Jesus’ ministry is one of reversal. One of the extremely countercultural and revolutionary aspects of Jesus’ ministry is how he interacts with women. He consistently dignifies women and elevates their status by interacting with them on a deeply human level. He acknowledges their pain, hopes, and fears, and invites them to draw near to himself, which always ends in transformation. Such an experience cannot be kept silent, and Jesus empowers women to bear witness to himself and his coming kingdom, which ultimately transforms their communities. We will see this explicitly exemplified through his interactions with the hemorrhaging woman, the Samaritan woman, and the women who were both disciples and witnesses to his ministry and resurrection.
Transformation from “Unclean” to Public Witness
In Luke 8:40–48, we find Jesus in a bustling crowd on his way to heal the daughter of a religious leader. In this same crowd is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. After unsuccessfully seeking medical help to heal her “issue of blood,” she was left with an empty bank account and loneliness. Her continual state of “uncleanness” based on the Levitical law kept her on the margins of society, unable to participate in the Jewish social and religious community (Lev. 15:19).
As people press in on all sides, this ritually unclean woman reaches out in faith, and by touching Jesus, feels her healing immediately. This woman had guts, not only to touch Jesus but to be in a place where she could be ridiculed due to her condition. Feeling power go out of him, Jesus confirms the woman’s faith and healing. He does not hold her sickness against her, rather he recognizes this woman’s helpless state and her tenacity to get the healing she could not purchase.1
Her suffering is over. Jesus meets her where she is, in the middle of a crowd, and dignifies her in a way she has never experienced. Jesus responds, “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace” (Luke 8:48). She receives praise not only for her faith, which includes both the action of reaching out to touch Jesus and coming forward to confess what his power did to her, but also her salvation by trusting in Jesus as a source for her healing in the first place.2
Through this narrative, we see Jesus honoring and elevating the status of this woman. He sees in her nonverbal action the type of faith he is trying to cultivate in his disciples.3 Not only is she delivered from her sickness, but she is fully restored to life in the community she has been unable to participate in for twelve years.4 Additionally, as John T. Carroll states in his commentary on Luke: “She becomes a public witness to God’s saving activity.”5
Through this narrative, we see Jesus honoring and elevating the status of this woman.
Breaking Cultural Norms to Uplift the Outcast
Another example of Jesus’ countercultural interaction with women is found in the Gospel of John. On his way from Jerusalem to Galilee, Jesus “had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). The subsequent narrative depicts Jesus resting by a well while his disciples get food in Sychar, a nearby Samaritan town. A woman approaches the well to draw water, and Jesus engages her as one who is weak, exhausted from a long trek and thirsty (v. 6). Shocked, the woman wonders why a Jew would even ask to share her water jug, since that would be ritually impure for a Jew.6 Additionally, having one-on-one conversations with members of the opposite sex in isolation, especially for religious men, was highly frowned upon in that society, yet Jesus speaks to her.7
He does not treat the woman as a second-class citizen. Jesus shatters the cultural expectations of both treatment of a Samaritan from a Jew and a man to a woman. Jesus respects her questions and dives into a theological conversation with her.8 As a result of the dialogue, the roles are reversed and the one who has the jar needed to access physical water, recognizes her limits in accessing the living water of the Messiah.9
Jesus shatters the cultural expectations of both treatment of a Samaritan from a Jew and a man to a woman.
Salvation is not just for the individual but for the community, so Jesus tells her to invite her husband which exposes the reality that she has had five husbands and is currently cohabitating with a man outside the marriage covenant (vv. 16–19). This woman likely experienced widowhood or divorce on a number of occasions; and now she may be a concubine seeking protection and security from a man though unmarried.10 No matter her backstory, the woman is not condemned for her marital history, rather Jesus acknowledges her longings and exposes her hunger for answers to her biggest questions.11
Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah (v. 26) and the Samaritan woman becomes a conduit of “the living water” to her community as she invites them to come to know Jesus as “the Savior of the world” (v. 42). His interactions with this woman reveal Christ’s willingness to work outside prejudice and to recognize the real hunger at the heart of a person rather than be distracted by gender, ethnicity, or culture. In so doing, he dignifies the woman.
Elevating Women as Disciples and Witnesses
In the Gospels, Jesus does not discriminate against anyone who is hungry for truth. The two women we’ve already met both became witnesses in their communities, testifying to what God had done for them through Christ. Culturally, a woman’s testimony was not accepted in court, but Jesus consistently empowers women as his witness.12
Luke 8:2–3 mentions women disciples who not only followed the Lord from Galilee to Jerusalem, financially sponsored Jesus’ ministry, cared for him even after his death, but also became witnesses to his resurrection. One of the women disciples, Mary Magdalene, arises as a prominent figure in the resurrection narrative and some believe she was an “apostle to the apostles” proclaiming the good news of the empty tomb.13 We know she was healed by Jesus of seven demons and responded by leaving all and following him, a model similar to the one Jesus challenges the twelve to follow (Matt. 19:29).14 The draw to become disciples and follow Jesus is a natural reaction of gratitude as one’s life is transformed by the Messiah. Jesus equally welcomes “whosoever will come,” to follow him (John 6:37–40).
Jesus elevates the status of women by allowing them to be the first witnesses of his resurrection.
The story of the women disciples reveals how Jesus dignified women by meeting them where they were (Galilee) and inviting them to journey with him to Jerusalem where, all along the way, their lives are transformed. Unlike cultural attitudes that “mute women’s roles and discredit their witness” Jesus elevates the status of women by allowing them to be the first witnesses of his resurrection.15 Here Christ ignores the common gender roles or assumptions that neglected to find validity in a woman’s testimony, whereby giving women dignity as his disciples.16
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he never meets someone he won’t touch, uplift, heal, and restore to full humanity. There is no hierarchy of value within his vision of humanity. He has no stereotypes which hold some people at arm’s length and brings others in. Rather, he maintains an open posture and an all-inclusive invitation to all saying: “‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17b, ESV).
In a world that marginalizes the weak, hurting, and helpless, Christ strengthens, heals, and restores. Rather than allowing oppression to continue, Jesus fosters equality by allowing both women and men to become disciples and bear witness of all that he has done for them. We can therefore confidently approach Christ like the hemorrhaging women and receive healing and restoration. We can all, like the Samaritan woman, ask Jesus our hardest questions and find in him fulfillment to our greatest longings. And we can all share the good news that the Messiah has come, has met us where we are, and in that meeting transformed everything.
Natasha Smith is the co-author of Unplanned Grace: A Compassionate Conversation on Life and Choice. Over the last five years she’s served the pro-life movement across the country by telling true stories of women who were empowered for life through local pregnancy centers. Her academic background is in communications and biblical theology and is currently seeking a Masters in Old Testament from Denver Seminary. Her love for the pro-life cause is grounded in the understanding that all life has value because every life is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27).