In Following Jesus, I’m really proud of the chapter I wrote, “Following Jesus’s Prophetic Welcome of Women.” There are obvious reasons for me to feel happy about this project: it was a successful coediting collaboration in which Tim Gaines and I emerged on the other side with increased respect for each other and great satisfaction with the product of our labor. I am also grateful for the learning experience and the excellence of the publishing team who worked with us.
But my specific gratification with my chapter on Jesus and women is of a different sort. It is not about the work invested but the grace and insight I experienced in the process of searching Scripture and writing. I am both a Christian woman and a feisty, opinionated woman. (Those are not in opposition by definition, by the way.)
But when I thought about writing this chapter that pointed to Jesus in the office of prophet in light of his interactions with women, I had a few axes I saw in need of grinding. Do you know this sort of readiness to pounce? There were some juicy targets at which I really wanted to fire my exegetical arrows. I love a good Greek-word slam dunk that proves my point! Then again, Scripture really is not very life giving when it is used that way, but most of us can acknowledge that sometimes we read in an outwardly focused manner. (Woo boy, Elmer really needs to read this verse! That’ll show him!)
On the other hand, sometimes confrontations need to happen! Nathan told King David a story in order to sneak in a needed but unwelcome accusation (2 Samuel 12:1–10). Jesus used Scripture to rebuff a powerful enemy (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; Luke 4:4, 8, 12). And Jesus told a parable—a story form he usually reserved to describe God’s kingdom—against his opponents (Matthew 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12; Luke 20:9–19), even riffing on preexisting Scripture in doing so (Isaiah 5:1–7).
If Jesus is offering us a glimpse into the world made right—that is, the kingdom of God, a world in which power struggles on the basis of gender, age, social standing, and ethnicity are relativized in light of the saving power of Christ—then I need to give primary attention to Jesus and not to gender.
So when you’ve heard some of the stories I’ve heard about women being dismissed, hurt, and misused by church people, it might make sense to have the impulse to “show them” how radically they are missing the point. Instead of giving me the urge to “fix” other people, however, paying close attention to the Gospels’ stories of Jesus and how he interacted with the women he encountered actually ended up teaching me a few things.
First, if Jesus is offering us a glimpse into the world made right—that is, the kingdom of God, a world in which power struggles on the basis of gender, age, social standing, and ethnicity are relativized in light of the saving power of Christ (e.g., Acts 2:17–18; Galatians 3:28)—then I need to give primary attention to Jesus and not to gender. In this shifted perspective, differences are not erased or whitewashed, but they aren’t given ultimate importance either. Even trying to expand and make more accurate our portrait of Jesus (not merely a meek and mild caricature of him) has the benefit of making more room for all of God’s children to live into who they were created to be.
Second, the deeper I got into my chapter, the more I realized that Jesus’s interactions with women were something to celebrate for their own sake. We do a disservice to the loving and welcoming posture of Jesus when we think we need to help Jesus look good by playing fast and loose with history, trying to make others look bad and Jesus good simply by comparison. Likewise, it is better when my response to a rejection of women in church leadership moves away from being defensive. When I can instead pivot to pointing out the Spirit-filled joy of fulfilling God’s calling, regardless of gender, I honor Jesus. After all, Jesus is the one who, according to John 20:16–18, commissioned Mary Magdalene to preach the good news of his resurrection to the other disciples (rather than handing her a 500-page treatise on her right to do so).
Don’t get me wrong: there is room in Christ’s church for holy argument. We need books explaining a Christ-honoring way of reading Scripture that advocate for women in ministry. We need to read Scripture in community and let the Spirit convict us throughout that process. The pursuit of truth is almost always accompanied by the painful necessity of setting aside our misassumptions, our preconceptions, our self-aggrandizement, our ignorance, and our narrow perspectives. We need modern-day prophets who remind us of the ways we fall short or misunderstand the gospel. Remember that Jesus engaged in plenty of debates with his contemporaries, but he never let them derail him from proceeding with God’s mission. We must right-size our debates in light of the really, really good news we have to share about the fullness of life in Christ.
In the process of working on my chapter, I let my portrait of Jesus’s role as prophet examine more than the words he said or the ways he sacrificed. By grace, I noticed anew the prophetic welcome that our Lord extended to all—but especially to those more likely to be overlooked, excluded, diminished, or devalued. My prayer is that we would have the conviction and boldness to extend that prophetic welcome today.