospels, it becomes quite evident the attitude Jesus took.
Take the first three verses of , where we see three women who we are told travelled with Jesus, and even supported him.
This in and of itself is quite remarkable. As I’ll discuss shortly, women were looked down upon and their worth only really extended to that of household duties. For Jesus to first attract women to his ministry, and for him to accept them as suitable followers and supporters, was actually very remarkable.
Take again the passage we find in when Jesus stops at a well and speaks with a Samaritan women. This one is probably on the level of scandalous, and yet Jesus recognised the inherent worth in this women.
Jesus healed an unclean women who had been bleeding for years - something which with the wisdom of the Jews he would have been better to stay well clear of.
In the town of Tyre of bothered to speak with the Syro-Phoenician women and healed her daughter.
Perhaps one of the most powerful encounters comes in when a women is about to be stoned and yet Jesus makes the powerful statement, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
The more you study the Gospels the more you realise that the attitude Jesus took towards women in general was completely at odds with the cultural attitude of the day.
And yet, as I came to prepare this message and looked for a passage that really encapsulates the change in focus on women found in Jesus, I struggled.
But yet, I chosen the passage I read earlier because despite some of those other powerful encounters I just alluded to, there is something truly remarkable in this one.
Now I’ll explore that shortly, but for the moment I want to point out that I actually don’t think the main point of the passage is to raise the profile of women.
So to be fair to the passage, I want to explore first how the passage fits into Luke’s gospel, and once I’ve done that, then come back and look more specifically about how it fits into the topic I want to explore, which is the attitude Jesus showed towards women.

Mary and Martha

Well, this morning before I consider the surrounding context, let’s dive straight into the action.
We start with Jesus and his disciples coming up to an unnamed village where a woman by the name of Martha opens up her home.
Now Martha comes from a culture where hospitality is a huge deal. If someone comes into your home you have to treat them well. And unless you had plenty of warning, the chances are, you would have a lot of work to do to be ready.
I’m sure many of you know the feeling when someone drops around unexpectedly and your house looks like a bomb shell.
Well, it would seem apparent that Martha wasn’t expecting Jesus and his disciples and so she goes into hyperdrive to get everything done.
You can imagine she would be quickly cleaning away the mess. I wonder if there was any throwing a blanket over a large pile of mess? More likely, she was also in the kitchen, quickly cooking up a few special dishes.
But in her mad rush to get it all done, she becomes increasingly irritated by a single fact - that fact is that her sister, Mary, had made a decision to not help at all.
Now, two of my daughters share a room and from time to time we ask them both to clean up their room. For any of you who have been in this sort of situation, I don’t think you’d be surprised to hear that it doesn’t take long before one of them starts complaining because the other isn’t helping.
Well, sometimes when it comes to adults, even though we think we’re more sophisticated, it doesn’t take much to move back into these sort of behaviours.
And this is what happens to Martha. She just can’t take it any more.
And so, probably knowing that Mary wouldn’t listen to her anyway, she goes straight to Jesus asking him if he would intervene and bring Mary to her senses so that she would start to help.
Of course, it doesn’t quite go the way Martha expects.
In a calm manner, Jesus addresses Martha, exhorting her to focus on what is important, and stating that it was in fact Mary who chose more wisely.
This story of course tends to evoke strong reactions when we read it - quite often, with a lot of sympathy for Martha. After all, isn’t hard work to be commended, and so why was the lazy sister commended.
Well this is where I want to briefly look at the main point that we get from this account, before we look at the aspect of Jesus attitude towards women.
So, quite often, when we want to figure out what’s going on in the Gospel accounts, it can be wise to see how it fits into the larger narrative in which it occurs.
On this occasion, we find this in what you might call the middle section of the Gospel. If we follow the general flow, what we see is that the first third essentially climaxes with the confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah - the chosen one of God that was foretold in the Old Testament.
And so, with this climax of finding out who Jesus is, the narrative then moves to think about what it means to follow Jesus. We see this at the end of chapter 9 where we get these little pictures of people who quickly find excuses why they can’t follow Jesus.
As we move into chapter 10, we start to see ways in which we can follow Jesus.
But then we come to this story of Mary and Martha, and what actually see how we should and how we should not be following Jesus.
The account makes it quite clear that Mary gives us the example of how we follow Jesus, and Martha is the one who has got it wrong.
You see, Mary realised that at that point in time, the most important thing was to be with God. Martha on the other hand, thought that she had to earn her favour.
Therefore the big lesson from this passage is that following Jesus is not about working hard, but about spending time with Jesus. That’s not to say hard work is bad - in fact, it is actually to be commended - but this is not what’s going to draw us close to God. The only thing that will do that is drawing close to God.

The Feminist view

Well, the passage I read was the story of Mary and Martha - a passage I dare say is familiar to most of you as it comes with some memorable images.
Well, now that we I’ve put the main point out there, what I want to focus on is another important aspect of what is happening here.
This is actually one of those passages that only occurs in Luke’s Gospel. As you probably know, Matthew, Mark and Luke share many of the same stories, but occasionally you get some which only occur in just one of them.
To understand this other aspect, it is important to understand how women were viewed in this day.
Well, when we get these stories, it is always useful to see the bigger picture of what is happening around it.

Women in the First Century

We can actually know quite a bit about this through many different sources, including various philosophers and historians of the time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for a pretty picture.
You see, the Gospel authors were not writing dispassionately, rather they were trying to prove a point. And so, quite often we can pick up things by the order in which they write it.
For those of you who are part of one of the mid-week groups, you would have seen the a number of experts discussing this.
Well, Luke’s Gospel, as with Matthew and Mark, have this half way climax in the Gospel whereby Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah - a massive ‘aha’ moment which clarifies the identity of Jesus.
Women in those days were essentially the possession of their husband. You had philosophers like Plato who once wrote that “women were inferior to men in every way; intellectually, physically and emotionally, and should be treated as such”.
From this point, starting at the end of chapter 9 and going all the way to Jesus entering Jerusalem in what we call Palm Sunday in chapter 19, the whole 10 or so chapters reads like one journey. Or at least it is set in this general direction.
It was generally the case that women were married to much older men while they were in their mid teens and had very little choice in who they married. Once married, they had few rights, and their biggest expectation was that they produced male offspring. They could be easily divorced with no recourse.
One of the early themes that Luke appears to follow in this section of his Gospel is this idea of the way. That includes a physical direction, as in, towards Jerusalem, but also in considering what is the general manner in which we follow this way.
In the instance a woman wanted to go to court, well, she couldn’t represent herself, but had to take a man with her as her testimony counted for nothing.
We see this particularly expressed in the end of chapter 9, where we get a number of little snippets of people who either want to follow Jesus or are asked to follow Jesus, and yet there is always something in their way preventing them.
If you thought that maybe the Jews were a bit better than their Roman counterparts, well, it history has noted that Jewish men were known to pray: “I thank you God that I was not born a gentile, a slave or a woman”.
Well, in this way we can see the story of Mary and Martha continuing this theme.
We could keep on going but hopefully you get the idea that women were not viewed highly viewed. And particularly relevant for our account today, a woman’s place was not in learning.
So with this background, let’s look at what actually happens.

Jesus thought women should learn

So, with that background in mind, now think about this account in view of the fact that it wasn’t two men but two women. In some ways, the point I took from it before, that is that it is not in works but in drawing close to God that we most benefit, that message could essentially equally apply no matter who it involved.
But with the story being about women, there is a very distinct message that women are expected to learn as well.
Just think what the original hearers of this gospel must have thought!
Somehow, while I maintained before that there is this bigger message about following Jesus, I daresay what would have really stuck in their mind is that Jesus is giving the same opportunity to women as he did to men.
At that time, I think most people would have thought that Martha was doing the right thing. What right did Mary, just a simple uneducated women, think she had by thinking that she could take the posture of learning.
Jesus didn’t just allow it, he told Martha that she had chosen poorly.
In the eyes of Jesus, he wants all of his followers to take a similar pose, whether male or female, or for that matter any other differences as well.

The broader implications

Being encouraged to learn has broader implications - implications that we see today when people are given an education.
You see, when you allow people to learn, you are empowering them. You are giving them a right to think for themselves. You are giving them hope that they can move beyond just the basic position that they are in.
In this very passage Jesus is giving women hope.

Application

Which brings us now to figuring out what the implications are for this today.

What I’m not going to talk about

Well, before I begin, let me just say that for this morning I’m not going to get into the issue of what roles are appropriate for women. There are lots of different opinions regarding whether it’s appropriate for women to be pastors, for example, or whether a wife should be equal in all respects to her husband, and if you want me to answer those questions, well, I’m not going to in this message, but I would be happy to offer my thought at another time.

Basic attitude

The broad application for us today, however, is that just like Jesus, we should not consider women to be in anyway second class citizens.
Now, I dare say that most, probably in fact all of us here today probably would think that they were totally on board with this. The problem is, for us men, there can often be subtle little ways that we are unaware of, where our actual attitudes can betray us.
You see, what tends to happen is that we love to stereotype everyone. Now in my experience, I would say that stereotypes are usually based on a bit of truth.
Take for example, women are more nurturing.
The problem then comes when we turn these stereotypes into negative judgements. For example, women become emotionally unstable.
These judgements can then subtly affect how we treat them.
While we might not recognise it, we can easily start treating them as if they aren’t quite on the same level.
But just look what Jesus is doing… He treats them like he does the men.

Equal but not the same

Now it is very important to clarify something here, and it’s a similar clarification that I made last week when discussing equality of all humans.
When I say Jesus treated the women like he did the men, and when I say they are equal, that does not mean they are the same.
The equality I’m talking about is their worth and dignity. There are differences and we would be foolish to ignore that.
At the very start I mentioned about feminism today, and I think this is the very trap that they can easily fall down. Women should be treated equally, and should not be looked down upon because of their gender, but to think they are the same as men, is to lose the distinctiveness that God has given them.

Ideas to think about

So what can we do to treat people with the dignity that Jesus gave them?
Well firstly, try to be conscious of your attitude. If you’re a married man, ask your wife if you are treating them like a second class citizen or not. Even if you’re not married, take the time to reflect on how you speak with women compared with how you speak with men.
A big way to treat women properly is to think about your language. Sometimes we can think the politically correct police go overboard, and while I think sometimes they do, at other times we would do well not to say things that put women down.
Saying things like - women always do that, can exacerbate some of the negative attitudes we have.
Another big one are jokes that we think are harmless. This can be a hard one for many of us because we know that our jokes are just jokes and that everyone should know that. But these jokes, even though subtle, can sometimes have powerful effects on how we view things.
I’m sure Jesus joked around with his friends, but I’m confident that those jokes wouldn’t have put people down or humiliated others. We can’t have them if we want to treat others with dignity.

Other countries

I’m sure that we could think of lots of other ways in which we can treat women better.
But before I finish I want to consider another aspect to all of this. You see, up till now, when thinking about contemporary culture has all been about our more immediate context.
However, there are many places around the world where women are explicitly stated as being second class citizens.
For those who did watch the video mid-week, one of the people they interviewed was Christine Caine who founded an organisation called A21 which aims to fix the problem of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is one of those problems that is all to easy to ignore because it’s so hidden from us, but it is a huge problem, even bigger than drug trafficking.
In most cases, the victims end up as sex slaves and are raped multiple times a day.
These sort of problems can seem like they are just too big and we can wonder what difference we can make.
While we might not be able to make a huge difference, by raising the profile of the world wide issue, we can stand with this women and declare that they too have the dignity and worth that God has given all of us. They are people that matter to God and so they matter to us.

Conclusion

Particularly once we start talking about the problems women face in other parts of the world, we see just how big this problem is.
To be honest, it is too big for us, but this is the great news - it is not too big for God.
While we will fail, God never will. He will always be there for women, and for everyone for that matter.
This morning, most of my application has been directed at the men, but this morning, for the women, know that while we will from time to time let you down, God is always there giving you the love you deserve. You are of great worth, not because of anything you have done, nor by the way you live, but because God has given you your worth.
Ultimately, Jesus did make a huge difference in this. He showed us what it meant to stand up for those who most needed it. He did not bow to the prevailing attitude of the time, but acted out what it should mean when both men and women are made in the image of God.
Let’s pray...
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