There were only two women in my medical school class of 100 students. Back in the late seventies, women doctors were few and far between. It was a time of women’s “liberation”. Frankly, I didn’t get why women were not treated “equally”. My mother and father had set an example for me. My mother was a working woman back in the 1950’s and 1960’s right up to her retirement as a school bus driver in the mid 1970’s. My father shared the job of cooking and cleaning. Every Saturday morning, he swept the entire house of all the dirt and dust of the prior week. I never heard him say anything about “women’s work”. Both of my sisters were career women even after they married and had children. I guess I was fortunate that my parents taught me that we are all equal in the eyes of God no matter what our gender, religion, race, or stature in life.
That particular belief did not come from a political point of view. It came from our devotion to the teachings of Christ. As I mentioned two posts ago, I want to look at the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in this Christmas season and focus on those teachings without focusing on the religious claims about Jesus. I maintain that Jesus of Nazareth taught us powerful lessons that transcend culture and religion; lessons that even an atheist or agnostic can live with. In fact, Jesus taught us powerful lessons that everyone should apply to our lives.
Stop for a moment and consider the status of women in first century Palestine. Among the Roman culture, women were considered objects of sexual conquest and were often the center of many pagan religious practices. In the Jewish culture of Jesus of Nazareth, women were very low in status. They were little better than possessions. A man could divorce a women just be stating it was so. Women who had serious illnesses were considered “unclean” and “untouchable”. If a women was caught in the act of adultery, she could be stoned — forget about the man’s transgressions! The testimony of a woman was useless and never to be taken as truthful.
First, Jesus met a woman at a well. This woman had been married many times and was considered an adulterer. She came to the well in the heat of the day hoping no one would be there to make fun of her. She was also a Samaritan, considered lower than low; the most undesirable of the undesirables by any good Jew of the day. She met Jesus of Nazareth that day. He did the unthinkable and SPOKE to her! He told her all about herself. He told her that the water she drank from this well was temporary but that she should seek the water of spiritual fulfillment.
Here, Jesus illustrates one of the first of many very powerful lessons that all people are of equal value and of equal worth.
Second, Jesus was dining with a religious leader of the day. A woman appears suddenly at the door. She ignores the ridicule and chiding of the religious leaders and comes to Jesus. She produces a vial of expensive fragrance, pours it on Jesus’ feet and his head and washes his feet with her tears and her hair. While the rest of the men present ridicule the woman’s actions, Jesus accepts them as a gift and says that wherever and whenever his teachings are told down through the ages, this woman’s devotion will be remembered.
Third, is the most beautiful account of the woman caught in the act of adultery. We know from the account that this was a setup to trap Jesus; a trap set by the religious leaders of the day. Jesus literally disarmed the men ready to stone the woman with one of the most powerful statements in history, “Let he who is among you that is without sin cast the first stone.” Then, Jesus does not condemn the woman but tells her she is free and to “go and sin no more”; that is don’t allow yourself to get into the situation you were just in that almost led to your death. Learn from this and CHANGE your life for the better.
Fourth, it is very interesting that the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection tell us that the first people he appeared to were women! A woman’s testimony was worthless! If the story of the resurrection were false; that is, fabricated by men. they certainly would NOT have used women as the first line of testimony to the resurrection. Whether you believe this fact or not, the idea that Jesus would appear to women first is significant. His acknowledgement of women’s worth for its time was astonishing.
We see in these few examples (and there are many more) that Jesus of Nazareth disregarded a person’s race (Samaritan), gender(female), and ethnic background (again, Samaritan). In fact, Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders of the day calling them hypocrites (More on this later!). Jesus seems to be teaching that we are all equal in his eyes. Amazing, isn’t it? Don’t believe me? Look at this statement from a letter Paul wrote to the church in Galatia:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28).
Where did we go wrong? How did mankind continue to claim to be followers of Christ in western culture and still embrace the bigotry of race and slavery and the sexism against women? Because we are man; we are broken; we listen but we do not learn. Even our founding fathers ignored their own words from the Declaration of Independence when it came to slavery:
We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
It has only been in the last forty years that we have finally given race and sex a fair deal. But, Jesus taught this fairness two thousand years ago!
What have I learned from the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that I think all men and women should embrace:
Each person is unique and worthy.
No person is better than another.
No person is greater than another.
One should NEVER be looked down upon because of a difference in race, gender, religious beliefs, or stature in life.
We should look upon EVERYONE with respect as our equal.
Once again, Jesus of Nazareth has taught us to do the HARD thing because it is the RIGHT thing to do!