Wednesday, April 30, 2008

WWJD? [What would Jesus do?]

WWJD. This is a slogan worn as a wrist band by many. It's purpose is to remind the wearer to live with Jesus in mind as an example and do what you believe He would do in the circumstances of life. It may be a good philosophy of life, but as a theology of living the christian life? I don't think so.

Biblical christianity is, as Paul said in Galatians 2:20, our having been crucified with Christ, nevertheless, we live; yet it is not us living, but Christ living through us: and the life we now live in the flesh [body] we live through the faith of the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. That is a bit more involved than doing what we think Jesus might do in a given situation.

However, that said, there is something to observing how Jesus lived. In Hebrews 12:2 He is said to be the "pioneer" of our faith. When we live empowered by the indwelling Spirit creating the reality of Christ in us, it will not look fundamentally different than He did as He lived 2000 years ago on this planet. That Spirit will create in us that same love, compassion, mercy, faith, steadfastness, forgiveness and relationship styles that were seen in the thirty-three earthly years of our pioneer of the faith.

So, to see how Jesus related to women in life and in ministry might be a helpful thing. Let's do just that. WWJD?

The culture in which Jesus lived and ministered did not do very well with regards to women. It will not be necessary to speak much on this point as it is well documented in recorded history. I will just remind us that the Religious leaders of the day had a terrible track record with their attitude toward the female gender. One first century Rabbi, Eliezer, put it this way..."Rather should the words of the Torah [scriptures] be burned than entrusted to a woman. Whoever teaches his daughter the Torah is like one who teaches her laciviousness." Pretty tough view of women don't you think?

An historian notes that another Rabbi said..."He who speaks much with a woman [in context referring to his wife] draws down misfortune on himself, neglects the words of the law and, finally, earns hell." [That's a woman you live with. Other women were treated worse.]

Remember, these were the words of the religious leaders who taught the people. They WERE believed by the way.

A final historical note about the culture Jesus lived in using Rabbinical sayings. [A Rabbinical saying would be much like an axiom or a statement generally accepted as true in our day.]

"It is well for those whose children are male, but ill for those whose children are female."

"At the birth of a boy there is joy, but at the birth of a girl there is great sadness."

"When a boy comes into this world, peace has come, but with the coming of a girl, nothing."

"Even the most virtuous woman is a witch."

"Four qualities are evident in women: they are greedy at their food, eager to gossip, lazy and jealous."

[And we haven't even spoken of marriage and divorce yet.]

ENTER JESUS.

When the gospel writers were, under inspiration, giving the record they gave, there is no doubt they would have recorded any actions of Jesus that might have reflected this bias toward women had there been any, because it would be the normal way of life for men. There was none. Quite to the contrary, His life and ministry reflected just the opposite. There was an intential elevation of women to an equality that was totally foreign to that culture. Let's see how.

He taught them. This in and of itself was culture shattering. They were part of His discipleship group. In Luke 8 it says in v1 "His twelve..[men]..were with Him and certain women." [Three are named and are said to be ministering to Him.] In v5 He taught the parable of the sower and in v21 He declares "These [men and women] are my mother and brothers."

At the end of this gospel it records that at least three women were among those telling the apostles of the empty tomb. In 24:23 of Luke the eleven and those with them [including at least three women] had Jesus appear to them, eat with them, and command them to preach repentence and remission of sins in His name among all nations beginning at Jerusalem and there is no exclusion clause about women being exempt from this commision.

One final comment about Jesus and women in His life and ministry. Back in Luke 11:27 it is recorded that Jesus was teaching when a women spoke loudly and said "Blessed is the womb that bare thee and the paps at which you sucked."

She was overwhelmed by His obvious greatness and shouted out another axiom of that day. The Rabbi's taught "Whereby do women earn merit? By making their children go to the Synogogue to learn scripture and their husbands to the Rabbinical school to learn Mishnah and wait for her husband until he returns." In other words, a woman had no personal opportunity at spiritual things except through her representative husband and male children. It was being under his umbrella that was the source of her blessing. This woman sincerely believed that and, if true, Mary was blessed beyond measure because of her Son who was serving God as no other.

But Jesus amazingly cut that view to pieces with His response. He said "Blessed rather are those [men and women in context] who hear the word of God and obey it." This means a woman is blessed by personal connectedness and obedience to God just as a man is blessed by the same. There is no representative for the female other than the One who sits at the right hand of God making intercession for all believers. It is called equal footing in spiritual matters.

This leads me to a final concluding statement. Whatever the epistles record as instructions for church life, those instructions will not undo, when understood with correct interpretation, what Jesus did with women. You can take that to the bank.

One final look at this thing of women in life and ministry next time.

Paul B.

12 comments:

Bob Cleveland said...

Paul,

Excellent display. This deals mostly with the micro but some time ago, I expanded my view to the macro as well. Principally in connection with my duties as a husband.

Jesus was the least self-centered person I've ever been exposed to. He did nothing of personal preference except occasionally to withdraw from the crowds to be alone with His Father. Not only was He crucified on a cross, but it seems to me He crucified Himself .. His flesh .. His will .. to God. And we're to be crucified in that sense, too.

He gave us plenty of clues, both implicit (everything He did) and explicit (in saying He didn't do anything of His own, but rather He found what God was doing, and did that..).

Paul Burleson said...

Bob,

You're right..it is micro. In fact, my sole purpose was to show how Jesus set His culture on it's ear in regards to women in ministry. He certainly did that you would agree.

The implications of this are obvious. But I will deal with a few in my final post on the subject. Amen to your remarks.

Lin said...

A few years ago, I researched the household codes and some Talmudic teachings for that time and it only made me see how very radical Jesus was in His every day encounters with women. I had to take my 'Western' presupposition glasses off to see it.

The Talmud freaked me out. It also says a woman's voice is 'lewd' so she should not speak in public. Sound familiar?

There is nothing like looking at the 'whole scope' of scripture in not only words but behaviors for understanding... instead of a few proof texts to translate the whole.

Paul Burleson said...

Lin,

All your comment is good. Your last paragraph is..."bingo."

traveller said...

Paul, you have done it again! Yes, absolutely, Jesus transformed the relationship between women and men just as he did everything.

And, I agree with Lin that taking a single text or a few individual texts out of context creates many of our misconceptions and misinterpretations.

Your going through the examples of Jesus and women reminded me of the woman who had the menstrual bleeding problem and reached to touch Jesus' garment in order to be healed. Under the law Jesus was at that moment made ceremonially unclean. Yet, Jesus turns to this woman with great compassion and certainly shows no sign of thinking he is "unclean". How shocking that must have been to those around him. As you are pointing out Jesus, by his very life, cast aside the conventions of society and showed us God intended something very different...restored to how it was at the creation.

While Jesus was certainly not a feminist in the sense of modern secular feminists he seems to clearly reject the patriarchy of his day. Interesting that many today wish to reinstate what Jesus rejected.....

Paul Burleson said...

Traveller,

You have brought to mind the difficulty I had in writing this post. I could have chosen any number of incidents and situations to show how Jesus was so totally unconventional in His approach to women. I was also struck with how eerily similar so many of our present day attitudes fit that day's oppressive attitude toward women. This whole direction has been an eye-opener for me and I already viewed scripture presenting a different picture of women and ministry than many of my friends.

Bryan Riley said...

Paul - wow! This is really good. Why isn't this stuff out there more in the circles from which we came? Why is it when I even begin to talk about this particular subject I feel as though I am relegated to liberal, non-bible believing heretic by some leaders?

Paul Burleson said...

Bryan,

Talk about "wow." The book you sent me is fabulous. Thanks you very much.

As to why you are viewed as liberal or having left the scriptures, my guess is that some of what has been presented as scripture was really an interpretation of scriptures and some people don't know the difference betwee the text and Baptist traditional interpretations of the text.

When I started trying to verifly my belief system from the text itself some of my views went out the window. But I'm not concerned with being seen as a good baptist as much as I am concerned with being true to how I see the text.

Most people I know would think of themselves that way, of course, but the proof for me is if one gets upset with another who differs because it isn't the traditional baptist view, I'm suspect of their evaluation of themselves and the text.

Justa Believer said...

...if one gets upset with another who differs because it isn't the traditional baptist view, I'm suspect of their evaluation of themselves and the text.

Very well stated!

Paul Burleson said...

justa believer,

Your blog name captures for me the spirit of a true believer. We can fellowship around certain truths as baptism by immersion and call ourselves by different names such as Baptist. [Or something else] I do and I believe that is alright. But our unity is around the person and work of Christ because whatever unites us ultimately divides us. That's why, for me, the ground of true unity of the Spirit IS Christ and Him crucified. [The gospel] Other issues are fun and good to discuss and even disagree on but NOT to break the unity of the Spirit over which God creates in us with all believers. You can see I think unity is different than uniformity.

Thanks for stopping by.

Steve Miller said...

Brother Paul,

Good dialogue on the WWJD statement. Isn't it thrilling to know that Jesus never lowered the standard on any issue. When attempted to be trapped on the divorce question he discussed marriage from the Father's viewpoint. He, as a man, entered a culture that had lowered the status of women. It had gone from "Eurekia" I have found it in the garden of Eden, through the joy of my youth in Eccl 9:9, and to the condescending culture of Jesus' day. Jesus shattered the culture by reminding the hearers of the standard set by the Father. I don't recall the Father ever saying to just men, "I have called you by name and you are mine." I fear at times we pitch our tent too close to this type of interpretation. As always, thanks for sharing and sharpening the iron.

Steve in San Antonio

Paul Burleson said...

Steve,

Your comment is insightful, scriptural and right on target. Thank you for it.