The gospel of Luke records that one woman was so impressed with Jesus that she sought to give him honor by shouting out, “Blessed is the womb that bore thee and the paps which thou has sucked.” (Luke 11:27) According to one writer, she was basically saying, “You are a wise and great teacher, Jesus – wasn’t your mother’s reproductive system wonderful!” (1)
Imagine someone coming up to a man who has an outstanding son and saying to him, “Blessed is the semen which fertilized your wife’s egg.” Or maybe, “Blessed is the penis that participated in the act which led to your son’s conception.” Is this any more ridiculous than praising Mary’s breasts and uterus? And yet today we read the woman’s remark and hardly give it a second thought anxious to get on to the “hearing and doing part”.
To first-century people, to honor a woman’s anatomy would not be thought weird or strange. A woman’s status in that society was based on her pro- creativeness. If woman was not to be a child-bearer, a fertile field in which a man could sow his seed – what was she?
Thus it was not at all surprising for a woman to come up to Jesus and praise his mother’s breasts and uterus. She actually expected Jesus to be pleased with her remark. Perhaps she expected Jesus to respond, “Thank you, ma’am, my mother was indeed a fitting vessel.”
What shocked her and surprised his listeners was that Jesus differed with her.
Jesus publicly rejected the woman’s statement. He refuted the commonly accepted justification for the existence of women. Jesus openly refused to label a woman on the basis of her biology. He saw all women as persons, as individuals who were to “hear the word” and act on it.
Jesus said, “Oh, dear woman and all listening to me today. A woman’s happiness comes when she is free to think and study about God’s ways and will and then order her life accordingly.”
This was mind-blowing. Jesus completely redefined the nature of first century womanhood. He was proclaiming that women share with men the ability and the obligation to hear the word of God and act on it. This was an absolutely stunning declaration of liberation.
The apostle Paul in sharing his story recalled that he “sat at the feet of Gamaliel.” (Acts 22:3) The disciple Mary, is commended because she “sat at the feet of Jesus.” Luke says of Mary ”she heard the word of God.” Her position, like that of Paul, was of a seminary student. (Luke 10:39)
On Resurrection Sunday, Jesus manifested himself to a frightened group of men and women locked away in confusion and despair. His first words to them were words peace and assurance. Don’t be afraid. God has great things in store for you. And just as the breath of God gave life and vigor to humankind in the beginning, and just as God’s breath restored courage and hope to a despairing group of exiles in Babylon, Jesus now breathed on this small group of men and women, creating his nascent church and energizing them for the work ahead. (Gen 2:4; Ez:37:1-14; John 20:22)
“Peace be to you,” Jesus said. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them (the men and women present) and he said to them, (the men and women present) Receive the Holy Spirit. I am giving you (all present) authority in all spiritual matters regarding my church.” (John 20:21-23)
Forty days later, this same group of men and women gathered on a mountain top to say good-by to their teacher. His parting words to them (all present) were “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Jesus, knowing that the Holy Spirit would soon be poured out on all flesh, his sons and daughters alike, said to the little flock of believers, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 24:18,19)
These women and men who had followed Jesus, who had sat at his feet and who had heard the word recognized that they were now being ordained to carry on the work he had begun.
“Blessed are the women and men who hear the word of God and act on it.”
(1) Rachel Conrad Wahlberg. Jesus According To A Woman. Paulist Press, NY. 1975. Page 44.
To my readers:
The last three columns I have written for this site were specifically chosen from the teachings of Jesus on the role of women. Obviously I have recounted these stories from a woman’s perspective. I believe that the voice of both men and women is needed to truthfully tell the Jesus story. When one voice is silent for generations, Jesus’ emphasis on events becomes distorted.
My belief is that all scripture, both Old and New Testaments, must be filtered through the life and teachings of Jesus. This includes the writings of the apostles. When we overlay the matrix of the life and teachings of Jesus on the problem texts regarding women in the church, the texts will not change, but our understanding of them will.
Jesus strongly denounced the satanic “power over” hierarchical system that governed the social structures of his day. He proclaimed that the Ruler of the World had been judged, that his kingdom was at an end. He strongly affirmed the full equality and status of women in God’s kingdom. We, as a church, will be hamstrung in our mission until we resolve to fully follow Jesus led.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2452