There are numerous passages in the gospels dealing with women. Some of the images presented are almost casual in nature; but others are highly important as they present God’s unchanging view of women. These passages form the foundation of a guiding teaching from which the apostles try not to stray. Women are portrayed as equal to men by the parables, teachings, healing, and treatment by Jesus Christ, and also in their roles in the events immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus, the Son of God.
Matthew 24:39-41 and Luke 17:34-36 each give representations of the second coming of Jesus. Each shows both men and women being taken up to be with Jesus. The short story of ‘two men shall be in the field’ is followed by a one for women: ‘two women shall be grinding at the mill’. With this, Jesus indicated women to be “co-heirs” to the Kingdom of God, an idea never shown in the Bible before. In the modern Christian churches, this notion is not unordinary, but the concept of “co-heirship” including women was not normal in the day when Jesus said it.
Another example of the parallel of male and female stories is found in Mt 24:45-51 and Mt 25:1-13, where the parable of the honest and dishonest male servants is followed immediately by the tale of the wise and foolish virgins. Each account stresses the importance of being diligently prepared for the Lord’s return. These stories are made to fit to the two genders. Both men and women are to be saved. Not only through his stories but also through his healings, does Jesus show the equality of men to women.
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One of Jesus’ earlier healings in the Gospel of Luke was of a woman. Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. (Lk 13:10-17) He rebuked the ruler of the synagogue who showed scorn toward the Sabbath healing. In doing so, Jesus uses a rare phrase, “daughter of Abraham”, to describe her. The phrase “son of Abraham” was commonly used to respectfully refer to a Jew, but “daughter of Abraham”, was an unknown phrase. It occurs nowhere else in the Bible. Jesus promotes the equality of men and women with this phrase. Along with healing women, Jesus also shows us how to treat them.
In the case of adultery, Jesus showed mercy when he freed a woman caught in the act (Jn 8:2-11).
Since there were no witnesses against her, Jesus did not condemn her. Rather than simply letting her get off free, he instructs her to stop her sinning. Jesus not only showed mercy to the woman, but also taught against the practices of his Jewish culture, which treated women as the cause of adultery. The responsibility is placed on the individual and directed at his own heart. With this, Jesus tries to overturn the notion of women as sex objects, which had developed over the centuries before Jesus. Jesus also invites women to eat with him. This was unordinary for women were not to sit at the same table as men.
In the house of Simon the Leper, Jesus again shows the way to treat women (Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9; Jn 12:1-8) Women were ordinarily forbidden from entering the dining area. Mary of Bethany was allowed to enter and to anoint Jesus. Some of the disciples questioned this anointing, calling it a waste, but Jesus defended it as a good work. Once again, this shows a new treatment of women. In Lk 10:38-42, Mary is described as “sitting at Jesus’ feet”. She is also noted as listening to his message. In traditional Judaism, the teaching of the Hebrew Bible to a woman was absolutely forbidden, as was any religious discussion with a woman. Jesus violated all tradition by not only allowing Mary to learn, but by also letting her be relieved of the traditional woman’s role of waiting tables. He told Martha, who waited tables alone, that Mary was doing the good thing by listening rather than waiting tables. Not only were women an important presence in Jesus’ life but also at his death.
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Only women witnessed the burial of Christ, although women were not considered in their culture to be legal witnesses to any event (Mt 27:61; Mk 15:47; Lk 23:50-6).
The gospel writers present the women’s testimony as equal to one of a man’s testimony at the crucifixion. Similarly, only women were present at the tomb to see the angel and Jesus (Mt 28:1-8; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-12; Jn 20:1-10).
Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and other women were also present. More importantly, Mary Magdalene is sent forth by the angel to tell the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to the male disciples (Mt 28:7-10).
She is the first person to receive this apostolic commission.
Thus we see that men and women were given corresponding, equal roles in the gospels, entirely contrary to the preceding Jewish teachings. Jesus’ untraditional views brought criticism on him as well as on his disciples but he did not let this stop him. Jesus gave numerous examples of how women are to be seen in the world.