Last Friday was International Women’s Day. It was a day of celebrating how far we’ve come, but also a reminder of how far we need to go.
I’m reminded of an experience I had with a member of my youth group a few years ago. We were volunteering for a social service project. A member of the group happened to be named Eve and we thought it was fun to play up the joke. I’d start greeting people, “Hi! I’m Adam,” and then Eve would chime in, “and I’m Eve!”
We always received the strangest looks, which, of course, is why we did it. But this time it was different. A man at the service project actually said,
“Oh. So you’re the one to blame.”
Eve was able to laugh it off and respond with grace, but I was pissed. I instinctively scowled at the man. It was a deep blow to me because, once again, religion was being used to put women down. But this time it was personal. Religion was being used to put down a member of my youth group.
Of course, religion hasn’t always been good to women. Or, maybe it would be better to say that religious men have used religion as a weapon to make women feel inferior. Whenever we blame someone else it’s a sign of our own weakness and insecurities. We don’t have the courage to deal with our own inner turmoil so we blame someone else. This is classic scapegoating and we men have been scapegoating women in this way since the beginning of human history. It’s pathetic. International Women’s Day is a reminder to me that women and men need to work together to end the religious bigotry against women.
My model for this is Jesus, my favorite feminist. 
So, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, I offer you the top 4 ways Jesus included women as full members of his posse:
- I just finished Tom Wright’s introduction to the Gospel of Luke called Luke for Everyone. Throughout the book I was struck by how much Jesus challenged the conventional patriarchy of his culture. Jesus depended upon the ministry of women and he wasn’t ashamed of receiving their ministry in public. One of Wright’s most beautiful reflections is from Luke chapter 8 verses 1-15. That passage explains that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, and many other women followed Jesus and ministered to his needs. Wright states that these women:
have done the unthinkable: they have left the well-defined social space of home and family, where they had a role and a duty, and have chosen to accompany Jesus and his followers on the road from place to place, looking after their needs and doing so, moreover, out of their own pockets (95).
- Jesus redefined the ways humans relate to one another by receiving cultural outcasts into his community. Luke tells the story of a woman with a bad reputation who came to Jesus and ministered to him (7:36). She anointed his feet with her tears and special ointment. This ministry that the woman performs is gross … and beautiful. Jesus’ feet must have been dirty, calloused, and sore from all that walking throughout Palestine. But she was overcome by the love and acceptance Jesus offered to everyone, and she wanted to express her appreciation. Jesus received her ministry, a reaction that Wright says was sure to evoke the scorn of onlookers as “she lets down her hair, something no decent woman would do in public, and wipes his feet, kissing them all the while, and finally doing what she came for, anointing them” (91).
- Jesus broke the conventional boundaries of his culture by including women as teachers and disciples. Another example from Wright: In Luke 10:39, Mary of Bethany took her place among the other disciples as she sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to him teach. Wright claims “To sit at the feet of a rabbi was what you did if you wanted to be a rabbi yourself. There is no thought here of learning for learning’s sake. Mary has quietly taken her place as a would-be teacher and preacher of the kingdom of God” (131). Mary would soon be called Rabbi Mary.
- Jesus didn’t go against his Jewish faith by including women as full members of his community. Rather, he lived by a specific strand from within his Jewish faith. It’s important to note that the patriarchy of ancient Jewish culture wasn’t specific to ancient Jewish culture; patriarchy was rampant throughout the ancient world. What makes ancient Judaism special was that it challenged its own patriarchy. Jesus lived into that strand, the strand that includes powerful women like the prophet Hulda, who advised kings and priests; the warrior and judge Deborah, who led Israel against her enemies; and Esther, who saved her people. The New Testament shows that the early church included women as full participants, too. One modern scholar points to Junia as an example. She “was an apostle. Which means (because this is what apostles did) she was in essence a Christ-experiencing, Christ-representing, church-establishing, probably miracle-working, missionizing woman who preached the gospel and taught the church.”
Paul, one of the earliest followers of Jesus, said it best. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” It’s taken us men about 2000 years, but I think we’re finally starting to get the message.
 Of course, Jesus was not part of the modern political movement we call feminism, but he did challenge the patriarchy of his day and embraced women as full members of his new community. Thus, Jesus opened the door for the modern feminist movement.
Image: Jesus with Mary Magdalene, Zvonimir Atletic /Shutterstock.com