Today, each of the women in Christ’s ministry can serve as an emotive window for those of us trying to follow after him as our Lord. Being abandoned or rejected five times, as the Samaritan woman may have been, may resonate with those of us who have been involved in serial monogamous relationships; even those of us who have been taught by contemporary culture to experience as many sexual partners as possible before settling down in marriage. Yet, we find that the common experience is that at the end of these types of relationships, there is a hollow rejection and impression of decreased worth, as this woman likely experienced. Perhaps for some of us today, the very fact that she has had many partners, and is not a prostitute, might make her relationship with Jesus more accessible and vibrant.
When considering Mary and Martha, it is important to balance the two extremes these women enact. Jesus tells the lawyer preceding their story to go and do likewise, not merely go and contemplate the gospel message, or go and serve until burnout. Much like the anointing, which was acceptable while Jesus was with them, sitting at his feet to the negation of all else may have been an extraordinary expression of devotion. Yet now that the Kingdom is here, with its work handed over to the church, neither extreme, Martha’s doing versus Mary’s contemplating, is ideal in and of itself.
The clear use of women in Jesus’ incarnate ministry should provide a template for contemporary churches to model. Woman today, as in Jesus’ immediate context, need to be permitted to express their individual gifts in an edifying manner for the whole body of Christ, not solely for other women or children. Whether it is through missions like the Samaritan woman, leadership like Martha, study as with Mary, or worship and service like the woman from Bethany.
As a woman in contemporary western culture, who is afforded the opportunity to pursue theological education, I appear to have little in common with the women in the gospels, save a faith in Jesus Christ as Messiah and Lord. As such, it would be ill-advised for me to promote a feminist theology over and above my male brethren. In fact, because I have been given so much, I am more like the Pharisees or disciples; thus my focus must not be on advancing a feministic gospel, but rather the gospel that has come to save the lost, free the oppressed, welcome the outcast, and lift up the downtrodden. Gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and educational background must not have any bearing on whom I serve. On a practical level, I am called to humble myself as Christ did, to reach across cultural barriers, with the message of God’s abounding and saving grace. No matter the circumstance, no matter the outcome, the good news of Jesus Christ is meant to heal lives that have been devastated by whatever lurks in their past.
Every church I have attended has had no women deacons or elders. Though some have permitted a woman to teach on special occasions, these women may not be ordained. One church's governing council removed their endorsement from a sister church plant, when that community began permitting married couples to serve as elders together. Gender-inclusive language is still cumbersome and most times does not enter into the sermons. When applying for grad-school, I was told by my then-pastor that a seminary education, merely for the sake of education, was a waste of money; yet when my husband sought the same pastoral approval, he was not given similar comments. I have been firmly instructed by elders that women pastors are unbiblical. I have been corralled by pastors who say that I can only serve in women’s or children’s ministries.
Thus, beloved, there is work yet to be done. We must note that Jesus did not prevent women from physically following him, day after day, unto the cross. He did not shoo Mary back into the kitchen. Jesus gave the honor of first missionary to an unnamed foreign woman, and the honor of first resurrection testimony to the formerly demon-possessed Mary Magdalene. Jesus was ministered to by women, he was financially supported by women, and he utilized women to advance his ministry. May he continue, through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, to use women, men, the outcasts, and the have-nots to bring honor to his name, and souls into his kingdom,
for the glory of God the Father.
Did you enjoy this study? For a refresher, or to catch one you missed, here's a link to the other articles in this series: The Women Who Knew Jesus