I was praying recently for help with cynicism and hopelessness that challenged my faith in God . Two things happened that encouraged me to find goodness and opportunity. A talk inviting me to look at women’s relationships with Jesus in the scriptures – on Mother’s Day and as the final speaker- is one of them. This is my talk, which I abbreviated a bit on the day for time.
One of my favorite quotes about Christ’s relationship with women comes from author Dorothy Sayer, who explained:
“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.”
With this on my mind, I explored the relationship between Jesus Christ and individual women in the Bible. When we consider how Jesus interacted with the women in the Bible, we find:
- He commissioned women to proclaim the resurrection
- Jesus went against social norms and spoke to women directly, as equals to men in intelligence, ability, and spirituality
- Jesus first told a woman, “I am the Messiah.”
- Women ministered to and with Jesus
- Jesus held theological discussions with women and taught them formally as pupils at his feet. Mary of Bethany was a formal pupil learning from Jesus in Luke 10:42.
- He called women to prophesy: In Acts 2:17-18, the Lord declares,
“17 And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams:
18 And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:
- Judges 2:18 states that “the Lord raised them up judges” and the Lord made both Miriam and Deborah prophets and leaders.
Let’s look at a few specific stories together. The first takes place in John 20:1-18 and I’m using inspiration from author Sarah Bessey here, who breaks down the story in a meaningful way.
Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of Jesus before sunrise and arrives to see the stone rolled away. She immediately runs to Simon Peter and John to tell them someone has taken Jesus out of the tomb. They run to look inside for themselves (not taking her at her word) and John even goes inside to verify for himself.
The men leave, but Mary remains and weeps. In her sorrow and commitment to seeking Jesus, Angels appear to ask, “Why are you weeping?”
Mary replies, “They took my master and I don’t know where they put him!”
She then turns and sees a man she believes must be a gardener. The man also asks why she is crying. Mary repeats her story and begs him to tell her if he knows anything about where Jesus has gone.
Then Jesus says one thing: her name. Jesus knows and loves Mary and speaks to her first by name. She recognizes him and cries out “Teacher!”
Now, I can only imagine her relief and joy – and disbelief! She must want to touch and hold her beloved Jesus to make sure he is really, truly there. Her instinct is to clutch him to her.The Bible tells us that Jesus advised Mary, “Don’t cling to me.” I am enchanted by author Sarah Bessey’s view of this moment. She imagines:
“Part of me just believes that because she launched herself at him. That she ran at him, and clung to him with all of her sorrow and trauma and grief and relief and joy and amazement in her arms. As a mother, I know how kids an sometimes hug so hard that it almost feels like a strangle. I read his statement with the protesting laugh of love–You’re hugging me too hard! Let me catch my breath! Regardless, Jesus tells her to go and tell his brothers. She dances off, the miracle singing in her mouth, proclaiming the good news, the first preacher of the resurrection–“I saw the Master!”–and she tells other disciples everything he said to her.”
A woman is the first to declare the good news. She is the first witness and the first preacher of the resurrection; chosen by Jesus Christ.
How can we apply and follow Christ’s example here in our day? One way is to consider how we consider and respect the authority and significance of women’s teachings. For example, Have more women speakers and quote women more often at General Conference. Of the 35 speakers in 7 sessions of the latest conference, two were women. Do we know their names? Are we amplifying their voices and recognizing their teachings as significant following conference? Could we pray for more women speakers to demonstrate their authority and importance as preachers of the resurrection? How do we view female authority in our wards and branches when they speak, direct, guide, or contribute?
Let’s look at a second story. When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well, he had the longest personal conversation ever recorded in scripture. While we often focus on sin as central to this story, the two are holding a long, theological discussion. Jesus is sharing the good news with her, answering her questions with depth, and introducing her to new spiritual truths (just as he did with men). And because this woman is seeking goodness and Christ, the spirit works in her.
In John 4: 25 and 26, we read:
25 The woman saith unto him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.
26 Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he.
A woman is the first to to whom Jesus openly reveals himself as the Messiah. Author Sarah Bessey reminds us that The woman – like many apostles before her who left behind nets, boats, stalls, and their lives to follow Jesus – leaves her water jug to go and proclaim of Jesus to people.
How can we apply and follow Christ’s example here in our day? We often focus on roles in our lives and in the church – mother/father, Bishop, priesthood holder, wife/husband, teacher, etc. LDS therapist Dr. Julie Hanks invites us to rethink these areas of our lives as relationships, rather than just roles.
She explains, “When we define motherhood as merely a role, we also attach socially prescribed behaviors and societal functions that may feel restrictive and narrow. I prefer to focus on talking about motherhood as a relationship, an emotional bond with another human being, instead of a list of prescribed duties.”
Doing this doesn’t diminish women’s roles as mothers, but instead opens up what it looks like to be a mother and reminds us that this is relationship-focused, rather than duty-focused. Similarly, when we we look at teacher, preacher, leader, speaker, disciple, etc. as relationships, not roles, we open up the possibilities of what these look like. When we focus on them as relationships, like Christ did, we can break many societal and cultural norms that limit and diminish us.
The next woman of the Bible we will focus on is Priscilla or Prisca (her name in Timothy 2). I found a Women in the Bible series on the Exponent II Blog that helped me to truly appreciate her story.
Priscilla and her husband, Aquila, were tentmakers and she was engaged in a skilled trade alongside him. They preached alongside Paul and are always mentioned together in partnership. Interestingly, Priscilla is sometimes mentioned first, which is no small thing for male writers of the Bible to do at this time. Some see this as a sign of her authority and the respect she garnered.
Paul refers to Priscilla as “a helper in Jesus Christ” and praises the couple for having laid down their necks for his life. This is a couple who had been cast out of Rome for their beliefs, persecuted, and faced real danger traveling to preach the gospel.
She was a significant leader, in partnership with her husband. It’s so beautiful to see how her authority and distinct identity did not threaten or diminish Aquila in any way. One example we see of this partnership comes in
24 ¶And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.
25 This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.
26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
In Women of the Bible Series: Priscilla: A Pattern of Partnership on Exponent II, the writer Em explains the importance of this scripture, “Apollos spoke boldly in the synagogue according to his knowledge, which was limited but heartfelt. It takes both courage and delicacy to approach someone you scarcely know to tell them they’re not entirely correct. Priscilla evidently did this in such a way that Apollos eagerly accepted the truths that she and her husband taught him privately.”
How can we apply this example in our own day?
Neylan McBaine says in Women at Church, “…women are constantly engaged in a process of likening male role models unto themselves, while men rarely have to go through the same process of disassociating their own gender to find inspiration in female [role models]. Thankfully, contemporary women leaders tend to address the entire congregation. Nonetheless, this awareness motivates me in my work to create an environment wherein women and men can cooperatively minister.”
Jesus called and calls women to proclaim the gospel and to be leaders and teachers. I think that as we strive to emulate how Christ partnered with women in the scriptures, we will naturally make changes that are primarily cultural (and easily dismissed, but make a demonstrable difference) like:
- Quote women more and tell stories of women more that highlight their attributes as preachers, ministers, thought leaders, and heroes that do not only rely on their roles as wives or mothers. Did you know that LDS speakers (including women) quote men 16 times for every 1 time they quote a woman? Let’s actively work on that.
- Let go of cultural ideas that diminish women, such as the idea that a pretty wife is a reward for a faithful mission, a woman is called alongside her husband without an official title or an official, distinct leadership role, or that “The Priesthood” rather than “The Holders of the Priesthood” pass and administer the sacrament and other ordinances.
- Calling women “President” to demonstrate their authority. Calling all missionaries “missionaries,” instead of elders and sisters, and only designating the sisters as separate when absolutely necessary to distinguish gender.
Popular LDS general authority Chieko Okazaki explained succinctly, “It seems to me like Christ loved the women. I think he really included them in many areas where Jewish society excluded them. He didn’t mind breaking those rules.”
As we consider Christ’s relationship with his female disciples in the Bible, it’s beautiful to see how he saw their personhood, their strengths, and their potential first and consistently invited them to witness, declare, and administer.
As we consider the relationship of women with the Savior in the Bible, it’s beautiful to see how their relationship with him allowed them to become their best selves, to reach beyond societal restrictions, and to follow him as disciples with all of their hearts.
This is balm for my soul today.
Wonderful talk! Wow! I no longer attend church on Mother’s Day because it makes me feel complacent in my own marginalization, but this is a talk I would show up for
This was wonderful! Thank you.