Last Tuesday we looked at women of the Old Testament. Not commands and laws, but stories about people, what they did and how they did it. It is quite an amazing variety. Today we will look at women of the New Testament (like last week’s post, this is an edited repost from a few years ago). Like the ancient Near East and ancient Israel, first century Galilee, Judea, and the Greek and Roman world were patriarchal cultures. This culture is reflected in the narrative. Still, in the New Testament, even more than the Old Testament, biblical women were not passive wives and mothers staying in the background. Nor were they condemned for their actions (except for the same kinds of failures that condemned men). If there are other specific New Testament examples that we should consider, add them in a comment.
People of Faith
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)
When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.” (Luke 8:47-48, also Matthew 9:20-22, Mark 5:25-33)
Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” … He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:22-28, also Mark 7:24-30)
When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:3-5)
This is a group of references, but Mary (in a class of her own) and the two women who came to Jesus for healing were clearly women of faith. They had faith in God and faith in Jesus as God’s prophet … Mary may have known more, but the people who came and heard Jesus in his life probably had no other idea concerning him than that of prophet. She certainly didn’t seem to know more when she came with his brothers to “take charge” of him. (Mark 3:20-34)
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2: 36-38)
It is significant that Luke includes two witnesses here – one male, one female – when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for his presentation as first born son. Anna is a prophet. What is the role of a prophet? Isn’t it to speak the word of the Lord to the people? In both the Old and New Testament to prophesy (to speak as a mediator between God and humankind or in God’s stead) is an equal opportunity calling, not one limited to men. We read in Acts 21:8-9 that “Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.“
Sincere Questioner and Witness
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” (John 4:39)
The entire story of the encounter at the well is worth considering (John 4:1-42). Jesus met the woman when she came for water. She had an openness that is a positive contrast to Nicodemus who came at night (John 3).
Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” (Matthew 14:8, also Mark 6:22-25)
As in the Old Testament, not all examples are laudatory. Mother and daughter are both involved in the execution of John.
Followers and Supporters of Jesus
The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:1-3)
The twelve and some women, three of whom are named, were in the closest circle of followers who were leaving all for Jesus. They traveled with the group, didn’t just support it from afar.
Avid Student of Jesus
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. … “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)
The women sat with the men to listen to Jesus. This passage is interesting because Jesus specifically commends this attitude and ordering of priorities. Nor should we neglect Martha who was also a devout follower.
… “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” (Luke 21:1-4)
Not Quite Getting It (But then neither did the twelve, Mark 9)
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” (Matthew 20:20-21)
A worldly understanding of power and prestige afflicts both men and women. Continue reading