“Jesus and the Equality of Women”
A Sermon based on Luke 10:38-42 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Rev. Paul E. Capetz Christ Church by the Sea (United Methodist),
Newport Beach February 9, 2020
Last year a good friend of mine died whom I had known for over twenty years while I was living in Minneapolis. Her name was Liz Heller and she was a Presbyterian minister. I want to tell you about Liz because she grew up at a time when churches like ours did not yet permit women to be ordained as ministers. Liz was one of those pioneers who first blazed the trail for other women to become ministers in mainline Protestant churches. But before I tell you about Liz, I want us to look at our two texts from the New Testament, both of which have to do with the role of women in the early Christian movement.
The ancient world was patriarchal: that is, it was a male-dominated world in which women were subject in virtually every respect to the domination and authority of men. Whether we are talking about the Jewish world in which Jesus and his first disciples lived or the GrecoRoman world into which Christian missionaries like the apostle Paul brought the Christian message about Jesus, women were subordinate to men in power and prestige. Yet one of the remarkable things about Jesus as we read about him in the gospels was the frequency of his interactions with women. Furthermore, the way Jesus interacted with women was even more remarkable; he treated them with respect as persons in their own right who deserved to be taken seriously by men. Women occupy a large place in the gospels, from his birth, throughout his ministry, up to his death and resurrection. Just take a few well-known examples: Jesus’ own mother Mary as well as Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist both played important roles in the stories leading up to his birth; Jesus healed a woman who suffered for many years from a flow of blood after she had exhausted all her money in vain on doctors who failed to heal her; Jesus was criticized by one of the Pharisees for letting a sinful woman wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair; Jesus told a parable in which he likened God to a woman who went searching for a lost coin; Jesus healed the daughter of a Gentile woman; the women disciples stayed beside Jesus while he was dying on the cross after the male disciples had fled in fear; and the women were the first to discover the empty tomb and to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Moreover, in the stories about the early church recorded in the Book of Acts, we learn of wealthy women like Lydia who became benefactors to the church or of itinerant missionaries like Priscilla who was the colleague of Paul. So, in spite of the fact that Christianity emerged in a patriarchal, male-dominated world, women were there from the start as active participants in the ministry of Jesus and the early church. As one biblical scholar has said, without the women in Jesus’ life there might not have been a Christian Church at all!