CONCEPT SEVEN: AFFIRMATION OF THE DIGNITY & EQUALITY OF WOMEN
© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2015
In his incarnation Jesus Christ also affirmed the essential dignity and equality of women, and in doing so intervened in this area of the curse that has, in the hands of sinners, caused immeasurable pain and suffering.
In the culture of Jesus’ day:
women were relegated to the ‘women’s court’ in the temple;
girls were generally excluded from education in the synagogue schools, where the great bulk of learning was the law of God;
Jewish men were forbidden to speak with women, even their own relatives, on the street;
the Jewish Talmud stated that it would be better for the words of the law to be burned than to be entrusted to a woman.
Quite apart from any inferior social status, the prevailing attitude to women excluded them from the more significant levels of worship of God and knowledge of God, and denied them immediate access to the Word of God, assuming a lesser intelligence, a lesser spirituality, and a lesser responsibility.
Jesus, in an extremely radical way, broke through these traditional attitudes and boundaries.
A. THE RECORDS OF THE CONCEPTION AND BIRTH OF JESUS AFFIRM WOMEN
A study of Galatians 4:4 and Luke 1:28, 30, 35, 42-45, 46-55 give us the understanding that woman is:
An essential component of God’s eternal plan of salvation.
The recipient of the Lord’s favour … with the responsibility and spirituality to live out the high calling inferred by that favour.
A person with whom God is present.
The recipient of special revelation … with the ability and spirituality to understand and be obedient to a theologically complex and radical message.
A person able to be used by the Spirit of God and protected by the power of God.
Blessed by God.
A person with great capabilities of faith.
A person who knows who God is - ‘my Saviour’, ‘the Mighty One’, ‘holy’, merciful, etc.
A person able to learn and remember the Scriptures, and apply them with quiet and simple trust to her present unexpected and socially threatening situation.
Although God did not ask Mary if she was willing to be his instrument for the incarnation of Jesus, the Gospel records give no impression that God treated her without respect to her personal being. God didn’t simply use her. God communicated with her; God recognized her valid fears; God explained the frightening details to her, in highly theological terms that assumed she knew both the Scriptures and God; God sought, and gained, the humble, trusting co-operation from her that he had anticipated. Later, having been greeted and blessed by Elizabeth, Mary burst into a song in praise of God, a song that reveals both her faith in God and her knowledge of God and his word.
The fact that God himself treated a woman this way should immediately make us hesitate to permit or affirm certain perceptions and attitudes that women have about themselves, and certain perceptions and attitudes that men hold towards women.
B. JESUS’ TEACHING ABOUT WOMEN CONFERS THEM WITH EQUALITY AND DIGNITY
Matthew 10:35-36: Here Jesus assumes that both men and women will be following him; that both men and women will be debating his claims; and both men and women will suffer for him.
Matthew 10:37: Mothers are mentioned alongside fathers, and daughters alongside sons, as vying for a person’s allegiance ahead of Christ.
Matthew 12:49-50: Jesus claims believing women as his ‘sister’ and ‘mother’.
Matthew 24:41: Jesus clearly knows that there are women who have understood, believed and obeyed.
Matthew 25:1-13 Lk 15:8-10; 18:1-8: Women are used as the focus of these parables.
C. JESUS’ ATTITUDE TO WOMEN RADICALLY REJECTS SOCIAL AND RELIGIOUS INEQUALITY
Mark 12:41-44 - A poor widow [even more despised than the average woman] is praised by Jesus.
Mark 14:6-9 - Jesus accepts, commends and immortalizes a woman’s costly act of love, rejecting the criticisms men made about her.
Luke 7:13,15 - Jesus’ compassion for a widow causes him to raise her son from the dead.
Luke 7:36-50 - Jesus, exposing a man’s lack of faith and love, affirms the faith & love of a repentant prostitute.
Luke 8:1-3; Matthew 27:55 - Jesus accepted the ministry of the many women who accompanied him and the Twelve. [Note that these women had control of their own finances.]
Luke 8:43-48 - When a ritually unclean woman touched him, Jesus ignored social and religious laws, spoke to her, and commended her faith.
Luke 10:38-42 - Jesus affirmed the rightness of a woman learning spiritual truths.
Luke 13:10-17 - Jesus made a woman’s well-being more important than the men’s interpretation of the Sabbath Law; for the woman’s sake he humiliated men; and he also called the woman ‘a daughter of Abraham’, identifying her faith.
Luke 21:23; 23:27-31 - Jesus expressed deep anguish for women during the days of judgement.
John 2:1-11 - Although Mary over-stepped her position, Jesus responded to her request.
John 4:1-42 - Jesus has a deep theological conversation with a sinful Samaritan woman, revealing his identity to her. She told the men of the town about him, and they believed. In this Jesus cut right across the ritual laws.
John 8:1-11 - Jesus, refusing to enforce the letter of the law, acted with compassion and forgiveness towards a woman caught in adultery; at the same time he exposed the sinfulness of the men who accused her.
John 11:23-27 - Jesus told Martha deep and ultimate truth about himself; she believed and understood that this truth was based on another deeper truth, and expressed also her belief in his divine identity.
John 11:32-35 - Jesus was deeply moved by and shared in Mary’s grief.
Matt 28:1-10 - Women were the first witnesses and the first messengers of Jesus’ resurrection.
In many of the above references Jesus’ treatment of and attitude to women is in direct conflict with the contemporary interpretation of the letter of the law. He was angered by the Pharisaic insistence on the letter of the law being kept. That, of course, is the easy way; to maintain the spirit of the law is far more difficult. In their insistence on maintaining what it perceives to be the letter of the law about women in the church, some sections of the contemporary church may be in danger of the accusation of Pharisaism.