27 Sep The Advocate for Women
The delay in meting out justice to the Delhi gang rape incident female victim and comments made by politicians and swamis bring us to the issue of gender inequality. From ancient times, our country has seen practices which have little regard for women- immolation of women on the pyres of their husbands which nullify women’s individuality, identity and right to life sans husband. Widows and girls are seen as financial burden and hence female infanticide. Astronomical dowry rates lead to suicide or murder of brides. Honour killings where the honour lies mostly in the woman’s hands. Sex selection, nutritional prejudice, wage disparities, forced nude marches, under-representation in parliamentary positions, you name it. But what does the Bible actually say about gender equality? Let’s take the example of Jesus and see what he thought.
John 8:1-11: Jesus was uber modern for his time and a perfect Gentleman and advocate for women! When the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus by the teachers of Law, and was demanded that she be stoned to death as per the Law of Moses, Jesus only said “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus knew that it takes two to tango and thus recognized that letting the male partner go scot-free while the woman alone is punished would be a grave injustice. Today we see plenty of cases where when a couple is caught in live-in relationships, it is the woman who is forced to face the wrath and consequences. And then there are other cases where even when it is not the woman’s fault, it is still she who is forced to carry the blame.
John 4:4-26: Even today, there are Dalit women who on a large scale face severe suppression miserably as they bear the brunt of being a woman and a Dalit, under a system of oppression where classism, casteism and sexism are inextricably linked together. To the Samaritan woman by the well despite her status being almost like that of a Dalit woman. Jesus taught, forgave her and offered her a new life of hope.
Mark 5: 25-34: Certain religions prohibit woman entering places of worship during their menstrual cycle. Some even today customarily seclude girls and women who are menstruating. Let’s call it a temporary untouchability. The woman in Mark 5 suffered from chronic bleeding. Her temporary untouchability lasted for 12 long years! The Jews in those days too believed in the ‘unclean’ status of a women during her cycle and thus prohibited all physical contact. People wouldn’t have touched the bleeding woman, and probably she suffered from not just physical weakness and financial distress, but loneliness, frustration and embarrassment. Her desperation and faith in Jesus made her risk being caught for breaking the laws. But her social barrier didn’t hinder Jesus whose love for her made Him heal her. With affection He called her, ‘daughter,’ restoring her to her community and to a new life.
Luke 7:36-50: When Jesus showed a gender-blind love to the prostitute who inarguably turned over a new leaf by showing great humility and faith, it raised many brows. The Pharisee and probably many others shunned the woman and treated her with disdain because of her trade. Being a woman and a prostitute too, it was a feat to meet Jesus, a man. She showed great courage and faith knowing full well that she will be received with contempt and rejection by the guests at the table, who probably threw dirty looks at her all along, while she used a glorious part of her body to wipe Jesus’ dusty feet. It would have been terribly frightening to face a judging lot who clearly condemned her, but she evidently saw meeting Jesus as a more pressing task than being put off by people’s hostility. And Jesus saw no difference between her or the Pharisee who had invited him and instead points out the irony that the woman had outdone the Pharisee through her act of love.
The New Testament is peppered with instances where Jesus is associated with women. Mary Magdalene, Martha, Joanna, and Susanna accompanied Jesus during His ministry trips and also helped serve Him (Luke 8:1-3). Women haven’t been denied spiritual gifts either as is seen in Joel 2:28-29 nor discriminated when it came to doing ministry either- Phoebe was a minister, Priscilla, a co-worker in Christ, Lunia an apostle, Euodia and Syntyche were evangelists, Deborah a prophetess (from the OT) and Dorcas, a disciple. The status of women during the time of Jesus was decidedly inferior to that of men. For example, women could be easily divorced without any legal rights which would have created such insecurity in them! According to a tradition, Jewish rabbis begin synagogue meetings with the words “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, for thou has not made me a woman.” Being an andocentric society, power, prestige, and privileges were (and still are) doled out to men and people were expected to conform to such societal norms. But Jesus chose to treat women as individuals deserving respect, rights, and love.
Jesus came down to seek the lost and to associate with all kinds of people irrespective of differences. Jesus clearly desires to save, accept, forgive and love both men and women equally, for God is beyond gender. Unlike so many other religions where spiritual privileges, prayer and worship are reserved largely for men only, in Christ, there is such an exhilarating freedom and comforting hope for a fresh start which is freely given to both men and women as is clearly seen in Galatians 5:13 and Galatians 3:28. God loves women and Jesus who bridged the gap of inequality between men and women, demonstrated the love. And we who have received the infinite and indiscriminatory love are expected to share it with our fellow beings as freely as it was given to us.
About the Author
S. Betsy Rachel is doing her MA English in EFLU, Secunderabad, AP.