n this season of celebrating the International Women's Day (IWD) I chose to focus on Jesus as Co-Feminist. Ah! Ah!! Ah!!! I know what you are thinking. How dare she use that highly demonized name for our Lord and Savior. You love the Lord, I love the Lord and so do thousands of feminists who actually applied that cognomen to Jesus. What is feminism? It is the philosophy that men and women should be treated equally and should have equal access to opportunities and resources. Feminists are the women who organize on behalf of this principle. They are not a homogeneous group; some are liberal, socialist, radical, anti-racist and some are theologians. Feminist theologians abound in all religions of the world. They also all recognize that there are men who are sympathetic towards the issues of inequities between men and women and so they work tirelessly to advance the "cause". It is for these men that the feminists coined the phrase "Co-feminist".
Religion has the potential to empower women but ignorance, media propaganda, and misinterpretation of religious texts have all allowed religion to marginalise and alienate women from the centre. Patriarchal interpretations of religious texts are indicated and observed in all religions. Women of all religions have been denied their rights in the interpretation of scriptures. Yet in addition to having high family responsibilities, women are important stakeholders when it comes to religious issues. Many of the exclusionary practices used against women, are at times not scripture-based, but cultural norms, interpreted by men, and then accepted by women who lack the knowledge and confidence to challenge the interpretations. Yet many women in the past and present are known for their great moral and spiritual authority which have given them a high status and much prestige within their own communities. In churches, it is women who organize fund raising, education programs, revivals, charitable outreach for reform groups, for prisons and for outcasts who need to be brought into the fold.
So how was Jesus drawn into this discourse? As we all know, Christianity has come from a patriarchal age. Interestingly most feminists, in fact all feminists find no fault with Jesus the Author and Finisher of the Christian faith. Jesus is always tagged as a Co-Feminist. But they always declare that it is the Church, the Ecclesia that is sexist. They say nowhere did Jesus put women down. He defended them. The New Testament has profound accounts of Jesus relationship with women. Some feminists even the most hardened of them all usually cite Jesus as perfect example of a man who loved women and treated them equitably.
In all His attitudes and concerns, Jesus rejected the patriarchal power structure of His day. Jesus did not uphold the male establishment. As a Co-Feminist, Jesus was not in any way discriminatory against women. In John 4:7, He asked the Samaritan woman by the well for a drink, a taboo, nevertheless it was only to her that He revealed Himself as the Messiah. In John 8:3-11 Jesus had no words of condemnation for the woman taken in adultery but prevented her death and simply told her to sin no more. Jesus accepted love from the woman who let her hair down to wipe His feet. He also accepted financial provision from various women who followed Him about supporting His ministry. In Mark 10:13-15 Jesus showed gentleness towards the mothers who wanted to bring their children to Him and could not get past His disciples. Jesus showed love for the woman who was crippled for many years by touching and healing her. It was a poor widow with meagre contribution that Jesus singled out for praise. It was a widow's son He raised and restored to his mother. Jesus never condescended to women and never ignored them. He was human and humane to them. His harsh words were never for women, they were for the powerful male establishment. It was male religious leaders He called "hypocrites" (Luke 11:44). It was a male political leader He denounced as a "fox" (Luke 13:32). It was the greedy businessmen trading in the house of God He called "thieves" (Luke 19:46).
Jesus did not call into His fellowship, the righteous, the pious, or the highly influential persons of the community but He invited those who did not belong: the tax collectors, the sinners, and the WOMEN. He promised God's kingdom not to the rich, the established and the pious, but to the poor of whom women are usually the poorest. No wonder the women loved Him so much that even after one of His Apostles betrayed Him and another denied Him, the women were prepared to risk everything for Him. The women were there at the foot of the Cross. The women were there to anoint His body. The women were there to see the stone rolled away, to see the empty tomb and to witness the reality of Resurrection. The inclusive character of Jesus message and His unique manner of operation made it possible for women to identify with Him and become His disciples. Women who are generally seen as subordinate became the carriers of the Good News.
Jesus befriended women. He protected them. He healed them. He defended them. He helped them. Jesus chose to heal women more of the times. He revealed himself in two solid instances to women, first at Samaria and later after Resurrection. Jesus allowed many women to mill around Him and he allowed them to spend their substance on Him. He did not feel too superior to allow women to attend to him and give Him of their substance. Jesus was a Ladies-Man if we could put it like that. When men were going to stone a women for adultery he asked for her accusers and proclaimed that the one without sin among them should cast the first stone. What a Great Friend of women!!!
Jesus, championed the cause of women who Paul described as the "glory of men" (1 Corinthians 11:7). Jesus was even concerned about women's sexuality issues. He protected women from the lustful inclination of men by saying that men should relate to women without lust in their hearts. "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mathew 5:28). This means that women should be treated with respect on equal basis and on their level of achievement not objectified as sex objects to be used and disposed of by men. He said adultery and fornication is not only when men sleep with another woman, it is when men begin to undress women with their eyes and in their minds. This means that men are not giving recognition to the woman's worth, as a person. But they are relating to her as object to be used for their own benefit. Any man who lusts after a woman has already committed adultery and he is guilty, Jesus said.
Women followed Jesus everywhere. Women were great companions for Jesus. They played a major part in Jesus life and work. Luke 8:1-3 says "Now it came to pass that afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing glad tidings of the kingdom of God, and the Twelve were with Him. And certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities- Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons. And Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward and Susanna, Salome, Mary, the mother of James and John, called Jesus brothers, and many others who provided for Him from their substance". These women traveled with Him and helped financed His ministry. Thank God for generous women, who appreciate the value of contributing in cash and kind into the work of the Kingdom. Jesus went to His death attended by a loyal following of women who had stood by Him throughout His ministry.
During His ministry, Jesus featured a lot of women in His parables, the woman who took three measures of meal till it was leavened, the woman who lost a coin and went to a great extent to find it, also included are the parable of the foolish and wise virgins and so on. This demonstrates Jesus sensitivity to women. He uses women in His parables so that the women in His audience may identify with the characters. Jesus expressed this sensitivity to the Syro-Phoenician woman whose daughter was sick. He understood her heart as a mother. She would not give up. Jesus not only appreciated her loyalty as a mother, He commended her for her obstinate faith, just as He commended the poor widow for her generosity with her mite. Nothing was too little for Jesus to notice about women, even this poor insignificant woman. She brought delight to Jesus heart for Him to mention her. She was generous in her support of the kingdom. Jesus used the occasion to teach that He does not does expect us to give more than we have, but only to be generous with what has been entrusted to us.
Some feminists have questioned why there was no women among the Twelve. They argued that if Jesus loved women so much why did He not appoint at least One as one of His Apostles. The response is that Jesus had many as His disciples and companions. See what He did with women. He entrusted Himself to women. He accepted their hospitality to Him, Simon's mother -in law and Martha who always cooked for Him. It was women who sat at His feet to hear Him teach. Mary of Bethany, Lazarus sister sat at Jesus feet to be taught. Jesus taught her and encouraged her to learn even when her sister tried to criticize her. The only time we were told Jesus wept was when He saw Mary and Martha weep at Lazarus death. Jesus in compassion shared their sorrow even though He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.
Jesus did not recoil at contact with women. The custom of those days was that women did not just go near men in public. It is still like that today in Arab countries. Jesus disciples were outraged that the hemorrhaging woman, the one with the issue of blood, would go near Jesus to touch the hem of His garment possibly to defile Him. There was no reproach for her. Jesus did not condemn her. Instead Jesus commended her faith and dismissed the rigid Jewish taboo as irrelevant. She was dramatically healed. He told her that her faith had made her whole. This is characteristic of Jesus style of healing women. Jesus showed such compassion to the crippled woman who had been bent for 18 years. She was going along when Jesus called to her "Hey woman be healed" and she was healed. This is another dramatic healing of another woman. Women's healing were usually more spectacular. Jesus compassion for the widow of Nain whose only son died depicts further His compassion. Jesus saw the funeral procession, moved near without being asked, and raised the boy back to life giving immense joy to the mother. Jesus raised Jairus' daughter when some people were laughing and deriding that He did not know that the girl was dead. Jesus threw out the skeptics and raised the young girl to life.
Jesus compassion to the outcast women usually considered sinners was a remarkable. He treated them with utmost consideration. He did not condemn the sinner at Simon's house who wiped His feet with her tears and her hair. Jesus defended the woman, reminded His guests and others that she has performed the common courtesy due to any guest. This woman humbly and graciously offered all the welcoming acts to Jesus who acknowledged her and accepted her offer of worship. While the men were questioning in their minds why He did that, Jesus publicly forgave her sins and used the occasion to teach love, forgiveness and faith. She went away cleansed with a new life in Christ. Also Jesus did not deny the sin of the adulterous woman who was caught in the "act" nor did He condemn her, but He freed her from all her sins to the amazement of all the men around, reminding them that they were all sinners.
Jesus did a lot on the side of women. He gave women opportunity to proclaim the Gospel Luke 24:10. With the woman at the well, Jesus initiated a conversation, the only time He revealed His identity was to this woman. He shared the Good News with her that He was the Messiah. He shared other profound truths with her then gave her the opportunity to go spread the Word. On the Cross at His death Jesus last thought was for His mother. He was concerned about her welfare and saw to her care by handing her over to His brethren. Jesus had earlier indicated His respect for His mother when He performed His first miracle turning water to wine at the instigation of His mother. He was Supreme He did not have to yield to her, but He did. After His death it was women who prepared His body for burial as was the custom. At His Resurrection Jesus appeared first to a woman Mary Magdalene the one from whom He had cast out demons. She remained a faithful and passionate follower of Jesus. She did not desert Jesus. After the arrest of Jesus when everyone fled she lingered all the way to the cross to watch the crucifixion. She was the one who carried the spices to prepare the Lord for burial. She was the only one who came to see the burial site when everybody had left. She was horrified that the stone had been rolled away. Jesus richly rewarded her faithfulness to Him when He now appeared to her and told her to go tell the Apostles that He had risen. What a sensitive Lord! You can imagine her joy at seeing Jesus alive again. The same way Jesus still rewards our faithfulness to Him.
It is interesting at this point to note that Paul too, like Jesus, acknowledged the role of women in his ministry despite some controversial things he said about women. Paul did not undermine women's important roles in the Early Church. He gave the women honorable mention. He talked about Appiah in Philemon who was mentioned as hosting a church in her house. He talked about Euodia and Syntche who labored with Paul in the Gospel. He talked about Lydia , the woman who sells purple, a prosperous woman, who heard about Paul and opened her home to him and fellow believers. He talked about Mary to the Romans, who labored much for the sake of the Gospel. He also mentioned Persis, Phoebe, Priscilla, who risked her life for Paul in Rome, also Rufus mother who acted like a mother to Paul. Tryphena and Tryphosa were all recognized by Paul for their contribution to the work of God. God used women in various ways and allowed their contribution to be retained in the Scriptures.
So how does the world today, thousands of years later view women in various religions. Thank fully women have come a long way. Jesus has shown the way, with, of and for women. Jesus, had indicated in many ways that He was against all forms of discrimination especially sexism. Jesus continues to draw women unto Him according to God's promise in Joel 2:28-29 when God said I will pour out my Spirit upon all of you. Your sons and daughters will prophesy…and even on your male and female servants I will pour out my spirit. All women want is to find meanings for the divine presence within and around them. With Jesus Co-Feminist on their side, women have continued to revolutionize religion in various ways. Women have continued to be religious specialists. Women have continued to be religious innovators. One can say that they are on their way to attaining the prophetic dimension which Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) captured when he said "The words of women will have the same authority as the Scriptures". Amen.