Imagine having no rights. No right to control your own property. No right to give a testimony in court. No right to speak to a man in public…if you are even allowed in public! No right to an education or a religious opinion. No right to have conversation with male guests in your own home.
You might have heard of a few countries where these practices still exist. However, the scenario I just presented did NOT come from research about current events. It came from my research into Jewish culture in Jesus’ day. A woman living in Jesus’ time had few, if any, rights. They were seen as property, as less than men. And if the Jewish women didn’t have it bad enough, the Jewish men viewed the Gentile women as even further below them.
It’s hard for my educated, modern-American mind to grasp the inequality! The Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures considered women as insignificant. Yet Jesus challenged their tightly-held traditions. He crossed the taboo boundaries to show women that they WERE significant.
When we read the Gospels through the eyes of American culture, Jesus’ interactions with women don’t seem revolutionary. BUT THEY WERE! He promoted the importance of women like no other!
Let’s look at just a few examples of how Jesus overturned traditional views of women…
A woman had no right to speak to a man in public.
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”John 4:7-10 ESV
Jesus broke two traditions here. He not only carried on a lengthy conversation with a woman, he also conversed with a non-Jew! (Samaritans were considered half-Jews who sold out to marry with other nations.) Imagine the shock and horror on His disciples’ faces when he initiated this conversation. I wonder if this spectacle drew a crowd. I wonder if the woman’s heart was pounding as this respectable Jewish man actually showed her compassion!
So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.
“John 4:28-30 ESV
A woman had no right to an education or intellectual conversation with men.
The story of Mary and Martha takes on a whole different meaning when viewed according to the Jewish traditions of the day. The women were expected to serve the food and then “disappear” to eat in their own dining area with the other women. They were not allowed to dine and converse with the male guests.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42 ESV
At first glance, Martha seems to be worried about getting help in the kitchen. But in light of her culture, there is another meaning just below the surface. Martha wasn’t just concerned about Mary being lazy. She was very possibly terrified that Mary’s reputation would suffer for learning under a Rabbi like a man would. How would Martha show her face in public after this unconventional display?
Mary’s behavior was actually quite shocking! She loved Jesus so much that she risked her reputation and her sister’s wrath to sit at his feet. She surrendered her traditional views in exchange for the life-giving truth Jesus taught. (Are we that brave?)
In return, Jesus confirmed that Mary did, in fact, have the right to learn at his feet. He said she had chosen a good thing. He said that it “will not be taken away from her.” He confirmed Mary in a loving, compassionate way. The Creator Himself proclaimed that women do have the right to learn deeper truths about God.
There are many more examples of Jesus bringing women out of oppression. We will discuss them later.
Meanwhile, consider this:
- Cultural traditions do NOT equal truth. Even the most religious people in our day might not get everything right. We must search for the Source of Truth ourselves to avoid confusing tradition with truth. The truth will set us free from false expectations!
- Jesus brings freedom. The more we know Jesus, the more we are released from the chains of tradition and falsehood.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them,”Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”Luke 4:17-21 ESV
Whether you feel bound by your gender, your race, or your demographics, Jesus alone offers freedom and hope. He alone can rip off the chains of falsehood that keep us bound to man-made traditions. As we learn what GOD says about our roles as women, we will find freedom to be who He created us to be.
Let’s explore truth together!
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