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Archive for September, 2018

A Note About Jesus and Women

Jesus did not try to change the culture by preaching about gender issues. Jesus simply modeled the way men and women should interact as He went about treating women like equal human beings. He shocked His disciples on many occasions, but He expected the Twelve to learn from Him. He expected them to see that in His kingdom women as well as men were to serve. He did not hand out specific job descriptions; He meant for women to follow Him in whatever way they were called. For most women this would still mean being a good wife and mother. Other women were single or widowed and Jesus affirmed them in their callings as well.

Not only did Jesus treat women with respect and kindness, He made no differentiation as to social class.

–  Some women were really poor – Mary His own mother, and Mary the mother of James.

– Other women were very wealthy – Joanna, the wife of Chuza who was a steward in King Herod’s household, Susanna, and Jairus’ daughter.

–  Some women had relative freedom and responsibility – such as Martha and Mary of Bethany, who were landowners.

–  Some were foreigners – The Syro-Phoenician woman

– Others were castoffs due to illness or demon possession – such as the hemorrhaging woman, the woman bent double, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna.

–  Some women were prominent – Joanna, and Jairus’ wife.

– Other women were considered lowly because they were prostitutes – The Samaritan woman, the “sinful” woman, and an unnamed anointing woman.

–  Many women were widowed – Mary, the mother of Jesus, Anna, the widow of Nain, and the widow with the two mites.

One thing all of these women had in common was that they had sadness or troubles in their lives. Even one as wealthy as Joanna had been demon possessed and needed Jesus’ help. Jesus saved all of these women not only spiritually, but also physically and socially. Women who were sick were considered unclean and were social outcasts. The Jews did not give single women the same respect as married women. Impoverished widows were neglected and were in danger of starvation and illness. Prostitutes were socially unacceptable anywhere.

When Jesus met the needs of all of these women He gave them new life – physically, socially, and spiritually. One of those amazing encounters for Jesus was with a woman that He met while traveling to Samaria.

 

The Woman at the Well

 

Turn to John 4:1-42. Leave your bibles open because we will be reading the entire story of this wonderful occasion when Jesus showed His compassion to a woman who was also a foreigner.

 

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—  although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.  So he left Judeaand went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

 

One day during His ministry Jesus decided to go to Galilee from Judea. He had to pass through Samaria or go around it. The Samaritans and the Jews did not get along, and many travelers just went around Samaria.

In order to avoid the hated Samaritans, the Jews would actually cross the Jordan River to the east side and travel through Perea and then cross back when they got opposite Galilee.

On this occasion Jesus was led by the Spirit to go through Samaria. Jesus would deliberately go through Samaria in order to have an encounter with a woman that would show not only His love and care about the other nations of the world but also for women. Jesus brought salvation to the whole world, not just Israel.

The disciples were with Jesus on this journey. After a long trek in a dry land they were tired and thirsty and stopped to rest at Jacob’s well near Sychar. It was about the “sixth hour” or around noon.

 

Continuing with verse 7:

 

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

 

When Jesus sat at the well to wait for the disciples, it was a very hot part of the day. Most women came in the early morning to draw water or waited until evening. Jesus know that He would encounter the woman He wanted to see and He knew that she would be alone. She was probably not treated well by the other women and would come at a time when she could not have to put up with their unkind words about her life.

Jesus also knew that if she followed the customs of the day that she would not speak to Him. That was why Jesus opened the conversation Himself.

 

Follow with me at verse 8:

 

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

 

The woman was probably not expecting this answer. Now right here, most of us would have taken the hint and asked Jesus, “What is this gift of God and who are you?” But the woman does not understand yet. She knows by His dress and speech that Jesus is Jewish, but she really does not get His point yet. But Jesus has at least aroused curiosity in her, and she reacts as if she thinks He means the physical water in the well.

 

Continuing at verse 11:

 

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

 

The woman is still thinking on a physical level. After all, she has the water jug and the means to draw water. Jesus is the one who is thirsty and tired. Here He is by a well and He can’t get any water without her help. How is He supposed to help her?

Having the privilege of hindsight, we know that the woman is of course speaking to one who is greater than their father Jacob though she doesn’t realize it. How do we understand the reason for her question? Is she being sarcastic? Is she really curious about this man who is speaking to her, a woman and a Samaritan?

Though the woman seems to want to deflect Jesus, Jesus knows what her true thoughts are. He knows all about this woman. Jesus wants to direct the conversation so He gives her an unexpected answer, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” Jesus had asked her, “If you knew the gift of God,” Jesus is the gift of God. He is the One who offers us eternal life. The water in Jacob’s well can only satisfy a temporary thirst; the living water that He gives will last eternally.

Who or what is this living water? For the Jews, living water was clean water that they could drink and depend on for healthy living. This was opposed to water in wells that was contaminated and could result in sickness or even death. The water in Jacob’s well had been used for centuries by the time the woman came to draw from it.

Jesus’ answer moved the woman’s thinking from the physical water to something more special – beyond the physical. Jesus is referring either to Himself or to the Holy Spirit. But the woman is not quite ready to receive this yet. She is still thinking on an earthly level, but Jesus knows her heart. He knows that she is capable of receiving spiritual truth. How kind Jesus is to take the time to lead this woman to salvation.

 

In Part 2 we will see how Jesus guides her even further into the truth.

 

 

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Let’s review from Part 1 of Mary of Bethany:

There were six Mary’s in the New Testament – Mary of Nazareth (Jesus’ mother), Mary of Magdala, Mary of Bethany, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Mary the mother of John Mark, and Mary of Rome. Of these, Jesus knew and interacted with the first four. He had very close relationships with three of the Mary’s – his mother, Mary of Magdala, and Mary of Bethany.

We don’t know how much interaction He had with Mary the mother of two of His apostles, James (sometimes called the “lesser”) and Joseph. It is likely that this Mary is the same as Mary of Clopas who was at the cross when Jesus died.  But like the other mothers of his disciples, Mary of Clopas must have occasionally been on hand to minister to her sons’ needs along with the female followers of Christ who saw to the feeding, clothing, and maybe even shelter for Jesus and the whole group of disciples.

The Rabbi’s in Jesus’ day did not teach women. In fact, many said that men should not speak with a woman, especially in the market place. But Jesus did not isolate Himself from women; in fact, He sought them out. Jesus taught women openly. He encouraged them as disciples and even depended on them for His sustenance. He allowed women to be His primary witnesses to key events in His life.

In the last few lessons we have been looking at the stories of the encounters that Jesus had with women. We started with the most important woman to Him, humanly speaking, His mother Mary. We saw Jesus’ great love and compassion for the helpless as he healed Mary of Magdala by casting seven demons out of her.

In this lesson we will continue to look at the story of Mary of Bethany. Her story is of a woman who bravely broke with the Jewish tradition that said that women could not be schooled and became disciples of Jesus.

 

Mary of Bethany – Encourager

In our last story we saw the many ways that Mary of Bethany followed Jesus. Mary and her sister Martha opened up their home for Jesus and the other disciples. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened while He taught. When their brother Lazarus died, Mary and Martha witnessed one of Jesus’ most powerful miracles as He raised Lazarus from the dead. These sisters then went on to be powerful witnesses for Christ in their village.

Mary was a very remarkable disciple. Mary was gifted with the discernment to understand the significance of Jesus’ words and actions. This was a special gift to her from God. The Lord would speak of His coming death to the twelve disciples several times during His ministry but they would not understand or believe it.

 

Mark records for us one such occasion. Turn to Mark 9:30-32:

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

For another occasion turn to Matthew 16:21-23:

From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

We should not be too hard on Peter. Jesus knew that Peter had a long way to go to maturity in his life. We have the privilege of hindsight and can look back and see when Jesus showed patience with Peter even though Jesus knew that Peter would deny him on the night of his arrest. But Jesus knew what Peter was destined for. Jesus knows our destinies too and we should be comforted.

On another occasion Jesus and the disciples were going up to Jerusalem for their third and last Passover supper with Jesus. Of course the disciples did not know this was to be the last supper with Jesus.

Turn to Matthew 20:17-19

Now Jesus was going up to Jerusalem. On the way, he took the Twelve aside and said to them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”

Again the Twelve apostles did not understand. But there was one disciple who understood – Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. Sometime during the last few days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus and His friends went to the home of Simon the leper. While they were at dinner, Mary poured an alabaster jar of costly perfume on Jesus’ feet. John records the story. Turn to chapter 12 of John’s gospel.

Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

Mary took a pound of extremely costly perfume and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair. Mark also gives an account of a woman, though not named, who anointed Jesus for His burial. We get some additional information. Turn to Mark 14:4-9:

 “Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Here again, we see that Mary chose the better part. She had already demonstrated that Jesus was more important to her than anything else in the world. The disciples needed to learn this lesson too. Jesus is using this occasion to teach the disciples that there are indeed many important things, like taking care of the poor, but knowing Jesus himself is the most important.

This story also reveals something else about Mary. While the Twelve were struggling to understand what Jesus was talking about when he predicted his death, Mary somehow comprehended the meaning of Jesus’ time on earth. When Mary anointed Jesus’ head and feet with the oil, she showed her gratitude to Him for her own salvation and for saving the life of her brother.

Mary also seemed to understand that Jesus’ time on earth was near an end. She had been attentive to the Lord’s teaching. God had blessed her with understanding. In this story as in all the stories about the incredible women in the New Testament, the women seem to be very intuitive and responsive to the Lord’s words.

The disciples complained about the “waste” of the costly perfume. They wanted to sell it and give it to the poor. We know that Judas had selfish motives for wanting to stop her. He was in charge of the moneybox and was a thief. But Jesus cut through all of the grumbling when he told the men to leave Mary alone. They probably had no idea that Jesus’ death and burial were so close. But Jesus knew that Mary understood. He received her worship on this occasion and honored her.

Jesus made a point about what is more important – that is to worship Him. The disciples had to realize that what Mary did had more significance than what they understood.

Mary’s blessing from God was that she was able to understand her Master’s teachings.

We see in this incident that Mary again “chose the better part”. Mary was so totally devoted to Christ, she was so in tune with His teaching, she was so intent on showing her love for Him that the only thing she could think of was worshiping Him. In her home she did this by listening at His feet. At Simon’s home, she did this by pouring the very costly perfume on Jesus’ head. Jesus made a point to say that wherever the Gospel was preached, her action would be spoken of. He couldn’t have made it any clearer that love and devotion for Him must come first in our lives.

There is something else interesting to note here. Jesus shatters cultural expectations by affirming the status of a woman as his disciple. Jesus is the greatest liberator of women the world has ever known.

Application

Jesus opened the door for women to have the privilege of studying the Word. Women are invited to be Jesus’ disciples and to study and learn and grow into maturity as followers of Christ. How thankful we should be for this story of Jesus and Mary of Bethany.

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