Strong on Women’s Rights
Against the Middle Eastern culture, here is how Jesus adamantly upheld women’s rights.
feminist perspectivesOften, religions have been criticized for their view of women. And they should be! You can easily find illustrations of religious abuse of females in the United States and internationally.
What many women don’t know is that Jesus was one of their greatest allies.
Jesus Christ lived 2,000 years ago, in today’s Israel. His perspective toward women ran entirely against his culture in the Middle East. There, women were sometimes treated as property more than as persons. And often, the woman’s role was confined to meeting the needs of her husband and children.
In terms of women’s rights, it wasn’t even a topic.
Jewish rabbis comfortably began every temple meeting with the words, “Blessed art thou, O Lord, for thou has not made me a woman.”
All women were excluded from public religious life. It was rare that women were taught the Torah, even in private.
Jewish law allowed a husband to divorce his wife for any reason. The wife had no legal rights to object, or to be cared for. The husband simply handed her a bill of divorce and she was sent away. Imagine the insecurity and cruelty that this law brought to women. And, of course, a wife could never divorce her husband, on any grounds.
In certain Arab countries even today, we see cultural and religious restrictions, where women are required to wear full or partial coverings. Women are not allowed to leave their home alone or with friends. They can only be in public with a proper male escort. Women are not allowed to drive. Or have any say in whether their husbands take other wives.
In contrast to the Middle East culture that viewed women rather dismissively, we see Jesus giving great honor to women. Constantly.
Jesus publicly included many women as his disciples. He taught crowds of both men and women. And he healed and performed miracles as readily for women, as for men.
Author Philip Yancey comments, “For women and other oppressed people, Jesus turned upside down the accepted wisdom of his day…. Jesus violated the mores of his time in every single encounter with women recorded in the four Gospels.”
Massive crowds followed Jesus, partly for his miracles, partly to hear him teach. His popularity, at the beginning, made it difficult for the religious authorities to know how to respond. So they came up with a plan.
They, and all the people, had heard Jesus’ teachings about love and kindness. The religious leaders thought they could capitalize on this, and trip him up in their laws.
One of their more severe laws against women required stoning to death any woman caught in adultery. So they instigated a mob and dragged a prostitute before Jesus, making her stand alone in the seething crowd ready to stone her. They said to Jesus:
“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”1
They had Jesus in a no-win situation. If he gave her mercy, he was condoning adultery and proved to be an enemy of their law. If Jesus stoned her, then so much for his uniquely respectful treatment of women, and all his teaching about mercy and forgiveness.
Here’s what happened.
Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.2
One by one they walked away, “beginning with the oldest” until it was only Jesus left with her. Jesus asked her,
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you, ” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”3
It makes sense that women who loved Jesus stood waiting at his cross while he died, when most of the male disciples fled for their lives.
Jesus so honored women that when he rose from the dead, he chose to appear first to women. This is remarkable. Women had such little standing in that culture that they had no religious or legal authority as spokespersons. Jesus gave them the role of being the very first to inform 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 also give them direction, peace, and eternal life.
In fact, Jesus proved this in a conversation he had with a woman who likely dealt with shame and constant criticism. She had been married (and divorced) five times. Can you imagine her humiliation to be rejected by five men? Jesus looked at the water she had drawn from the well and told her,
Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”4
This was always Jesus’ desire. That we would experience his life in us. Eternally.