Jesus talked with a lot of women during his time of ministry. It surprised his disciples and scandalized some of the religious leaders who witnessed it. They had been part of a male-dominated culture that produced sayings such as these:
“A woman should know nothing but the use of her spinning wheel.”
“Rather have the scroll of the Law burned than have it taught to women.”
“The testimony of one hundred women is not equal to that of one man.”
“A gift from the Lord is a silent wife.”
Jesus, by contrast, actually seemed as comfortable in one-on-one conversations with women as with men.
Since Mother’s Day is just ahead of us, I’d like to review some interactions Jesus had with women based on their role as mothers. I think there’s a pattern that indicates he had an intuitive sense of a woman’s whole-person investment in her children’s well-being that is unusual for a man. To me, it indicates that he had the heart of God, who loves his people maternally: “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings!” (Luke 13:34).
First, let’s review how Jesus acted during a chance encounter with a funeral procession:
He went to a small town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. When he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow, and with her was a large crowd from the town When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the coffin. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, Rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus brought him to his mother. Fear seized all of them, and they glorified God. (Luke 7:11-16)
Here we see a “large crowd” following Jesus meet up with another “large crowd” coming out of the town — lots of people. But Jesus’ mother-radar honed in on this one woman’s feeling of total devastation. She had already lost her husband, and now her only son was gone. Jesus’ great love impelled him to act dramatically and restore her son to her.
In the previous episode, there was no conversation recorded between the mother and Jesus, but in another encounter the conversation is the major point of the story:
A Canaanite woman from the region of Tyre and Sidon came out and started shouting to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. His disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)
On the surface, it sounds as if Jesus was putting this woman down for not being Jewish, but the truth is he was engaging her in a challenging game of words and wits. When she showed that she could match him intellectually, Jesus labeled this as “great faith.” She used her sharp mind and aggressiveness to save her daughter, and Jesus respected that.
The third interaction I’d like to mention was quiet and private:
After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon Peter’s house. Now Peter’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them. (Luke 4:38-39)
This brief incident is mentioned in three of the four Gospels, so it must have been considered important to the disciples. I believe this is because in healing this mother Jesus was showing his blessing on their own family relationships. He had asked them to choose following him, if need be, over loyalty to their fathers and mothers (Luke 14:26). But in this healing he was showing that he understood how important even Peter’s mother-in-law was to his well-being, and this was probably reassuring to the other disciples as well. Some modern readers may take offense that, as soon as she was healed, she returned to her role of serving the men. I think this is mentioned just to show how rapid and complete her healing was. However, it can also be seen as a way of saying that Jesus thought that a woman was a person worthy of his attention even if she’s involved in a menial serving role.
Of course, there’s also much to be learned from Jesus’ relationship with his own mother, which began in the cradle and culminated in his word from the cross entrusting her care and security to the disciple John: “Woman, behold your son!” But his three interactions with anonymous mothers which I discussed above show a pattern of profound intuition and sensitivity that Jesus had toward the lives of average women. Jesus “got” mothers, in particular, and they knew it
— Pastor George Van Alstine