How Jesus treated women

Woman and man—created equally in the image of God? Palestine at the time of Jesus was a patriarchally defined world. Nevertheless, the evangelists record multiple occasions when Jesus made women to be His witnesses and messengers. Let’s review the record.

Mary, the mother of Jesus: when the twelve-year-old Jesus declared He was to be in the house of His Father, she did not understand His statement, but kept His words and moved them in her heart. Although Jesus often pointed out that it was not His physical, biological relatives that comprised His family, but rather those who did the will of God, He nevertheless entrusted Mary to the care of John as He hung from the cross. At the wedding in Cana, Jesus did not yet want to reveal Himself, but Mary still told the servants: “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

The widow of Nain: when her only son was carried out dead through the city gate, she aroused Jesus’ sympathy. He touched the coffin and brought the boy back to life.

The Samaritan woman: at Jacob’s well, Jesus revealed Himself to her as the Messiah. She talked about this encounter in the city. Afterwards, many of the Samaritans from that city came to believe in Him because of the woman’s testimony.

Peter’s mother-in-law: together with the first disciples, Jesus went to the house of Simon (Peter) and the latter’s brother. Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. Jesus took her by the hand, whereupon the fever disappeared and she served Him.

The woman who been suffering from severe bleeding: she had been sick for twelve years. She had spent all that she possessed on physicians, but nothing had helped her. In order to be healed, she came up to Jesus and touched the hem of His garment—and immediately the flow of blood stopped. Jesus turned to her, saw her, and said, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace!”

The daughter of Jairus: the girl of about twelve years of age had just died. Her father went to Jesus and asked Him to bring her back to life. Jesus told her: “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”

The adulteress: the Pharisees brought the woman to Jesus and referred Him to the Law of Moses, according to which this woman was to be stoned to death. “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first,” said Jesus. One after another, the accusers disappeared. Then Jesus asked her: “Has no one condemned you?” She replied, “No one, Lord.” Jesus responded: “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

The woman with the spirit of infirmity: while Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath, He saw this woman who had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not raise herself up. Jesus called her to Himself and said, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”

A nameless woman in the crowd: after Jesus had driven out an evil spirit, she praised Him with the words: “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You.” Jesus replied: “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

The Syrophoenician woman: a Greek heathen woman with great faith asked Jesus to free her daughter from an evil spirit. He answered her by saying that He had only been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When she persisted, Jesus went even further: “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Nevertheless she insisted: “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus’ replied: “Great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.”

The sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet: while Jesus was in Bethany, a woman (in the gospel of John it is Mary, the sister of Martha) anoints His head (or feet, respectively) with costly oil. The other people present were outraged over this extravagance. But Jesus explained that this was a foreshadowing of His burial, and that people would remember this woman for her actions. Luke writes of a sinful woman who anointed Jesus. Jesus’ response was: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

The widow: Jesus observed the people putting money into the treasury. A widow contributed two mites. Jesus said that this poor widow had put more into the treasury than everyone else—she had given all that she had, “her whole livelihood”.

Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee: she asked Jesus to allow her two sons to sit at His right and left in His kingdom. Jesus’ answer: “You do not know what you ask.”

Female disciples of Jesus: Jesus travelled through the land and preached the kingdom of God. He was accompanied by the twelve, as well as certain women: Mary of Magdala, from whom He had driven out seven evil spirits, Joanna, the wife of Chuza, who was Herod’s steward, and Susanna, “and many others who provided for Him from their substance”.

The women on the way to Golgotha: when they wept over Him, Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!’”

The women at the tomb: each of the four gospels feature different women who followed Jesus to the cross and later to the tomb in various groups, to whom He also appeared on Easter Sunday. Among them were Mary, the mother of James and Joseph; Salome; Mary, the mother of James the Less and of Joses; Mary the mother of Jesus; the sister of His mother, Mary; the wife of Clopas; and Joanna.

Mary of Magdala: all four evangelists mention this woman, the first to whom the risen Jesus appeared. He said to her, “Go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’”

Women as witnesses and proclaimers of Jesus’ message—that is how they are portrayed in this article, which originally appeared in spirit, issue 02/2018. Did the early church stay on this pathway? The answer to this question will be answered in the next article in this series.

Photo: Felix Pergande

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Andrea Schnizer