ONE OF the reasons Jesus was crucified came about because of his attitude to women.
Positive, accepting and equal relationships which enabled them to share with him their inner hopes and desires.
Take for example the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan lady he met at the well of Sychar.
She of course was amazed that a male and a foreign one at that, would initiate a conversation about water and its need at a well in the middle of the day; they both realised that her presence there alone said much about her reputation amongst other village women.
Jesus gradually enabled her to understand that the most important water or fountain in life was the presence of God dwelling in her from the moment of conception.
In their short sharing time, she was to learn that being Samaritan or Jew, man or woman or stumbling through many relationships all take on different perspectives when there is recognition of the spirit of God dwelling in our being.
The woman returns to her village with such relief and freedom that her ponderings about this man’s statement declaring messiahship calls forth others in belief.
There are many other times in the Gospels when Jesus relates with women in a similar mode to the men he communicated with about the importance of the gift of life.
At Nain he steps forward to comfort a widow who was about to bury her son, lays healing hands on a woman in the Temple and cures an eighteen-year illness while referring to her as a “daughter of Abraham”.
The woman caught in adultery receives compassion and truthfulness, while the lady suffering for years with the issue of blood discovers while touching his cloak healing and paternal encouragement, acknowledgement of her faith and a prayer of peace.
Jesus’ compassion, dialogue and interested listening led to scandal and the challenge of contemporary customs and values — and hence helped contributed to his death.
How and why?
Society in his time was extremely patriarchal.
Men prayed in thanksgiving because they weren’t born a woman, while woman shouldn’t (according to Philo) leave the home and the responsibility of childbearing unless it was to go to the synagogue.
They were not to be greeted by men in public, were always under the protection and authority of father, husband or a member of the male family, could be legally divorced for just about any reason, and yet couldn’t divorce their husbands.
They were not permitted as reliable witnesses in litigation, while attending the synagogue women were kept in an outer court, and they were not to read aloud or study scripture “rather should the word of the Torah be burned than entrusted to a woman” (Rabbi Eliezer, first century teacher).
Hence, the respect and compassion Jesus displayed, his courage in speaking with women in public, his ability to dialogue about religious and life matters with them, his insistence on treating everyone including females equally all helped to initiate a very radical early Christian church.
The fact that some women became his public disciples and were the first to experience and acknowledge the significance of Jesus’ resurrection pointed to Good News and, an all-embracing God, in whose image we are all made.
Our culture and society are of course very different to when Jesus lived, however the Gospels have much to teach us about the presence of women.
We acknowledge their enthusiasm in leading others deeper into faith, their ability to discern and acknowledge the importance of communicating at times of human need and their ability to be compassionate in word and deed.
The capacity of motherhood to remind us about life’s importance, and the presence of God in all people from the moment of conception until eternity is a mighty symbol of the feminine side of God — a truth we should all acknowledge.
Perhaps a now familiar parable that Jesus told about a woman captures it best.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened”. (Matthew 13:33).
*Acknowledgement to ‘Jesus’ Extraordinary Treatment of Women’ by Barbara Leonard.
Des Welladsen, St Mary’s Catholic Church