The last few weeks we have been talking about Jesus’ coloring outside the lines of worldly thinking and hollow religious traditions. Jesus was introducing us to the kingdom of God where things are vastly different from the worldly kingdoms. Jesus, in the way he was coloring, was making God, of God’s chosen Messiah, and of the kingdom of God unrecognizable to the image people held in their minds. In doing so, Jesus was accomplishing his mission. The adults of Jesus’ day, the religious leaders and the government authorities were displeased with Jesus. They constantly wanted to Jesus to stay within the lines and color the pretty picture they desired. We do much the same with children when they are learning to color. We look at their work of art with its scribbles and give them a new page and say, “Try again and see if you can stay within the lines.” Jesus wanted people to look at the images he was coloring not the outline they wanted him to stay within.
Jesus’ teachings conflicted with those of his day and even today. One of the areas that Jesus conflicted with the culture of his day, dealt with women. I think it would be profitable for us to explore the image Jesus was painting for and about women because that image was very different from the image of the world or religious leaders. Why was it different? Because once again, Jesus was coloring outside the lines.
Talking about women from a Biblical perspective can be a challenge. Where do you start? I always find it helpful to start at the beginning, namely, the Book of Genesis.
The Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, says this: “26 Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:26-28).
In life, the simplest answer or simplest expression, is usually the best answer. This principle is also true of reading Scripture. So, in the simplest terms, our reading from the Book of Genesis teaches us that God created man and God created woman, though physical different, both were created in God’s image. And in recognizing the equality of the man and the woman before God, God blessed them.
The simplest image, the simplest expression of how God saw and sees men and women is that they are each of His image and stand equally before Him. From a blank canvas, God colored a picture of Biblical equality of men and women for all of us to see.
But we know that once sin entered the world, God’s picture of Biblical equality faded from humanity’s memory. In place of God’s picture, men placed lines and limitations on the image of women. By the time Jesus was born, those lines had become impressed into the fabric of worldly thinking and religious traditions. Written household codes had even been developed defining the roles for women. These codes existed in Roman, Greek, and Jewish cultures. One such code said, “A virtuous woman ought to be most visible in her husband's company, and to stay in the house and hide herself when he is away.” Another said, “The women are best suited to the indoor life which never strays from the house…A woman, then, should not be a busybody, meddling with matters outside her household concerns, but should seek a life of seclusion.” I could go on, but I think you get the point. If you will, in the coloring books Jesus’ day, we would find the expectation that women say nothing and stay home.
Now, Jesus was born into this world at the time God decided it was right for his chosen one to come and make God known anew. To announce the coming of God’s anointed messenger, the Messiah, God began working through the lives of two senior citizens: Elizabeth and Zechariah. Their union would produce John the Baptist who would announce the coming of Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah. In the Gospel of Luke, we would read, “Both of them [Elizabeth and Zechariah] were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly” (Luke 1:6). Here begins something unusual. Ancient writings rarely mentioned the role of women in a story and even less so highlighted women as role models. However, in the opening of Luke’s Gospel, Elizabeth is not only mentioned but she is held out as being equal to Zechariah in God’s eyes. They were both righteous.
Shortly after Luke introduced Elizabeth to us, we learn that in her old age Elizabeth had become pregnant. Elizabeth’s response to her pregnancy was telling. Elizabeth said, “25 ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she [Elizabeth] said. ‘In these days he [God] has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people” (Luke 1:25). God had broken the lines constructed by Elizabeth’s culture that blamed women for not becoming pregnant. Elizabeth recognized that God did not color inside the lines of mankind. God broke the lines.
Within a few months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent an angel to find another women, this time a young woman named Mary. The angel said to Mary, “‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus...34 ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’ 38 ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May your word to me be fulfilled’ (Luke 1:32b-38).
This time a young woman was seen as standing before God as a role model because she was someone God found favor. More coloring by God outside the lines of tradition and household codes as the story of Jesus developed.
Finally, Jesus arrived, and, at the right moment, Jesus began his public ministry. The first miracle Jesus’ performed was to turn water into wine at a wedding in Cana. This miracle was prompted by the witness and testimony of Jesus’ mother Mary who said to the wedding servers who were without wine, “‘Whatever He [Jesus] says to you, do it’” (John 2:5). While Mary’s words dealt with the wedding wine, Mary’s words were prophetic because they are words each of us needs to hear, “Whatever He [Jesus] says to you, do it.” The original readers of the Gospels would be getting a hint that something was very strange about the story of Jesus. Women were playing key roles in the telling of Jesus story. This is highly unusual.
The unusual nature of Jesus story continued. One day, while Jesus was engaged in his public ministry, “5 He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour [Noon]. 7There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ 8For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water’” (John 4:5-10).
A woman approached the well in the heat of the day, noon. She was following the household codes. Namely, that women carried the water and women of questionable moral standing were not to join other women who came for water in the cool of the morning. Women of questionable moral standing were to draw water by themselves at the heat of the day. Jesus spoke to this woman and shattered her household codes and those codes that prevented communication between Jews and Samaritans. But the key here is what Jesus said to the woman. Jesus, using water as symbol for eternal life, said to this woman, “If you acknowledge me before others, I will bless you as righteous before God.” This woman of questionable moral standing would be made righteous by Jesus if she would believe. A woman was being used to illustrate the central message of redemption for which Jesus came to proclaim. The woman would leave Jesus at the well and hurry to her home city without her water. The Bible says, “39From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman” (John 4:39). The story of Jesus that showcased women as witnesses, giving testimony, about God was way outside the lines.
We could go on with other examples of women from Jesus public ministry with accounts such as:
- A woman, a prostitute, anointed Jesus’ feet with oil while a man, a Pharisee, did nothing to honor Jesus. Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50).
- Women supported Jesus’ ministry. “Jesus began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means” (Luke 8:1-3).
- A woman troubled by bleeding for twelve years broke the rules that said she must stay home while bleeding, entered the crowded public square, and in faith touched the robe of Jesus believing she would be healed. Jesus said, “48 ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace’” (Luke 8:48).
- It was women, accompanied by the Apostle John, who stood at the cross of Jesus when he was crucified.
- It was women who were the first witnesses to the risen Jesus at his tomb and proclaimed that message even though household codes of the day said women could not testify because they were unreliable. Jesus wanted the world to know he lived, and He made that known through women.
Example after example is available to us in the Gospels to show that Jesus came to restore the image of equality of all humanity before God. Salvation is for all of humanity and Jesus was more than willing to have women share that good news.
What then are we to do with this glimpse into the Biblical treatment of women from Genesis and by Jesus? What is the broader message for us? I think there are three key points.
First, our brief exploration today should invigorate us to examine the New Testament, particularly the Gospels, for other evidence of Jesus breaking the codes and rules of culture in order that we not only see the kingdom of God but that we would live within it now. We have seen in the past few weeks that living in the kingdom of God means we are forgiving people; the world is not. Living in the kingdom means we are to be noticed not by being first in line of privilege but being first in line of humility. Living in the kingdom means we see that God examines the heart of a person without regard to gender. God wants to see us as being blameless and righteous before him which means we must be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
Second, we need to remember that what we read in the Bible are not just quaint stories or just interesting teachings. The things we read in the Bible happened. The stories of the emerging Christian community are not fairytales. They are stories of women and men who were thrilled to be part of a fellowship having a divine purpose. They were thrilled that they were turning the world upside down not by violence but by coloring outside the lines of the world and using the powerful tools of forgiveness, mercy, and the love of God. We ought to be thrilled that we are part of that same fellowship having the same divine purpose. We are to continue to turn the world upside down and live in the world as citizens of the kingdom of God.
Lastly, and more specifically to today’s topic of the equality of women, we should see that Jesus’ coloring outside the lines us a glimpse into the way God created the world and gave us an understanding of the direction we must take to ministries, missions, and governance of church. The sin of envy, power, and privilege are relentless forces always seeking to constrain others, to diminish others, and to establish codes for others to follow. I am so glad that we are part of the American Baptist Churches that seeks to live out the principles Jesus taught. We welcome women and men pastors equally. We welcome men and women as members of Trustees, Deacons, Mission Boards, and as teachers. We welcome women and men to join common Bible studies and spiritual retreats. We must continue to color beyond the lines of privilege and bigotry and fully embrace women.
We have a cross as the symbol of our faith. We should see it plainly and simply. The vertical member of the cross means that each of us, female and male, stand equally before God, just as it was in the beginning. The horizontal member of the cross means that we have a fellowship which crosses all boundaries. We are all equal and all called to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. We are all equal and all called to worship God. We are all equal and all called to serve one another.
The call on our life is unlike the patterns of the world. We are called to be like Christ and color outside the lines of the world and color a new picture, a brighter picture, coming from the kingdom of God. Amen and Amen.