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Jesus’s Treatment of Women


Question & Answer

Q: By A Reader

Was Jesus’s treatment of women radical enough to call him a feminist? 

A: By Rev. Irene Monroe

Dear Reader,

The human picture of Jesus and his relationship to women we may never know. However, the Christological depiction of Jesus in the Gospels shows an itinerant rabbi whose ministry was inclusive, intersectional, and iconoclastic. Jesus ministered to women, the physically challenged, the poor, and all of society’s outcasts, meaning the damned, the disenfranchised, and the dispossessed. He exhibited pro-feminist male sensibilities that violated the gender norms of his day. For example, in Luke 13:10 – 17, Jesus healed an infirm woman on the Sabbath, which was prohibited in Judaism. Another example is John 4:1-42, when Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman at the well. In this pericope, Jesus did three things unconventional and disturbing to the status quo of the day: 

In public, Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman knowing she had five husbands and was presently cohabiting with another man.

Jesus asked to drink water from the bucket of a Samaritan at a time it was perceived to be ritually unclean because of the schism between Samaritans and Jews.

In verses 21-26, Jesus and the Samaritan woman discuss theology that was solely the province of men. 

Women, unquestionably, were a part of Jesus’s ministry. Sources suggest that Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna assisted in bankrolling his ministry. Each of the gospels states that women were the first Jesus revealed himself to as a resurrected Christ. Mary Magdalene traveled with Jesus and his disciples as one of his followers, and was a witness to his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. 

However, a different Jesus appears in Matthew 15: 21- 28 when Jesus calls a Canaanite woman a dog. For any feminists, Jesus’s remarks are both troubling and problematic, and calling a woman a “dog” is no minor insult even in the 1st Century. 

Nonetheless, there continue to be various hermeneutical spins on this text. Some feminists suggest Jesus was expressing both ethnocentric and misogynistic sentiments.  It was quite common for 1st Century Jews to call Gentiles “dogs.” Feminist apologists contest that Jesus’s remarks to the woman were testing her faith. I suggest the woman’s boldness of not cowering to Jesus was a catalyst for Jesus to examine the true meaning of his all-inclusive ministry.

This scripture still leaves me scratching my head. One bad incident, if out of character, doesn’t erase Jesus’s ministry. However, I wonder when I read this Matthew pericope, which Jesus was present- the human one or the Christological one? 

Thank you for your question.

~ Rev. Irene Monroe

About the Author
Rev. Irene Monroe is an ordained minister. She does a weekly Monday segment, “All Revved Up!” on WGBH an NPR station, that is now a podcast, and a weekly Friday commentator on New England Channel NEWS. Monroe is the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail, Guided Walking Tour of Beacon Hill: Boston’s Black Women Abolitionists. She is a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion columnist in cities across the country and in the U.K, Ireland, Canada. She writes a column in the Boston home LGBTQ newspaper Baywindows, Cambridge Chronicle, and Opinion pieces for the Boston Globe.

Monroe stated that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American, queer and religious studies. As a religion columnist she tries to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news she aims to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.” Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College Research Library on the history of women in America. Click here to visit her website.

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