Jesus and Women

It’s fair to call Jesus radical for a number of reasons. One of them is his unprecedented respect for women.

When Jesus was arrested, his disciples fled in fear. Included among the fleeing followers were rugged fishermen and at least one radical revolutionary. Only Peter and John summoned the courage to follow Jesus into his ordeal, and they did so from a distance.

But after Peter had denied Jesus for a third time that night, the Lord caught his eyes in a look that seared Peter’s soul (Luke 22:61). And Peter, the man of action who had only recently taken a sword to the servant of the high priest—the one who hours earlier had told Jesus, “I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you”—slunk away into the night too.

John remained, as well as two religious leaders who quietly believed in Jesus. Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea—a wealthy member of the Council that actually orchestrated Jesus’s death—took Jesus’s body down from the cross and buried him in Joseph’s personal grave.

Oh, but there were others who stayed to the end and beyond. There were the women.

It was women who followed Jesus all the way to the cross. Luke the historian, who gives us a detailed account of the crucifixion, records, “A large crowd trailed behind him, including many grief-stricken women” (Luke 23:27). As Jesus hung from that cross, we read, “Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching” (v. 49). These women also followed Joseph to the tomb where the Lord’s body was tenderly placed (v. 55).

Importantly, following the Sabbath it was some of those women who went to the gravesite before anyone else. “Very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb,” Luke says (24:1). Motivated by love and devotion for Jesus, they seemed wholly indifferent to public opinion or any possible legal ramifications.

Why were women the most courageous?

During the time when Jesus walked the earth, religious leaders were known to cross the street to avoid contact with a woman. Devout men daily thanked God that they had not been born female. Mere contact with a woman could render a man ceremonially unclean. So what did Jesus do with all of this? Why, he calmly started a peaceful revolution, of course.

Jesus sat and talked openly with women. He approached them on his own. Once, when his disciples had gone into town to buy food, he asked a woman for a drink. This simply wasn’t done by a respectable rabbi, and the woman was shocked. “You are a Jew,” she said, “and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” (John 4:9). He was asking her for a drink because he was busy smashing barriers and building bridges out of the rubble.

Naturally, his enemies held this against the barrier-breaking Messiah. When “a certain immoral woman” (Luke 7:37) came to visit Jesus in the house of a Pharisee, his host grew indignant over her worship of Jesus. He thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” (v. 39). Jesus interrupted the religious man’s self-righteous thoughts and told him a story about forgiveness and love. “Her sins,” Jesus concluded, “have been forgiven” (v. 47). Then he told the woman, “Go in peace” (v. 50).

Remember too the story in John 8. A woman had been caught in the act of adultery. (Significantly, the man was not brought before Jesus, only the woman.) The religious leaders wanted to use the occasion to trap Jesus into either condoning the woman’s execution by stoning or letting her go without punishment. Jesus deftly got to the heart of the matter, pointing out the hypocrisy in her accusers and defending the woman’s integrity without compromising the law.

And just days before the Lord’s crucifixion, Mary the sister of Martha anointed Jesus’s feet with expensive perfume. Some of the men were “indignant” at the extravagance (Matthew 26:8), but Jesus said, “Leave her alone” (John 12:7).

Yet we have no record of any of these religious leaders accusing Jesus of any sexual improprieties. Neither was the accusation made during any of his trials. This is striking. If his religious enemies had thought Jesus was guilty of such a thing, they certainly would have leveled the charge. It’s likely that everyone knew Jesus’s personal integrity in this matter, so it was implausible to make the accusation. Because Jesus regularly ate and drank with sinners, he was accused of being a glutton and a partyer (Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). But never was he accused with being inappropriate with a woman.

So perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us—even when his disciples had deserted him—that certain women followed him to the cross with a loyalty as profound as their grief.

Perhaps the women had a more complete understanding of who Jesus really was because they more keenly sensed the difference in him. They certainly seemed to be the first to grasp what he was doing.

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