Grace and peace to you and through you
Each time Jesus encounters a woman in scripture, he breaches social convention. For instance, Jesus crosses boundaries of race, class, religion, purity, and ethnicity when he meets the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), the bleeding woman (Mark 5:25–34), and the Syrophoenician woman (Matthew 15:21–28, Mark 7:24–30). Even the fact that women were among the followers of Jesus, and he seriously taught them, is a break with tradition unprecedented in [then] contemporary Judaism.
In Jesus’ time a woman’s identity was determined by her marital status and if she had produced male children. Although valued for this function, women were perceived as less capable and weaker than men. The philosophy of the day placed humanity on a spectrum, with women as less-complete versions of men. Jesus’ actions are radical because he treats women as being valuable in-and-of themselves, not in relation to men.
Some things have changed since Jesus’ time, but how we think about women continues to shape how we treat others. High rates of violence against women and children in SA indicate that women are still not valued as equal to males. According to the Saartjie Bartman Centre for Women and Children, as of 2015, a woman is either raped or battered every four minutes in South Africa. Violence against women transcends race and class but just because an individual isn’t physically abusive doesn’t mean they are not contributing to the violence. Violence is rooted in women’s lack of power relative to men in society: it is an outgrowth of the idea that women are less than men. Now, all of us have ideas in our head implanted by our culture. Most of these concepts just float around in our head without attracting much attention or getting in the way of who we want to be, but sometimes the ideas we’ve absorbed undermine the people we are trying to be, or run counter to the world we want to help build.
Jesus understood that the subjugation of women thwarts their dreams and aspirations, as they grow up being told that they are less valuable and able than their male counterparts. The domination of women instils feelings of entitlement to respect, sex, and control in men: control over households, businesses, political systems or even countries. It also burdens young boys with expectations to fulfil, including an ill-conceived and misdirected ‘machoness’ which results in men exercising power (sometimes physically), over both women and children. Jesus’ actions are just as radical today as they were 2000 years ago because they speak to an underlying belief about women that harms not only women and children, but men as well.
What Jesus’ actions, and our reading from today, show is that the way things have always been done, is not the way things have to be. Just because a particular way of being has become tradition, and embedded within a culture, does not mean it is part of the relational and mutually beneficial abundant life to which Jesus calls us. Instead, Jesus’ teaching indicates that Jesus forbids any hierarchy in Christian relationships (Mt 20:25–26a, Mk 10:42, Lk 22:25); and scripture invites us to live into a way of life beyond what we currently experience but which Jesus has already proclaimed: a world in which “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, [and we] are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
If you or someone you know is the victim of gender based violence (physically, emotionally, sexually, financially) you can call the free Stop Gender Violence Helpline 24hrs/7days per week for more information and counselling: 0800-150-150.