When Jesus first burst on the scene, he was conciliatory towards all, healed all who came to him, and welcomed all who wanted to hear him, stressing the benefits of being his follower. But as his ministry progressed, he started to weed out those who were only there for the benefits. He began instead to stress the challenges that his followers would face on Earth, and many early followers then stopped following him. Towards the end of his ministry, Jesus became even more demanding in what he required of his followers; the result was that he alienated nearly everyone, including one of his twelve disciples. The only followers who remained with Jesus were those who genuinely wanted what he was offering.
Interestingly, it was also towards the end of his ministry that some people became Jesus’ followers for the first time, and most of these newcomers were women. Far from being deterred by Jesus’ warnings that they would live as outcasts and be persecuted, they were more than willing to suffer whatever was required for the Word.
I am a woman and this is my blog. Other than for one article published several years ago, I have steered clear of purposely adopting a “woman’s perspective” on the lived experience of being a born-again follower of Jesus, but a woman’s perspective still leaks through. It’s unavoidable because, as I mentioned, I am a woman. My relationship with God (as my Dad) and Jesus (as my Lord, Savior, Master, and big brother) is different in many respects from a man’s relationship with God and Jesus, and that’s fine. It was meant to be that way. It’s hardwired into us genetically for men and women to have different relationships with God and Jesus. That wasn’t a mistake or a fluke on God’s part: It was meant to be that way.
Even so, I think it’s important to point out that most of the followers who joined later in the ministry were women. Men were leaving, and women were joining. And women were not only joining, they were staying.
I am a woman, yet I’d be hard-pressed to call myself a feminist. Yes, I live alone. Yes, I travel alone. Yes, I earn my own living, and yes, I have my own business. I can do these things because I was raised (and still live) in a Western country, and it is now acceptable for women here to do all these things. It’s also acceptable now for women to remain unmarried and childless, without the stigma that used to be attached to unmarried childless women. In many Eastern countries, on the other hand, particularly the Middle East, I would not be able to live or travel alone, let alone earn my own living from my own business, and I would be heavily stigmatized by my unmarried and childless status.
I have had some exposure to the Eastern mindset when I was living in Toronto after my rebirth. I had a series of prospective landlords from Eastern countries who openly questioned why I wasn’t married and didn’t have children. These were not questions I’d fielded any time before in my life. The landlords did not ask in a polite way, but instead were gruff and demanding, as if speaking down to me. Initially, I would try my best to answer their questions, but eventually I decided it was none of their business, so I politely chose not to answer. Most of them then chose not to rent to me.
I mention this because while I say I’m not a feminist, I’ve been able to live my life, both prior to and since my rebirth, thanks in large part to feminist doctrine taking root and flourishing in Western society. Most of feminist doctrine I’m not a fan of, but women being able to live alone, travel alone, and earn their own keep from their own business I’m obviously on board with, as these things both define and benefit me in the world, and they support my Kingdom work. I’ve been independent all my life and I generally take it for granted that I can go here or there or wherever on a whim, because it’s my choice to do so. But after working closely with Muslim female clients, I realize how my independence is a not a “given” but rather a “taken”. So, to the feminists who fought for my right to live however I choose to live, you have my respect and gratitude.
Many of the women who followed Jesus during the latter part of his ministry provided financial and logistical support. In other words, they paid for things and did the cooking, cleaning, etc. Despite their somewhat unglamorous role, the women still learned about the Kingdom from Jesus. We know this from Jesus’ interchanges with Mary and about Mary. At times, it seems that some of the male disciples were a bit resentful of Jesus’ obvious affection for Mary, which was especially clear in how he constantly defended her and took her side whenever there was a dispute involving her. Interestingly, she never started these disputes; they arose because others objected to something she was doing (e.g., sitting at Jesus’ feet learning from him rather than tending to household tasks, or applying oil to Jesus’ feet rather than selling it and giving the money to the poor). The disciples’ churlishness over Mary reminds me of my own experience with Eastern landlords in Toronto who looked down at me and then punished me by refusing to rent to me.
This blog piece is not going where you might be thinking it’s going. I’m not here to bash men or certain cultural norms. I’m just pointing out that women through the ages have played a very specific (not special, specific) role in both the building and sustaining of God’s Church. Jesus went out of his way on several occasions to defend women, and there’s a reason why he did it. There’s a reason why Jesus did everything he did, considering that he only did what God guided him to do.
I believe the state of mind and soul of the women who joined in the ministry was different than that of most of the men. Recall that many of the men who joined were expecting Jesus to overthrow the occupying Roman forces in order to establish his Kingdom, so they were motivated to follow Jesus the way they’d follow a military leader. They didn’t come to him through repentance; they came to him wanting to fight for their cause. When it eventually dawned on these men that Jesus had no intention of overthrowing the Roman occupiers or of setting up an earthly kingdom, they moved on. That’s not what they’d signed up for.
On the other hand, many of the women became Jesus’ followers through repentance. They repented, God forgave them, and they found no other course than to follow and support Jesus. To them, it was self-evident that this is what they had to do with the rest of their lives, the same as it is for me. Since my rebirth 23 years ago, nothing else makes sense to me but to follow Jesus. If you come to God through repentance, your commitment to Jesus is going to be entirely different than if you come to God as a cultural norm, or as an intellectual or ideological pursuit, or as a familial obligation.
Women also bring a different set of emotional and perspective tools to the spiritual table, which God can then use to the benefit of his Kingdom. Because women are emotionally hard-wired (physiologically) and soft-wired (culturally) differently than men, they approach the Kingdom and spiritual matters somewhat differently. They are generally more intuitive and less pedantic. I believe that what Jesus was doing in defending Mary was validating her witness. Jesus was showing that women should not stay silent in the church, but instead should be taught and listened to.
It’s sad to me that 2000 years later, there are still men and women who call themselves Christian and yet who still think that women shouldn’t preach, based solely on a misinterpreted line in one of Paul’s letters. Women taking an active part in ministry work is part of the Gospel message. If you believe the Gospel, then you necessarily have to believe that Jesus wanted women to be his witnesses as much as he wanted men to be. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have first appeared to Mary after his resurrection and urged her to tell others what she had seen. And if he wanted women to be his witnesses, that necessarily means that he wanted them to preach and teach, just as his male followers and witnesses did.
As I mentioned, I don’t want this piece to be a “man vs woman” tirade. I have nothing against men. In fact, I (mostly) admire them. That being said, anyone who thinks I should keep quiet in the Church can take their opinion to God, because I don’t want to hear it. Jesus, through his at the time controversial (and sadly for some still controversial) elevation of women to follower and even disciple status, clearly showed that women not only belonged in his Church, but needed to take a leading role in it, which meant taking on the job of preaching and teaching the Word. Despite the enmity of some of the male disciples, Mary continued on the path laid out for her by God and supported by Jesus.
Once born again, we’re all on that same path with the same mandate, which is to go out into all the world and preach the Good News. There isn’t one mandate for women and another for men; or one mandate for converted Jews and another for converted atheists: We all have the same mandate and directive, regardless of our sex or heritage or other background distinctions. When we become Christians through rebirth, all of those distinctions disappear, and we all have the same job description.
When you level the playing field like that, there is no more acting in a male or a female way, but in a Jesus way. By elevating and defending women during his ministry years, Jesus not only brought them into the fold, but delegated them to the position of witness, and if to position of witness, then to the role of teacher and preacher.
I will never be silent in the Church, as that would be a disservice to God and Jesus and a renouncing of my rebirth status. However, while I’m still on Earth and in a woman’s body, I will relate to God and Jesus and the Gospel message from a woman’s perspective; that is unavoidable. Even so, my woman-ness should never get in the way of or in any way alter the Gospel message, any more than it should alter the mandate or job description Jesus gave to his followers.
I am a woman. This blog is written by a woman. But the Gospel message is neither male nor female. Salvation is open to all. The Great Commission was given to all. I know that when people look at me, they see a woman, but I pray that when they listen to me, they hear God.