June 28, 2012
Jesus Christ, A True Friend of Women
It's a reasonable question. In many parts of the world, the lives and fortunes of women and girls are severely diminished because of gender. Options for education, literacy, physical health and wellness, freedom of speech and expression are often limited out of existence for women.
In many cultures, girls are sold into marriage as soon as (or before) they enter puberty. The worldwide human trafficking plague takes away or forever wounds the life possibilities for women in all countries. The United States and Canada are not exempt. How many of us would recognize someone who is a victim of trafficking?
Critics of Christianity have said God hates women, or that God has placed (through religion) women in a inferior status to men. Is this true?
In the Gospels, Jesus shows us how much God honors, values, and respects women and the well being of women. When in Matthew 19, Jesus' disciples asked Him if it was OK to divorce a wife for any reason, Jesus responded by making it clear that it was not. He didn't allow His followers to believe they could dump an unwanted wife for any or no reason at all. He said only because of the hardness in the hearts of humanity did God permit divorce. Jesus knew He was speaking to a society in which women did not have the option of choosing to leave their marriages. He knew He was speaking to a society where an unsupported woman had very few options for a decent life. He knew (and still knows) the human heart that often wants to run away from a commitment, unconcerned about the loss and pain left behind. He did not give the men listening to Him an easy out because He cared and cares for the women who would have been left behind. He made it very clear these men could not simply dump one unwanted wife to go in search of another woman and marry her.
When Jesus approached the Samaritan woman in John 4, He engaged her in a conversation because He was choosing her to share His identity and purpose with the people in that area. He also was going against the pattern of that time by speaking privately with a woman. If you doubt this, read the response of His disciples when they saw Him speaking to her:" Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” (Verse 27).
They were surprised because Jesus was doing something that just wasn't done. He spoke with this unnamed woman, despite the barriers separating them (she a Samaritan, He a Jew; she a woman, He a man and a rabbi) because Jesus always views us as human. He was aware of this woman's need for spiritual life and rebirth, and He also knew she would share His message with others. She did.
When Paul, an apostle of Jesus, tells women to be submissive to their husbands, he is speaking in a culture where women alone had no opportunity to support themselves, earn money honorably, or live and travel independently. At the same time, Paul also tells husbands to love their wives as Christ loves the church (unlimited love, constantly thinking and planning ahead for the welfare of the loved one, showing love in a constant, visible way, and being willing --if needed--to die for the object of that love). When these instructions are given, they are given only to followers. God does not give rules of marriage for people who are not His followers.
In so many other traditions, women have been reduced to the level of beasts of burden, workers, slaves, and objects. Jesus Christ is a true friend of women. In His earthly ministry and through His apostles, He showed and taught woman are fully and equally human, are worthy of protection, and were created to live and fully express the goodness and purpose of God in their lives.