I am going to preface this with a reflection on the media coverage of the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Several commentators rightfully bemoaned the Talban’s record on women’s rights. But what got my attention was one comment on social media that said Christianity is no better in that regard.
Since my planned message was going to focus on 4 Biblical women and their examples, I felt moved to address this topic first before proceeding to the main message.
Is Christianity anti–female? Some argue that Eve being made “from Adam” as a helper shows subservience. Let’s examine that. The English says God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and God took one of Adam’s ribs and fashioned a “help meet for him.”
A better reading is that rather than rib, it should be seen a “flesh of his side.” Note not flesh of his heel that he rule over her, not skin of his head that she reign over him; but flesh of his side that they might be equals, standing side by side. She was a companion, not a slave.
Some Christian traditions move beyond this and say that priesthood is male. John Paul II once said that when the priesthood was established on the night Jesus was betrayed, only Jesus and the apostles were present. But is we read John’s account it is not only the mission of evangelism that is established in that meeting, but communion. Does this suggest that only men can partake of the bread and wine? Few if any would say so.
In fact, the first person to ever proclaim the full gospel of the resurrected Christ was not one of the Twelve, but Mary Magdalene.
Let’s look at the Second Temple period for a moment. After the close of Malachi, a number of rabbinic writings and prayers became common. One of these is known as the three blessings. Jewish as part of morning prayers thank God for the new day, and that they are not Gentiles, slaves, or women. This reinforces the often-cited misconception of Eve’s daughter’s lesser status. But as we have seen this is not a Biblical principle.
Jesus’ ministry also shows and acceptance of women. In His parables he uses women as key actors (See the Lost coin: Luke 15:8 – 10, the Parable of the Yeast: Matthew 13:33, and the Ten Virgins of Matthew 25:1-13).
We can also note that Jesus’ teaching in the Temple were by their context in the outer courts where women and men could both hear his message (note the Widow’s Mite). His public teaching as well was in homes where Mary and Martha were both called to listen, and on hillsides where men, women, and children could hear Him.
But if we look at Jesus’ ministry, we see that He treated woman in unexpected ways for His time –
It is now that I will note not His parables but His actual interactions, and what the women in these accounts can tell us about our main theme of “What are you searching for?”
I: Woman at Well – didn’t know what she was looking for or needed.
John 4 tells us of Jesus’ interaction with a Samaritan woman. Their dialogue is one of mutual give and take, and she questions his request for water from her. She is a Samaritan and a woman (remember the 3 blessings prayer). He then reveals knowledge of her life, and she tries to deflect only to come to see what she is in need of. Her life had been irregular if not outwardly sinful. She had been seeking the wrong things, much as the majority of humanity does. See Romans 1: 35 where people look for the wrong things and worship the created or our own desires (like the woman and her multiple husbands did).
Jesus’ response in another passage reminds us (Matthew 6:33) to “Seek first the kingdom of God. . . and all other things will be given to us).
Many of us need to learn that lesson and turn our focus to Him and His righteousness.
II: Woman with issue of blood Matthew 9:20–22, Mark 5:25–34, Luke 8:43–48 is another human type. This woman was afraid to ask. She had suffered a bleed for 12 years, and the doctors couldn’t help her. She knew (unlike the Samaritan woman) what she needed but couldn’t bring herself to ask. She secretly touched Jesus’ garment and her act of faith after being confronted compassionately by Him led to her healing.
Jesus’ teachings on this can be summed up in – Matthew 7: 7-8, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
Are we prepared to ask?
III: Mary – who we have already noted as the first preacher of the Gospel, was looking in the wrong places. She had witnessed the crucifixion and the burial, and when the first day of the week arrived went to finish the burial process. She had not understood Jesus’ words that the temple would be restored in three days.
We too get caught up in traditions, religiosity, or our own plans. In Matthew 28, Mary goes to the tomb to seek a dead Jesus only to be told by the angelic figure, “He is not here He is risen (verse 28).
Don’t get waylaid by those things that blur our focus on the risen Lord!
IV: Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28)
This woman’s child has unclean spirits assailing her. Though a Gentile and a woman she approaches Jesus. She is initially rebuffed being told that Jesus has come the feed the children of Israel.
But shecontinued to seek what was beyond her reach or hope.
Are we any different? Remember “All have sinned and fallen short;” “None righteous no not one,”
She therefore stands her ground. She notes that the dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.
Jesus recognises her faith and commends it. We too should not get caught up in our unworthiness, but trust in His mercy.
“While we were yet sinners” He came to seek us (Romans 5:8)!
Do we know what we are looking for? Are we afraid to ask? Do we sometimes look in the wrong places? Are we trying to perfect ourselves? Or do we accept our own limitations and despite them seek the kingdom and His righteousness?
I challenge you to know where your focus should lie. I encourage you to ask, praying without ceasing for what you need. I remind you to look to God, not to religion or yourself.
We should be like the Syrophoenician woman. He is here for us.