Feminists have often criticized various religions for their treatment of women. They are absolutely right. Illustrations of religious abuse of females can be pointed out in the United States and internationally.
What many feminists don’t know is that Jesus would have been one of feminists’ greatest allies.
Look at the culture in the Middle East where Jesus lived. Jewish rabbis began every temple meeting with the words, “Blessed art thou, O Lord, for thou has not made me a woman.” Women were excluded from religious life and rarely taught the Torah in privacy. Yet Jesus publically included many women as his disciples, infuriating the religious leaders. He taught crowds of men and women and healed and performed miracles for women as readily as for men.
Jesus also challenged their sexist social laws. At that time there was a law allowing a husband to divorce his wife over anything, for example, dinner not being prepared on time. Imagine the insecurity and cruelty that this law brought to women. And, as you might expect, a wife could never divorce her husband. Jesus however announced that both woman and man had the right to divorce the other, but only on the grounds of adultery, and even then divorce was certainly outside of how God designed marriage to be.
Another social law of their day required stoning to death any woman caught in adultery. The man had no penalty. Knowing how Jesus treated women with dignity, they wanted to know how Jesus would handle this. So one day several men dragged a woman before Jesus, whom they had caught in bed with a man, probably with a friend of theirs. And they challenged Jesus to consent to her stoning. They knew they had Jesus in a no-win situation. If he gave her mercy, he was a wimp and an enemy of their law. If Jesus stoned her, then so much for his uniquely respectful treatment of women, and his teaching about mercy and forgiveness.
Jesus responded by saying that the person in the crowd who had never sinned should be the first one to throw a stone at her. It was probably Jesus’ statement, but also his presence that affected the crowd. One by one they walked away. Jesus turned to the woman who was repentant and totally forgave her, as only God could.
Author Philip Yancey comments, “For women and other oppressed people, Jesus turned upside down the accepted wisdom of his day. According to biblical scholar Walter Wink, Jesus violated the mores of his time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels.”
It makes sense that it was women who loved him and stood at the cross of Jesus, when most of the male disciples fled for their lives. And it was women to whom Jesus first appeared after rising from the dead after his crucifixion. This is remarkable. Jesus’ resurrection was proof of all of Jesus’ statements in which he identified himself as equal to God.
Though women had little standing in that culture, and no religious authority as spokespersons, Jesus gave them the role of informing others of his resurrection. Why? Maybe Jesus wanted to solidify that it was for the sins of women and for men that he came to die. Maybe Jesus wanted women and men to know that he offers them complete forgiveness and can give them direction, peace, and eternal life.
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