Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus was not only in the company of men, but he was regularly in the company of women. In fact, Jesus had many female disciples, which would have shocked Jesus’ contemporaries. When we consider the social times Jesus was living in, the way Jesus treated women was strikingly different from the way everyone else treated women.
1. Jesus Beheld Women
Jesus noticed women. In a society where men and women were often polarized and separated from one another, Jesus’ inclusion of women caused surprise; even Jesus’ own disciples were surprised by the way Jesus treated women. After talking with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, the Bible records that the disciples were surprised Jesus was talking to a woman (Jn. 4:27). At that time, Jews and Samaritans did not associate with each other, so the expected comment from John would have been surprise that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan. However, the text explicitly says what was unusual was that Jesus was talking to a woman.
This shows that Jesus cared about reaching women. Furthermore, the gospels include examples of Jesus healing and forgiving women who were ritually unclean (Mk. 5:25-34), were Gentiles (Mk. 7:24-30), were sinners (Lk. 7:36-50), and had lost everything (Lk. 7:11-17). He never rebuked them for acting like women, and he never made fun of them or purposefully avoided them. Instead, he welcomed them and included them, calling them to receive salvation. Jesus treated them the way he treated everyone, engaging them in conversation, telling them about himself, and offering them salvation.
2. Jesus Bent Social Mores for Women
During the time of Jesus’ ministry, most women’s activity was constrained to the home. They were typically not educated as much as men, could not hold government office, and were not allowed to live apart from their fathers or husbands. It was highly unusual that any sort of religious or philosophical teacher would allow women to follow him and learn from him, yet this is exactly what Jesus allowed. In Luke 8, we learn many women accompanied Jesus and the twelve disciples (Lk. 8:1-3). These women had been healed of various ailments and were accompanying Jesus and the disciples as they traveled together, providing for them out of their own means.
3. Jesus Befriended Women
Jesus not only heals women, but he befriends them. Two notable friends of Jesus were Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead (Jn. 11). This family welcomed Jesus into their home, learned from him, and became close with him (Lk. 10:38-42). He wept with them when Lazarus died, then raised their brother from the dead. Mary was forgiven her many sins and sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching, even though her sister urged her to help prepare and serve food. Jesus even rebuked Martha for not following her sister’s example of sitting to hear his teaching (Lk. 10:38-42).
Jesus not only overturned the social institutions of his time in the way he treated women but also in the way he treated children, the poor, and the disabled. His association with what the leaders of Jesus’ day (and often in our own day) considered to be beneath them reversed the separation, division, and prideful hierarchy caused by sin. As Paul will later write to the Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:28-29). Christ came to save both Jews and Greeks and both men and women. In Jesus, we see a restoration of both genders, sharing the same human dignity and worth as image bearers of God.