Women in the Ministry of Jesus
Luke’s Gospel is sometimes called “the Gospel of Women” because, more than any other one, it makes special mention of how caring Jesus was to the needs of women and also of how involved women were in His ministry.
In the time of Jesus, as in some cultures today, women were deemed of little worth. Some Jewish men in that time thanked God that they were not created a slave, a Gentile, or a woman. Greek and Roman society sometimes treated women even worse. Roman culture developed its permissiveness to an almost unlimited licentiousness. A man often had a wife only in order to produce legitimate children who would inherit his property, and he had concubines for his own sinful pleasures.
Against such a backdrop of women being treated so badly, Jesus brought the good news that women are, indeed, daughters of Abraham (see Luke 13:16). How happy the women of those days must have been to hear that, in Jesus, they are children of God and of equal worth with men in the sight of God. The message today for women of all nations remains the same: we are all, men and women, one in Christ Jesus.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 9.
Only Luke records the reaction of these women to the wonder of cosmic history: that the Son of God took human flesh in order to complete the redemptive mission of the Father and to fulfill the Messianic hopes of His people. Though these women didn’t fully understand what was happening, their words and reactions to these astonishing events revealed their faith and wonder at the works of God.
After Elizabeth spoke, Mary then followed with her own words (Luke 1:46–55). Often understood to be a song, these words are full of fragments from the Old Testament, attesting that Mary was a devoted student of Scripture and thus a fit mother for Jesus. Mary’s song is rooted not only in Scripture but deep down in her relationship with God. An identity emerges between her soul and her Lord, and between her faith and Abraham’s hope.
Expectant hope finds its radical fulfillment in Jesus. An old widow recognizes the miracle, and from then on she made it her compulsive mission to proclaim the Savior to all those who came to the temple. She became the first woman evangelist of the gospel.
Read Luke 7:11–17, the story about the miracle at Nain. This woman, impoverished and widowed, now faced another trial, the death of her only son. A large crowd of mourners was with her in the funeral procession, expressing public grief and sympathy. The loss of her only son coupled with the uncertain future of life alone turned the widow into a picture of absolute sorrow and hopelessness.
But the funeral procession going out of the city met with another procession entering into it. At the head of the outgoing procession was death in a casket; at the head of the incoming procession was life in the majesty of the Creator. As the processions met, Jesus saw the widow, hopeless and full of grief. “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry’ ” (Luke 7:13, NIV). The plea not to cry would have been meaningless had it not come from Jesus, the Lord of life. For behind the command “Don’t cry!” was the power to remove the reason for her crying: Jesus reached forward, touched the coffin, and ordered the young man to arise. The touch was considered a ceremonial defilement (Num. 19:11–13), but to Jesus, compassion was more important than ceremonies. Meeting human needs was more urgent than adhering to mere rituals.
The village of Nain not only witnessed a great miracle but also received a marvelous message: in Jesus there is no difference between the emotional pangs of men and those of women. And His presence confronts and confounds the power of death.
Read also Luke 8:41, 42, 49–56. Jairus was an influential person—a ruler of the synagogue, an officer in charge of the care and services of the synagogue. Each Sabbath he would choose the person who would lead in prayer, Scripture reading, and preaching. He was a person not only of eminence and influence but also of wealth and power. He loved his daughter and did not hesitate to approach Jesus for the healing of his child.
In Luke 7:36–50, Jesus turned a meal into an event of spiritual magnitude that offered dignity to a sinful woman. Simon, a leading citizen, a Pharisee, invited Jesus for a meal. Invitees seated, there was a sudden disruption: “a woman in the city who was a sinner” (vs. 37, NKJV) rushed straight to Jesus, broke an alabaster box of very expensive perfume, poured the ointment on Him, bowed down to His feet, and washed them with her tears.
“When to human eyes her case appeared hopeless, Christ saw in Mary capabilities for good. He saw the better traits of her character. The plan of redemption has invested humanity with great possibilities, and in Mary these possibilities were to be realized. Through His grace she became a partaker of the divine nature. . . . Mary was first at the tomb after His resurrection. It was Mary who first proclaimed a risen Saviour.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 568.
In Luke 8:43–48, a case of supreme wretchedness becomes the object of the Savior’s supreme regard. For so long, this woman had an incurable disease that ravaged her body and soul. Yet, in this 12-year tragedy, a flicker of hope suddenly burst on the scene: “She heard about Jesus” (Mark 5:27, NKJV).
What did she hear? A little or a lot, we do not know. But she knew that Jesus cared for the poor; He embraced social outcasts; He touched lepers; He turned water into wine; and above all, He cared for desperate people, of which she was one. But hearing was not enough; hearing must lead to faith (Rom. 10:17). And that faith led her to a simple act of touching the edge of His garment. That touch was faith-driven, purposeful, efficacious, and Christ-focused. Only such a faith can receive the benediction of the Life-Giver: “ ‘your faith has made you well’ ” (Luke 8:48, NKJV).
As the hostess, Martha “was distracted with much serving” (Luke 10:40, NKJV) and was busy in getting the best for the guests. But Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word” (vs. 39, NKJV). So much so that Martha complained to Jesus that she alone was left to do the hard work. While Jesus did not rebuke Martha for her preoccupation with service, He pointed out the need for right priorities in life. Fellowship with Jesus is the first essential in discipleship; potluck can come later.
“The cause of Christ needs careful, energetic workers. There is a wide field for the Marthas, with their zeal in active religious work. But let them first sit with Mary at the feet of Jesus. Let diligence, promptness, and energy be sanctified by the grace of Christ; then the life will be an unconquerable power for good.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 525.
As His ministry expanded, Jesus “went through every city and village, preaching” and teaching (Luke 8:1, NKJV), with the 12 disciples accompanying Him. Luke also records the powerful testimonies of certain women whom Jesus had healed, who were touched by His preaching, and who were of wealth, also followed Him in His enlarged ministry. Here are some whom Luke mentions: (1) certain women healed of evil spirits, including Mary Magdalene; (2) Joanna, wife of Chuza, business manager of Herod; (3) Susanna; and (4) “many others who provided for Him” (vs. 3, NKJV).
Luke shows how Jesus turned to two widows in order to teach important spiritual truths.
In the first case (Luke 18:1–8), Jesus pitied a poor and powerless widow who was up against a wicked and powerful judge in her fight for justice. She was a victim of injustice and fraud, and yet she believed in the rule of the law and in justice. But the judge was anti-God and anti-people, and so he obviously did not care to help the widow. Caring for widows is a biblical requirement (Exod. 22:22–24, Ps. 68:5, Isa. 1:17), but the judge took delight in ignoring the law. However, the widow had one weapon, perseverance, and with it she wore out the judge and got her justice.
The parable teaches three important lessons: (1) always pray and never get discouraged (Luke 18:1), (2) prayer changes things—even the heart of an evil judge, and (3) persistent faith is a conquering faith. True faith has eternal counsel to every Christian: never give up, even if that means waiting for the final vindication when the “ ‘Son of Man comes’ ” (vs. 8, NKJV).
In the second case (Luke 21:1–4, Mark 12:41–44), no sooner had Jesus finished denouncing the religious hypocrisy and pretension of the scribes and the leaders around the temple than He pointed out a stark contrast to them: a poor widow who reveals the nature of genuine religion.
Jesus described some of the religious leaders as those who “ ‘devour widows’ houses’ ” (Luke 20:47, NKJV) and who violate the biblical mandate to care for the widows and the poor. As today, many gave only in order to look pious; and worse, what they gave, they gave out of their own surplus wealth. Their giving really involved no personal sacrifice. In contrast, Jesus asked His disciples to look to the widow as the model of true religion, for she gave all that she had.
Show was the motive of the first group; sacrifice and the glory of God was the motive of the widow. To acknowledge God’s ownership of all that she had and to serve Him with all she had was the force that propelled the widow to give her two mites. What counts before the all-seeing eyes of the Creator is not what we give but why we give; not how much we give but the measure of our sacrifice.
Further Study: He “who remembered His mother when He was hanging in agony upon the cross; who appeared to the weeping women and made them His messengers to spread the first glad tidings of a risen Saviour—He is woman’s best friend today and is ready to aid her in all the relations of life.”—Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, p. 204.
“The Lord has a work for women as well as for men. They may take their places in His work at this crisis, and He will work through them. If they are imbued with a sense of their duty, and labor under the influence of the Holy Spirit, they will have just the self-possession required for this time. The Saviour will reflect upon these self-sacrificing women the light of His countenance, and will give them a power that exceeds that of men. They can do in families a work that men cannot do, a work that reaches the inner life. They can come close to the hearts of those whom men cannot reach. Their labor is needed.”—Ellen G. White, Evangelism, pp. 464, 465.