This week’s reading comes from Luke 7:31 through the end of chapter 8. This article will focus on Luke’s references to women in the ministry of Jesus.
Beginning in 7:36, Luke recounts an invitation Jesus received to eat at the house of Simon, a Pharisee. In first century Palestine it was viewed as highly virtuous for someone to invite a traveling rabbi for dinner. From the context it seems this was the only reason Simon welcomed Jesus as he and his other guests question Jesus’ actions (7:39,49).
This questioning came because, “A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisees house…”, and she interrupted dinner with an outpouring of affection on Jesus by washing his feet with her tears and hair, anointing his feet with perfume, and kissing his feet as well (7:44-47). Simon had not offered Jesus a foot washing, anointing of oil, or a kiss of greeting, all of which were expected in that culture. This would indicate that Simon conspicuously insulted Jesus by doing this.
This woman would have been considered as worthless by her culture, yet Jesus elevates her higher than Simon and the others at the dinner! “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (7:47) This sort of treatment of women by Jesus, especially one with her background, would have been considered shocking and likely offensive.
Luke continues to tell us about Jesus and some women who were his disciples and patrons, supporting his ministry financially. Luke even gives us a few of their names: “…Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; 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.” (8:2-3)
The fact that Jesus’ ministry was supported financially by many women would have been quite odd, and likely a source of ridicule for criticizers of his teaching. But a shocking aspect is that Jesus let them be disciples (students/followers) and let them learn from him (See Lk. 10:38-42 in the same light). Very few Roman and Greek philosophers allowed women disciples, but they were almost unknown among Jewish rabbis. Furthermore, Luke’s choice of wording here is interesting. The words above translated as “helping to support” is the Greek word “diakoneo” from which we get our English words “deacon” and “minister.” It would seem that these women were working and serving with Jesus right alongside the men. Which brings another shocking point: women, both married and unmarried, traveled with Jesus just as the other disciples did! (See 8:1-2) This was a practice that Jewish sages and rabbi’s had taught against repeatedly! Yet Jesus treated them as equals in a society which did not.
We’ll explore this further as we progress through Luke, but while you read look for who Luke tells us is with Jesus. Do we sometimes assume we know who Jesus is speaking to/sending out, or are we basing our beliefs & understanding on what Scripture actually says? – Matt