Luke on women

4:28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.

Why did crowds aim to throw Jesus off cliff??

25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

Because gospel was for unexpected kinds of people! Year of the Lord’s favour was not to punish the wicked but to save them.

4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The four gospel writers each tell the story of Jesus from their own particular perspective. They choose which sayings and stories to include and which to leave out. Luke takes a special interest in the kinds of people Jesus came to heal and to save. The lost and the sinners. So Luke’s gospel talks particularly about healings. About the rich and the poor. About Gentiles being saved. Naaman the Syrian. And about women – even the widow in Zaraphath.

Because Jesus came to bring freedom for the prisoners, and to release the oppressed. And these were not just people who were “spiritual” prisoners or sin, not just those oppressed by demons. Jesus brought a radical agenda of social justice. To set free all who were imprisoned or oppressed in any way. Jesus brought blessings not only for the rich but also for the poor. Blessings not just for men but for women too!

To understand the gospels as they were read 2000 years ago we need to put ourselves back into a different world. Attitudes of the people of those days were very different from attitudes we all assume today. In many ways we need to look to the Middle East today, or to parts of Africa today, to see the ways in which women were marginalised by society in Jesus’s day.

Because women in the Patriarchal society of Jesus’s time were not treated or respected or esteemed in the ways they are today or indeed have been in any of our lifetimes. Most of my life has been the era of feminism and women’s lib. I remember the essay I had to write for university entrance. “Women need men like fish need a bicycle – Discuss.”

We can forget that women in England have not always been treated as equals by men. Some still to our shame are not. But we must remember that the right to vote on equal terms as men was not given to all women until 1928 only 90 years ago. A retired nurse once told me that when she first bought a house in 1950s the building society required her father to stand guarantee on the mortgage for her because women could not take out mortgages for themselves in those days. Women have fought hard for the rights to equality which they enjoy today.

Some people think that the Bible has helped hold women back. In fact the opposite is true. The seeds of equality in race, religion and gender are there in Scripture. The battle for equality has come out of Bible teaching on equality. And although Jesus did not teach the women’s rights agenda some feminists wish that he had, Jesus’s treatment and affirmation of women was truly radical for its time. And nowhere is this more obvious than in Luke’s gospel. So today we will look at five aspects of the gospel which may seem obvious to us today but were earth-shattering 2000 years ago – truths which still need to be proclaimed in many parts of the world today.
God loves women as much as men

Jesus’s first healing miracle was of Simon Peter’s mother in law. By the way if he had a mother in law he obviously had a wife, as most of the apostles would have done. We then read of Jesus raising a widow’s son from the dead, healing a woman with a haemmorage and raising Jairus’s daughter back to life. All these miracles are in other gospels as well. But the significant thing is that Jesus heals women as well as men. And even raises to life a girl who is only 12 years old.

Other gospels tell us that Jesus was criticised for performing healing miracles on the Sabbath. But it is only Luke who tells us that it was a woman who was healed.

13:10: On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
When he was criticised, Jesus said,
Should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

In other words, the blessings of God’s Kingdom are for daughters of Abraham as well as for the sons of Abraham. God loves women just as much as men. And no better story illustrates that than the time Jesus was anointed by a sinful woman.

7:36 Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, 38 and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

The host Simon the Pharisee criticised Jesus because the woman was a sinner, probably a prostitute. So Jesus told the parable of the two debtors. The person who loves more is the person who has received greater forgiveness.
47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” … 50 “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Women are welcomed as disciples exactly the same as men are

The first disciples: Mary mother of Jesus, Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist, Anna the prophetess.

2:36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

One further example of women following Jesus is found only in Luke’s gospel.
23:26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.

Of course all the gospels record how it was the women who prepared the spices to anoint Jesus’s dead body. And all the gospels record that it was those women who first discovered the empty tomb, and after the resurrection Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene, a woman!
Women supported the ministry of Jesus and of the apostles

The author of Luke’s gospel was Paul’s companion on some of his missionary journeys and we have the second volume of Luke’s story of the gospel as the Book of Acts. We can see Luke’s interest in women as disciples in Acts as well.

In ACTS 9 we read of a disciple named Tabitha (or Dorcas) who has died and Peter raised her back to life again.
IN Thessalonica: 17 4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women.
And in BEREA: 17:12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.
In ATHENS – 17: 34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.
And read of Paul’s preaching at Philippi.
Acts 16: 13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

One passage which really leapt out at me concerns an aspect of Jesus’s ministry which I had never ever noticed before and which only Luke records.

8 After this, Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 3 Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
Without these women – the gospel might not have been preached!
Mary was a model disciple

Matthew tells the story of the nativity from Joseph’s perspective. Luke tells it from Mary’s perspective.
1:26 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.”
2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
It is Mary who gives the wonderful example of discipleship and obedience.
1:35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.
It is Mary’s song the Magnificat which tells of the reversal of the social order in God’s Kingdom
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

This reversal of fortunes bringing down rulers and lifting up the humble, filling the hungry and sending away the rich, is also expressed in the lifting up of all women to a status equal with all men as children of God together.
Women teach us all about prayer and devotion

Jesus told just two parables where the central figures were women. (Can you remember which they were?) Of interest for today is the fact that only Luke records those two parables. The first was the parable of the lost coin,
15:8 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The second parable was about a persistent widow.

18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ”
6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.

The example of persistence in Jesus’s story is not of a man, but of a woman.

And our final story of women in Luke is very familiar, but again unique to Luke.

10:38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

Something we usually miss in this story is just how surprising it is that Mary would have been listening to Jesus in the first place! In Jesus’s time and even still in the middle east, and just as much in parts of Africa today, the men would be listening to the Rabbi while the women would all be in the kitchen preparing the food.
“Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
It was not only unfair. In those times, Mary’s proper place was with Martha. But unexpectedly Jesus was happy to be teaching Mary. And indeed he affirms her attitude of learning and prayer.

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary at Jesus’s feet, as much as the sinful woman who anointed Jesus with oil and washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair – examples of devotion not only for women but for men as well!

God loves women as much as he loves men.
Women are welcomed as disciples exactly as much as men are.
Women supported the ministry of Jesus and of the apostles.
Mary was a model disciple.
And women teach us all about prayer and devotion.

freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, release the oppressed,
The gospel is just as much for women as men!

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