The Woman Who Met Jesus
Having looked at length at some of the excuses we as women might have for not fulfilling our role in the Church and in missions, we will next begin to look at examples of women in Scripture who did fulfil their particular calling in their own time and we will begin by looking at some women who met Jesus and whose lives were changed because of it.
One of the things we might need to mention first of all is that Jesus ministered in a nation during a time when the role of the woman was very limited because, according to Jewish Tradition, a woman was not to be taught the Scriptures.
One example is that of Rabbi Eliezer who has said:
“Rather should the words of the Torah, the Old Testament, be burned than entrusted to a woman.”
In fact not only were women separated and silenced in the Synagogue and Temple, they were separated and silenced in their homes as well, not eating meals with their husbands when guests were present.
Some Rabbis carried this even further by saying:
“A man must not be served by a woman.”
One Jewish prayer, which is still being prayed today, is as follows:
“Praise be to God that He has not created me a Gentile.
Praise be to God that He has not created me a woman.
Praise be to God that He has not created me an ignorant man.”
With this background in mind we will now look at how Jesus treated women.
We will do this by studying some of the encounters that Jesus had with either an individual woman or a group of women as related to us in the Gospels.
Mary, Martha’s Sister
The first passage we’ll look at can be found in Luke 10:38-42 and is the story of Mary, the sister of Martha.
“As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to Him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what He said.
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.
She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.”
“Martha, Martha”, the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her.”
This is really a remarkable story for it draws a picture of a scene which at the time of Jesus was unknown. No respectable Rabbi would ever allow a woman to “sit at his feet”, meaning to be taught by him, to be a disciple of him. But this is exactly what Jesus allowed Mary, a woman, to do. Not only did He allow her to do so, He openly affirmed her choice saying she had made the best choice which would never be taken from her. He thereby recognised that she, as a woman, had the capacity and the right to choose wisely. This was completely contradictory to centuries of male domination and religious Tradition.
Furthermore, Mary’s sitting at the feet of Jesus caused her to have an understanding of Jesus’ role possibly beyond any other disciple, including the Twelve.
We can see that in John 12:1-8
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped His feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
But one of His disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray Him, objected,
“Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of My burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have Me.”
We see here Mary risking her very reputation by loosening her hair, for a woman’s hair was never to be worn loose in public. However, Mary was so focused on serving her Lord that she no longer cared about her dignity. All she could think of was giving Jesus, the One who was about to die for her, her very best.
By this action she prepared Jesus for His burial, an act Jesus fully understood at that time, while Mary very likely at least had some understanding of it due to the teachings she had received at His feet.
The Adulterous Woman
We will next look at John 8:3-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery
”The Teachers of the Law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery.
They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Jesus, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.
Now what do You say?” They were using this question as a trap in order to have a basis to accuse Him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with His finger.
When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them,”If any one of you is without sin let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.
Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they, has no-one condemned you?”
“No-one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
It is interesting to note that her partner in crime was not there to be accused since in fact both the man and the woman caught in adultery were to be stoned according to the Law of Moses.
Jesus, full of compassion, did not treat the woman as a man’s property which had been trespassed upon. At the same time He made it clear that she was personally responsible for sin in her life.
The Samaritan Woman
We will now look at John 4:4-42, the story of the Samaritan woman
“Now He had to go through Samaria. So He came to a town called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. And Jesus tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
When the Samaritan woman came down to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give Me a drink?” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.
The Samaritan woman said to Him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can You ask me for a drink?” For Jews did not associate with Samaritans.
Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.”
“Sir”, the woman said, “You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself as did his sons and his flocks and herds?”
Jesus answered, “Every one who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.
He told her, “Go call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband”, she replied.
Jesus said to her, “you are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir”, the woman said, “I can see You are a Prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is Jerusalem.”
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
You Samaritans worship what you do not know, we worship what we do know for salvation is from the Jews.
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.
God is spirit and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, "I know that Messiah, called Christ, is coming. When He comes He will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”
Just then the disciples returned and were surprised to find Him talking to a woman.
But no-one asked, “What do You want, or why are You talking with her?”
Then leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
They came out of the town and made their way towards him.
Meanwhile the disciples urged Him, “Rabbi, eat something”.
But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
Then His disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought Him food?”
“My food”, said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work. Do you not say, “Four months more and then the harvest”? I tell you , open your eyes and look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.
Thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour.”
Many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony :
“He told me everything I ever did.”
So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged Him to stay with them, and He stayed two days. And because of His words many more became believers.
They said to the woman,“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this Man really is the Saviour of the world.”
This Samaritan woman had not one thing against her, not two, but in fact had three things working against her:
She was of the wrong race. She was of the wrong gender. And she was living in sin.
No Jewish Rabbi would have looked at such a woman and of course would have never spoken to such a woman but we see here the Lord Jesus Christ, the Rabbi of Rabbis doing what no Teacher of the Law would ever consider doing; He talked to this woman who was considered an outcast in her own society and as such would have been avoided by anyone else of the town as we can see from the fact that she came to the well at mid-day, instead of later in the day when all the other women of the town would be there to collect water.
Moreover, in His conversation with her He revealed things about Himself He did not generally disclose the main issue that He was the Messiah they were looking for. This means that He must have believed that she as a woman, who was not even of the chosen Jewish race and who lived a sinful life, was able to grasp the meaning of what He taught her. He thereby entrusted to her a powerful message, which He no doubt intended for her to share with others.
This was in such stark contrast to whatever this woman would have known through the Traditions she had grown up with and would have liberated her to such an extent that she did indeed dare tell her story with amazing results. For as we have already read, the woman, having completely forgotten why she had come to the well, as we know from the words “leaving her jar at the well”, went back to the town and preached her very first sermon to the people of her town about her encounter with Jesus. As a result, John says, the people believed.
Afterwards, her words were confirmed by Jesus Himself.
We will also look at John 20:1-18, the story of Mary Magdalene
“Early, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put Him.”
So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there as well the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.
Finally the other disciple who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.
Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood outside the tomb crying.
As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb, and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away”, she said, “and I don’t know where they have put Him.” At this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus.
“Woman”, He said, “Why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”
Thinking He was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him and I will get Him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary”.
She turned towards Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni”, which means “Teacher”.
Jesus said, “Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to My brothers and tell them, “I am returning to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God.”
Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord," she said. And she told them that He had said these things to her.”
We do not know too much about Mary Magdalene but we know that she was a follower of Jesus.
Luke gives us some details of her in Luke 8:1-3
“After this time Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God.
The Twelve were with Him and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary called Magdalene from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna, the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”
She is also mentioned in Matthew 27:56
“Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for His needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.”
Because of what Jesus had done in her life, Mary Magdalene, no doubt, had become a devoted follower of Jesus. She had received His teachings but more than that she had received His personal caring attention when He delivered her from a number of demons.
It is obvious from the account in John 20 that she was totally devoted to the Lord. So much so that when the tomb was found empty and both Peter and John decided that there was no point in staying on, Mary still stayed on. She had nowhere else to go. Her life was about her Teacher, the One who had given her life, had given her hope, had given her dignity. And she was well rewarded for her patient devotion for she was the only one of the three whose eyes were opened to see the two angels.
Most importantly of course is the fact that she was the first person to see the Lord after His Resurrection. This in itself speaks a clear message that God values women.
The story reveals to us that this woman, the moment she recognised her Lord’s voice, had no difficulty in believing that the Lord, whose dead Body she had seen hung on the Cross, had come back to life. She did not question whether He really was the Lord. No, none of these things. She heard Him call her by her own name, and she instantly knew that this was her Lord, her Saviour. Though she did not know how He who had died, could have come back to life, there was no doubt in her mind that this was so.
The Lord then entrusted to her a most important message; the message of His Resurrection. Please note that He did not ask her to get anyone of the Twelve so that he could pass this message on to him. No, He entrusted this message to her, a woman, fully confident that she would be faithful to her assignment, which indeed she was.
The Crippled Woman
Another passage I would like for us to look at is the story of the crippled woman,
“On a Sabbath day Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.
When Jesus saw her, He called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.”
Then He put His hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the Synagogue Ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?
When He said this, all His opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things He was doing.”
This is truly a wonderful story of God’s compassion and grace. I particularly want to focus on the fact that Jesus called this woman “a daughter of Abraham” which had never been said of a woman. According to the Traditions, only circumcised men were part of the covenant and, as such, “sons of Abraham”. Women could only indirectly be part of the covenant through a husband or other male relatives. Jesus, however, makes it very clear here that women were as much part of the Covenant in their own right and had an equal share in its promises and its blessings as men.
From these accounts we can learn that Jesus valued women, gave them life, gave them hope, restored their dignity and sent them out to preach the Gospel.
The Woman Not Among the Twelve
It is true that Jesus did not include women in His team of the Twelve. This is most likely because Jesus knew that, though He had come as the Saviour of the world, His teaching and preaching ministry would only be to the Jewish nation, a nation steeped in Traditions beyond the Scriptures which, over time, had severely limited the role of women.
His choice of twelve men was very much with this nation in mind. I would like to add that they were twelve Jewish men, for neither men of Gentile descent nor women would have been accepted among the Jewish people, while the number twelve reflects the number of tribes of Israel.
What we see then is that Jesus was preparing the way for women to be fully engaged in the work of God’s Kingdom expecting this to be continued and to be expanded beyond what He Himself had already established.
Questions & Answers
1. Was a woman to be taught the Scriptures in the time of Jesus?
Answer: No, a woman was not to be taught the Scriptures in the time that Jesus was on earth.
2. Can you give an example of a Rabbi who taught that women were not to be taught the Scriptures?
Answer: Rabbi Eliezer has said, “Rather should the words of the Torah, the Old Testament be burned than entrusted to a woman.”
3. Can you quote a Jewish prayer that Jewish men prayed and still pray today?
Answer: The prayer is as follows, “Praise be to God that He has not created me a Gentile. Praise be to God that He has not created me a woman. Praise be to God that He has not created me an ignorant man.”
4. Did Jesus treat Mary, the sister of Martha as other Rabbis would in Luke 10:38-42 and John 12:1-8?
Answer: No, Jesus treated Mary with dignity who allowed her to sit at His feet, meaning to be taught by Him.
5. How did Jesus treat the woman caught in adultery in John 8:3-11?
Answer: Jesus treated her with great compassion and made it clear, at the same time, that she was personally responsible for the sin in her life.
6. Did Jesus treat the Samaritan woman as any other Rabbi would in John 4:4-42?
Answer: Jesus treated the Samaritan woman very different from any other Rabbi for Jewish Rabbis never spoke to a woman in public and they most certainly never spoke to a Samaritan woman. But Jesus spoke to this Samaritan woman and He revealed to her that He was the Messiah she was waiting for.
7. Did Jesus know he could entrust to Mary Magdalene the fact that He had risen from the dead in John 20:1-18? (Also read Luke 8:1-3 and Matthew 27:56)
Answer: Jesus knew Mary Magdalene as a very faithful follower who, with other women, had taken care of His needs and had not fled even when He had been crucified but had watched Him hanging on the Cross. Therefore, He was confident that she would be faithful to her assignment, which indeed she was.
8. Did Jesus show care and compassion for the crippled woman in Luke 13:10-17?
Answer: Jesus showed great compassion for the crippled woman. Moreover, He called her a “daughter of Abraham” making it thereby clear that women were as much part of the Covenant as men in their own right and had an equal share in its promises and blessings as men.
9. From these accounts what do we learn how Jesus viewed women?
Answer: We learn from these accounts that Jesus valued women, gave them life, gave them hope, restored their dignity and sent them out to preach the Gospel.
10. Why did Jesus not include women in His Team of Twelve disciples?
Answer: Jesus did not include women in His Team of Twelve disciples because He knew that, though He had come as the Saviour of the world, His teaching and preaching ministry would mainly be to the Jewish nation, a nation steeped in Traditions beyond the Scriptures which, over time, had severely limited the role of women. His choice of twelve men was very much with this nation in mind. I would like to add that they were twelve Jewish men, for neither Gentile men nor women would have been accepted among the Jewish people, while the number twelve reflects the number of tribes of Israel. What we see then is that Jesus was preparing the way for women to be fully engaged in the work of God’s Kingdom, expecting this to be continued and to be expanded beyond what He Himself had already established
Note: Please read the Bible passages that are quoted.