Image by Diana Simumpande

Jesus' Attitude towards Women

Introduction

We are going to look at how Jesus treated the woman at the well and other women he knew.

But to really understand why we should take so much notice of this, why it should matter to us, we need to compare his behaviour to the attitudes and ideas of the society he was living in. Then we can see what he was teaching by his actions.

For example – if I were to walk across some grass, it wouldn’t mean anything. But if there’s big notice there saying, “Please keep off the grass” and then I walk across it, then I’m saying I don’t agree with the notice and I’m not going to be guided by it.

Don’t be too horrified at the quotes we’re going to look at – remember, this is what Jesus changed.

Teachings from the time of Jesus

“Women should have their own rooms and, as much as possible, stay in them.”

“Do not speak excessively with a woman lest this ultimately lead you to adultery.”

(So, basically, try and ignore that women exist.)

So what did Jesus do that demonstrated he was very much opposed to these ideas and attitudes?

Jesus spoke to the woman at the well. She’s a woman, she’s an outcast, a ‘sinner’ in the beliefs of the time, and a Samaritan. Three reasons for Jesus not to have spoken.

By speaking to her Jesus showed that he most certainly did not agree with these teachings about women. This woman is not the only one that we read about him talking to. He treats all human beings the same no matter what their gender or background. Women are not to be shut away. They are not to be ignored or take second place. They are to be included in everything he came to bring to humanity.

And he spoke to her about ‘living water’. That doesn’t make any sense unless he intended to give her an explanation. He must have been drawing her into conversation with the purpose of explaining. He wanted to teach her. He wanted her to have the living water. He wanted her to have eternal life.

We don’t read anywhere about Jesus talking to individual men and offering them his living water. He is making it quite clear that he considers women worthy of his time, his personal attention and his blessing.

“They shall burn the teachings of the Torah rather than convey them to women.”

(The Torah is first 5 books of bible. This could either mean that women are incapable of understanding or that they are so unclean that they would infect the scriptures through contact.)

What did Jesus do to show that he thought women well able to learn and understand and also worth teaching?

When this woman spoke about the difference between the beliefs of the Jews and her own people, Jesus took her question seriously and gave her the full answer. He didn’t consider her unworthy of hearing this truth nor unable to understand it. He didn’t think he was wasting his breath.

Given her life choices, she was unlikely to be very religious. She wouldn’t have been eagerly waiting for the Messiah. So why did she speak of the Messiah to Jesus? When Peter said that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus told Peter that it was the Holy Spirit who had revealed the truth to him – is it too much to think that this woman was also led by the Holy Spirit? There is no other occasion in the gospels where Jesus so plainly confirms who he is. After Peter’s revelation, he speaks of himself as the Christ to his disciples. But this woman just asks a question and Jesus clearly tells her – I am he. Many other people asked if he was the Messiah but he never confirmed it to them. So here is a woman, the only person apart from his own disciples, receiving Jesus’ own confirmation of who he is.

And there was another occasion when a woman called Mary came and sat at Jesus’ feet while he was teaching his disciples. When her sister challenged Jesus to tell Mary to go and help with the food preparation, Jesus refused. “Mary has chosen what is better,” he said, “and it will not be taken from her.”

Jesus was giving these women equal standing with his male disciples. They should be free to sit at his feet and receive from him all the fulness of his teaching.

So, according to Jesus, women should be taught everything men are taught and are equally capable of and worthy of receiving it. Here’s our next statement from 2000 years ago:

“From women let no evidence be accepted because of the lightness and rashness of their sex.”

(Women just can’t be trusted.)

How did Jesus show that he did not agree with this idea of women?

The woman at the well proved to be a very good witness. We read that many Samaritans believed because of what the woman said.

But on another occasion, Jesus totally blew away this teaching about women.

Peter was his chosen rock on whom the church would be built. John was the disciple whom Jesus loved. But on resurrection morning, Peter was alone in the tomb, John alone outside the tomb, then they joined up. Yet Jesus held back and didn’t reveal himself to them. He waited until Mary was alone. Then he revealed himself to her and told her to go and tell the others.

It must have been a deliberate choice – not Peter, not John but Mary. Of course, we must assume this had to do with the individuals themselves, perhaps the especial love Mary bore for Jesus, but the point we need to note is that the fact that Mary was a woman did not mean she took second place to the men. Jesus chose her because of who she was in her own right.

He chose a woman as the first witness to the most important event in history. Now that is a real statement.

Conclusion

We have seen that Jesus took time to speak to women, to teach women and chose a woman as the first witness to his resurrection. Let’s not forget that he also included women in the group who travelled around the country with him.

Of course, he only appointed male apostles. In those times, given the teaching that was believed back then, it would have been impossible to appoint women and for them to be accepted. Jesus never taught in words about the role and status of women but he taught volumes by the way he treated them. Actions speak louder than words.

We should take his actions and attitudes on board to fully accept the relationship he wants with us and the callings he has for us. Let’s not allow the attitudes of today’s society to hold any of us back. Jesus has shown that he considers you precious. So reject any other idea, hold on to his values about you as a woman. Ask yourself, who should I believe – my upbringing, the people around me, my life experiences or Jesus. Choose to believe him and be the woman he wants you to be.

Alison