The toxic relationship which can so often result between men and women can be traced back to what we call “The Fall” – the broken relationship between men and women in relation to God. And the dysfunction that resulted from that event reverberates down the millennia to our own day and generation – in male female relationships in general – be it at home – at work and within the Church.
Before The Fall – both Adam and Eve, although having distinct but complementary roles, recognised that in one another – in equal measure – they had been created and lived in the image of God. Let me quote John Piper here –
“What sin did was ruin this harmony. Sin made men abandon servant-leadership and become passive or harsh and insensitive and uncaring, or some other distortion of biblical headship. And sin distorted the woman’s support and honour into manipulation or defiance or helplessness or some other distortion of true biblical submission.”
And it is this lost and broken relationship that we see restored and exemplified in the life of Jesus in his attitudes towards Women – be they his mother, his female friends and disciples, immoral street prostitutes, adulterers and even the the demon possessed he encountered during his lifetime! All were treated with respect, grace, consideration and love!
I suspect most of us are familiar with the story we call – “The Woman At The Well”, found in the Gospel of John. Yet I do not think most of us realise how counter cultural Jesus behaviour here is. Part of the story reads –
“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. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?””
John 4: 4 – 7
For 500 years there had been hostility and bitterness between the Jew and the Samaritan. They did not speak to one another and Jews certainly avoided going through Samaritan villages and towns. Yet for the sake of one woman [and an immoral one at that] Jesus deliberately sets to to go the Samaritan village of Sychar which today is located in in the city of Nablus in the West Bank [we might want to bookmark that fact!]. The Mishnah – the oral Jewish law, of which Jesus would have been well aware, said this –
“One who excessively converses with a woman causes evil to himself, neglects the study of Torah, and, in the end, inherits Gehenna.”
I believe that is why we read –
“Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?””
John 4: 27
So according to the oral Jewish Law Jesus is risking Hell by engaging this woman in conversation! What does that say about how he values her? Furthermore we can’t pass on without noticing also that he humbles himself before her! In essence he says to her –
“I am weak and need help. Can you help me – I need you to give me water?”
We are so used to telling people what we can do for them – what God can do for them – but here Jesus – the God Man – humbles himself and says – can you please do for me! Daniel T Niles – the late Sri Lankan theologian said in relation to this –
“He was a true servant because He was at the mercy of those whom he came to serve … this weakness of Jesus, we His disciples must share. To serve from a position of power is not true service but beneficence.”
So Jesus route in to conversation with this immoral woman – that way in which he engages her – is by emptying himself – taking the humble place of a man in need of help from a woman he should never even have been speaking to – far less asking for help from! He has broken down the cultural barrier that exists not only between warring clans – but between the masculine and the feminine – between man and women. And it is in that place of mutual respect that he can begin the process of revealing to her her real need – and he does that by moving her from a place of religious conversation to a personal relationship!
A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
John 4: 23 – 26
I find it strange in a way that this is where the conversation ends with the revelation – “I Am He”. But it is in the revelation of who she is in relation to the “I Am” – that this shamed outcast, a hated foreigner to most Jews, and a woman who could not find satisfaction in 5 husbands or her other lovers – become the first female evangelist in the New Testament – subsequently inviting her neighbours to meet Jesus for themselves.
And again – in all of this – in the light of our subject – we see Jesus respect for this women – he raises her worth and reveals her true value as he shares his time, respect, humility, grace and love to her. May we follow his example and do the same to all, irrespective of race, gender, religion or background in every place and every circumstance.