China Bridge (神州橋樑)_2011/Mar

Women in the time of Jesus … and now

Every March 8, many people around the world celebrate International Women’s Day. The bible, history and newspapers are filled with stories about women. Some women of the New Testament got to know Jesus in a special way. Let us go over the accounts of four of them.

The woman at the well (John 4: 1-26)

Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.)

The woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Jesus began talking to the woman about living water. The woman questioned him and drew him into conversation. Jesus explained that when people drink ordinary water, they get thirsty again, but he had water that gave eternal, not temporary, life.

She asked for some of this living water. Jesus told her to go and get her husband. She did not have one, she replied. “You have had five husbands, said Jesus, but the man you are living with now is not your husband.”

The woman called him a prophet, and began asking him about differences between Samaritan and Jewish worship. The woman spoke to him as an intellectual equal, and he responded. Jesus told her that very soon none of these differences would matter, because the Messiah was coming.

The woman said, “I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

When Jesus’ disciples returned they are surprised that Jesus is talking to a woman.

The woman left the water jar she had brought and hurried back to the town. “She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” The people left the city and went on their way to see him.

The woman had persuaded her townspeople to believe in Jesus. In this, she acted as an apostle, going out to tell people about Jesus and bringing them to him. Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.

The woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him and he sat down to teach them.

The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?”

They were trying to trap and accuse Jesus. Then Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

Jesus asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The woman with haemorrage (Luke 8: 43-48)

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak and immediately her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed.

Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Mary, the closest companion

At some point in her life, Mary, of a small fishing village named Magdala, met an itinerant miracle worker called Jesus, and the power of his personality and teachings deeply impressed her. He cured her of her illness and she became a whole-hearted supporter of this man and his mission.

It is believed that she and other women were financial backers of his work and Mary was the leader of the women who followed Jesus as disciples. She was with Jesus during that fateful Passover week in Jerusalem and stood by him during the blasphemy of the crucifixion. Mary was the first witness of the resurrection and first apostle to spread news of that event.

Only one woman in these stories is named, but all four of them experienced living in a culture where women were not considered equal with men.

They were accused of unfaithfulness, breaking the law, being unclean with a disease, or even said to be a prostitute.

In the eyes of Jesus, they were precious human beings and deserving of respect. Jesus did not label them as the society did. He reached out to them and their lives were changed forever. Each woman told others of the great things Jesus did and they could be called disciples; followers of Jesus.

What about women in our society today? Do they experience some of the age-old prejudices such as inequality, abuse and harsh traditions in their societies?

Looking at some recent newspaper clippings, we see headlines and stories about girls and women, such as:

Trafficking of women on rise (China Daily, January 24)

Chen Shiqu, the director of anti-human trafficking office, Ministry of Public Security, in Beijing, said the number of Chinese women trafficked overseas and forced into prostitution has risen amid an increasing presence of the international crime groups. Some end up in southeast Asia, Europe and Africa.

Being an international crime, we also know that women from these countries are also trafficked to Europe, Asia and North America. The Chinese police have cracked 9,165 cases and rescued 17,746 women since April 2009.

Girl electrocuted for forbidden love in Pakistan (SCMP January 24)

The relatives of a 17-year-old girl apparently electrocuted her for falling in love with a man they did not approve of. After a meeting with the village council, the girl’s punishment was death. The police found signs of torture and burns on her neck, back and hands, most probably caused by electrocution.

Call for legislation to curb domestic violence (China Daily, 26 November 2010)

The All-China Women’s Federation and the United Nations in China jointly hosted this conference.

We are in the 21st century, but girls from infancy to adulthood are still abused, beaten, stoned to death, lured by false promises and tricked into prostitution. A photo in this article showed a woman in Hubei, who had one of her eyes gouged out by her ex-husband.

A woman stoned to death in Afghanistan (BBC, January 20)

A woman and her lover had fled from Afghanistan, but were then lured back by their families promising that no harm would come to them. Unfortunately, it was a trap and since the woman was accused of adultery and failing in family honour, she was put in a pit up to her chest and stoned to death. Her body was buried in the same pit.

Cleric held after woman dies in Bangladesh (SCMP, 21 December 2010)

A Muslim cleric was arrested following the death of a woman who was publicly caned as punishment for an affair and was whipped 40 times on 12 November 2010. She became seriously ill and was taken to hospital after the caning; she died a week later.

Recently, a woman friend of mine wrote about meeting a young woman sold into prostitution in Cambodia. She was wearing a heavy cotton face mask because she had no teeth and her face had sunken in.

Although only in her 20s, she looked 60 or 70 years old. The brothel owner, as a punishment, had cruelly yanked out her teeth with pliers for anything he saw as disobedience or for trying to escape.

This young woman came from an extremely poor family, where a young daughter is expected to help the family financially. Unfortunately, the ones offering jobs are more interested in the lucrative business of trafficking.

What would Jesus do if these women were brought before him? He would reach out to them, touch them and heal them. As followers of Jesus, we must be mindful of women everywhere and when we see, read or hear of girls and women being abused and put down in society, we must act.

The Church in Hong Kong, China and other countries must act to eradicate the suffering of many women. We can write to the authorities in the countries where these women come from, write to the United Nations, sign petitions from women’s rights organisations and of course, as Christians, we must keep them in our prayers.

On March 8 and every day of the year, let us be aware of how many women around the world are in need and do something to show our solidarity with them, especially those who are abused by old traditions and crimes against humanity.