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Jesus and Expectations: Part 7- Women

Welcome to USAmerican evangelicalism. Show me your version of the Bible and I’ll tell you what you think about the role of women in ministry. Can you believe it has come to this?
This post cannot be an in-depth presentation of the role of women in ministry. I would encourage you to read Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible where Scot presents the biblical/theological issues at stake in the current evangelical serious (and at times silly) debate on the role of women in ministry. We live in amazing times when entire versions of the Bible are created to promote and preserve the views on this hot-button issue (the complementarian and egalitarian views).
Whatever the debate is today, it is undeniable that Jesus had very liberal views and relationships with women in his 1st century Jewish culture. Whatever his culture’s boundary markers were, he broke them. I will present three episodes of Jesus’ relationship to women.
First, Jesus talked publicly and theologically with a very questionable woman (John 4). While most Jews, including Jesus’ own disciples, saw the woman as a Samaritan, unclean, immoral and heretical, Jesus saw the woman at the well near Askar as a worshiper of his Father in spirit and in truth. Most of us see people as they are, Jesus sees them for who they may become. Good Jews were discouraged from talking to women, even their own wives, because it took away time from studying Torah. But to talk in a public place (the village well) with a dirty, degenerate half-breed in the noon-day sun was breaking every rule that directed the behaviors of nice Jewish men. Granted, Jesus did reveal to the woman that he knew all about her sin, yet he also revealed to this woman that he was, indeed, the long-awaited Messiah. The only person to whom Jesus revealed that truth privately to was this Samaritan woman. Without any Campus Crusade training or Evangelism Explosion seminars this woman leads her village to Christ. You tell me, did Jesus have a high or low view of this woman as a mass evangelist?
Second, in an act that was shockingly and culturally unacceptable, a woman with a serious, sinful reputation anoints Jesus with perfume while Jesus is in the home and at a meal with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7). When the woman let her hair loose in public, you can feel the air being sucked out of the room. That was an act suitable only for the bed-chamber. Simon took the act scandalously and Jesus took the act as a sign of grateful humility. Who was right? Jesus remained calm and accepting of the woman’s actions while Simon had an internal fit and reaches bad conclusions not only about the woman, but about Jesus himself.  To Simon, Jesus is one big fraud. And the woman sheer polluted evil incarnate. But the irony is that the biggest sinner in the room is Simon, the Scripture studying, rule-keeping Pharisee. The woman, in Jesus’ view, is the incarnation, not of evil, but of thankful love for sins forgiven. Did Jesus have a high, if not risky view of women?
Third, and similar to the episode above, is Mary anointing Jesus with myrrh just before his imminent death (Mark 14). This time it is not a pompous Pharisee castigating the woman, but Judas Iscariot and the other 11 disciples. They charged her with wreckless wasting of wealth, with money that could have been given to the poor. It is Judas who says this, perhaps to cover his own pilfering of the disciples’ money bag. Jesus immediately and strongly shuts down their accusations and interprets the meaning of Mary’s act. Jesus does much more. Jesus declares that wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, Mary and her act will be honored. Have you ever heard this story of Mary in any presentation of the Gospel? I have not. So much for obedience to Jesus on this one. We have so reduced the Gospel in USAmerican evangelism that it’s lucky that even Jesus is mentioned in it. It’s all about us and how to get to heaven from Grand Rapids, MI.  But the point is that the objecting disciple, Judas, in the next moment strikes a deal with the religious leaders to betray Jesus. We have the sacrificial devotion and sensitivity of Mary to Jesus’ approaching death contrasted with the man. The male. The head. The man, Judas, who hot-headedly yells at Mary and cold-heartedly kisses Jesus as a signal of money-grubbing betrayal.
Who fled like cowards when Jesus was arrested? Who denied Jesus? Who betrayed Jesus? The women?I don’t think so. It was men.
Jesus’ relationship to women did not follow the cultural scripts. Neither does the Gospel follow cultural scripts. The Gospel liberates women to their rightful place with their brothers in the work of the kingdom of God. Phoebe was a leader, a deacon. Junia was an outstanding apostle. Priscilla was an effective discipler of Apollos. Many other women were co-workers, not sub-workers, with Paul in the ministry of the Gospel. It all got started with Jesus.