Our Lord and Women
A look at what Jesus said and did as he taught, especially about and in relationship to women. And what do today’s women do to bring Jesus’ teachings into action?
At the core of the New Testament we find the kerygma: the proclamation of what Jesus Christ did. The confession that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah who died, was buried, rose again on the third day, and is seated at the right hand of the Father is not a theory or a philosophy. It is a truth that we, as Christians, hold close to our hearts. Therefore, we can say the kerygma continues to transform people and their environment. Jesus, as the Christ, is the cornerstone of this transformative event. Without a doubt, his words and deeds shaped a new culture, where the dignity of humans as sons and daughters of God is the foundation. Our Western civilization— with its ethical value system where women and men are an integral part of society—sprang from this certainty. Let’s go back in time to get a closer look at what Jesus said and did as he walked throughout Judea teaching, healing, and preaching, especially about and in relationship to women. At the same time, let us look at the twenty-first century to see how women have reacted to his teachings, to discover how women have interpreted those early experiences and made sense of them in a different kind of civilization. In short, let’s look at what women do in today’s society to bring Jesus’ teachings into action. When we go back in time, it is essential that we understand the circumstances of Israelite women living in the first century. Israelite women—as well as their fathers, husbands, and sons—were subjected to the laws given mostly in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, as interpreted by the Pharisees. Consequently, marriage and maternity dictated the status of Israelite women, as we find in the Gospel of Matthew, where the mother of James and John is referred to as “the mother of the sons of Zebedee” (Matthew 20:20).
The dominant social order placed male over female and preferred women at home, away from the social arena. This was the environment where Jesus preached and where his followers announced the kerygma. However, this is the crucial point: Jesus introduced his personal approach, which radically broke the landscape previously contemplated. He viewed women as people to whom he had come to proclaim the good news, heal broken hearts, and release from oppression (see Luke 4:18–19). He looked at women not in terms of a sexual category but simply as human beings. Therefore, when Jesus acknowledged that his disciples were all those who were doing the will of God, he included women and was, in a sense, proclaiming this novel picture of women. The personal and pastoral encounters that Jesus had with women have been replicated by his followers throughout twenty centuries. Given that Jesus was a teacher (rabbi), his teachings have been handed down from generation to generation, taken to heart by women all over the world. As an educator, he used multiple pedagogical resources, such as parables, where he continuously mentioned women. For instance, in his story of the widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8), a persistent woman faces an unscrupulous judge, teaching us the need to always pray and never give up. In today’s world, women pray in abbeys but also in households before putting their kids to bed, at dawn holding a cup of coffee, and at prayer services. Throughout the centuries, women have spoken to their young children about God and to God about their adult children. Prayer has been a constant form of communication between God and women. In another parable of Jesus, a woman took yeast and mixed it in three measures of wheat Jesus identified his disciples as those doing God’s will—including women—Pia Septien