It’s incredibly difficult to understand how liberating the gospel was for women. Reading it through our modern lens makes it hard to recognize the scandalous ways that Jesus revolutionized how women were treated.
In a religious culture where priests would pray “Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe, who has not created me a woman” (Morning Blessings, Artscroll Siddur, p. 12), Christ’s treatment of women stood in stark contrast.
Here are five situations where Jesus showed deference and tenderness to women:
1. The wedding at Cana (John 2:1–12)
Jesus and His new disciples were invited to attend a wedding at Cana. It had to be a pretty humble affair because the bridal party ran out of wine—a faux pas that a wealthier family would never make.
Jesus’s mother, Mary, approaches Him to solve the problem. He communicates His hesitancy to get involved because He doesn’t feel it’s the right time to inaugurate His public ministry. Knowing her son, she doesn’t argue. She simply tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.”
Jesus is around 30 years old at this point. He’s under no social expectation to do what His mother tells Him, especially if He’s concerned about how the timing could affect His ministry. Despite His initial response, Jesus performs His first miracle and saves face for the newly married couple. (Jn. 2:11)
His willingness to get involved is more than a son’s concern for his mother. It’s indicative of the compassionate respect Jesus will show women throughout his ministry.
2. The female followers He amasses
In the 21st century, it doesn’t strike us as strange to see that Jesus had female followers, but certainly would have seemed strange in Jesus’ day. Women were discouraged from going out in public, and when they did, it had to be with a male escort.
Jesus not only undermines this social more by having female followers, but He also allows them to financially support His ministry:
“After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means” (Luke 8:1–3, NIV).
3. The woman subjected to bleeding (Luke 8:43–48)
Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell the story about a woman who had suffered from bleeding for 12 years. Not only did she suffer physically with this condition, but she would have also been ostracized as unclean.
When she sees Jesus, she tells herself, “If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed” (Mark 5:28). And with incredible confidence, she abandons socially-appropriate behavior and touches the edge of Jesus’ cloak—and instantly she’s healed.
Jesus looks around for who touched Him, and she comes and throws herself at His feet. She tells Him what she’s done. Does He get frustrated at her for potentially making Him unclean? Of course not. With extreme tenderness, He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”
4. The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11)
John tells the story of Jesus sitting down to teach in the temple courts when some teachers of the law and Pharisees drag a woman who’s been caught in adultery before Him. They ask Him what should be done with the woman, and their intention is to trap Him.
If He encourages them to let her go, He’s breaking the Law—but if He calls for her to be stoned, it nullifies everything He’s said about mercy and kindness.
It’s important to note that her male counterpart in this sin is conspicuously absent, despite the fact that the Law would have accused them both:
"If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel.
"If a man happens to meet in a town a virgin pledged to be married and he sleeps with her, you shall take both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death—the young woman because she was in a town and did not scream for help, and the man because he violated another man’s wife. You must purge the evil from among you" (Deuteronomy 22:22–24, NIV).
Obviously, this woman was being used a prop. Her life didn’t matter as much as the opportunity to entrap Jesus.
Jesus bends down and starts writing in the sand with His finger while they keep pressing Him. He then stands up and says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
One by one, starting with the oldest to the youngest, they leave. Jesus then turns to this humiliated woman who has been standing before her accusers, mortified and afraid. He asks her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
When she tells Him no, He responds, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Can you possibly imagine how that compassion must have felt after all of that shame and embarrassment? Not only was she forgiven, she was free to go. Jesus humanized her and treated her with worth and value.
5. The women He appears to at the resurrection (Matthew 28)
The first people Jesus appears to after the resurrection were women. Think about that. This is the single most significant moment in the history of mankind, and God chooses to reveal it to women. If anything in the gospel drives home the importance of women in God’s economy, it’s this moment.
To add an exclamation point to this truth, He instructs the women to tell His disciples that He is, indeed, alive. In the first century, a woman’s testimony was absolutely worthless. Jesus makes these women witnesses to history’s most important event.
The tip of the iceberg
This is only a couple of the stories that express the care that Jesus had for women. The truth is that Jesus challenged social conventions in nearly every single interaction He had with women. He truly challenged the status quo.
Jesus came to set us all free—women and men alike. Explore strategies and tools for women’s ministry and help bring the story of Jesus to women!