Jesus and Women in Ministry

by Jan Shrader


The fact that Jesus loved women and encouraged them is a very personal truth to me. From childhood I have felt the Holy Spirit stirring in my heart toward full-time Christian service, but, because I am a woman, answering that call has been challenging. Throughout my formative years I watched churches cheer and groom boys, some as young as 7, who felt God was calling them into full-time ministry. Few of us girls got that same encouragement.


As a preacher’s daughter I never wanted to marry a pastor until I met my husband Gary Shrader. We had the privilege of being married for more than forty years. Nobody has every loved me better than Gary loved me. Marrying Gary opened many doors for me that are usually closed to women. I initially started teaching because Gary kept double booking himself to speak in more than one place at a time. Eventually, I begin to feel the tug of God to attend seminary. I felt God wanted more for me, but I also wanted more. Pursuing a graduate level degree while I was still responsible for three teen age sons, two elderly parents, and serving as an active pastor’s wife proved to be painfully slow.


A year before I finished seminary my academic advisor asked me to step into her office because she needed to speak to me about something she had noticed in my transcripts. She said, “Jan you are majoring in the wrong subject. You will never get a job with this major. You need to change your degree to a Masters of Christian Education.” (I was studying for a Masters in Theological Studies).


I asked her, “Isn’t Christian Education primarily an administrative degree?”


“Yes.” she said.


“Well…, nobody gets blessed when I administrate,” I said. “In fact, it is just the opposite. Whenever I try to organize anything people are extremely frustrated with me. But, when I teach the Bible people get blessed.”


She said, “That may be true, but you will never get a job with this degree you are pursuing.” “I understand what you are saying,” I said, “But I can’t be something I am not. God will have to take care of me.”


Many women I have talked to about entering the ministry have faced similar frustrations. Did my faculty advisor really say “Never”? Never? Never is an extremely long time. God is employing my seminary degree. I mean, aren’t you reading my words right now? Opening doors of ministry are God’s responsibility. I have found waiting on God and his timing has only enriched my spiritual life and made me more useful for the kingdom.


When studying Luke 15 I originally choose not to write about the parable of the Good Woman because it felt too short and too complicated all at the same time. Whenever we see Jesus talking to women or telling parables about women it is significant, but scholars rarely write about these encounters with much passion. So, just from a scholarly point of view it seemed daunting to me. Finally, I realized though, that too many important principles are found in these short verses for me to ignore this passage. What does this passage say about Jesus and women? Why would Jesus include a parable about a woman to explain his evangelistic heart?


Look at Luke 15:8-10.


            8 “Or what woman who has 10 silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she finds it, she calls her women friends and neighbors together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found the silver coin I lost!’ 10 I tell you, in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” CBV


To fully comprehend these verses we need to see this story in light of the entire chapter of Luke 15. In Luke 15:1-2 Jesus is hanging out with the undesirables, the people that the religious leaders feared and despised, sinners and tax-collectors. Sinners could have been anyone male or female who wasn’t perfectly keeping the law. But, tax-collectors were rejected for specific reasons. The tax collectors were considered the scum who were in cahoots with the Romans. Few in Israel would have thought tax collectors were worth redeeming.


Some scholars have suggested that Jesus indirectly answers the accusations of the Pharisees and scribes by telling one parable with three parts. He is explaining why he came to seek and save the lost. In the first part Jesus is the Good Shepherd, in the second part he is the Good Woman and in the third part he is the Good Father. Each story has similarities and differences. The second parable about the Good Woman is significant because it is the one that describes the angelic party in heaven every time the lost are found by God.


Why does Jesus tell a parable that describes himself as a woman?


Jesus’ places himself in this parable as a good woman, so he can relate to women. Remember Jesus is explaining why he loves and seeks out the undesirable. Why he would eat with them? Jesus wanted the women in his audience to grasp the importance of his actions, so he told a parable that they could relate to. This lost coin was worth about a day’s wages, so ten coins were worth about one third of a month’s salary. This woman could buy a sheep with 10 silver coins. It was a significant amount of money to lose and she is going to turn the house upside down trying to find it.


By telling this story Jesus wanted us to know people are extremely valuable to God. They are worth searching for and just like in the lost sheep parable they are helpless to find themselves. Neither the sheep nor the coin in Luke 15 have the ability to find their way back to God. That also, could be said about the prodigal son and his older brother found in the same chapter. They simply did not know the loving character of their father enough to even desire a relationship with him. Hunger, not repentance propelled the youngest son home. And, when he contemplated his return he assumed he would become a worker on his father’s estate, and not a true son. The oldest son thought his father was a harsh task master whose favor had to be earned (Luke 15:29). We learn from Luke 15 that the lost do not know the true character of God, this is why they need merciful evangelists who will show them God’s glorious love. Repentance is always first and foremost God’s idea.


Interesting, in Luke 8:1-3 we see that there were many women who traveled with Jesus and the other male disciples. Look at Luke 8:1-3.


            Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.    ESV


It would have been highly unusual at this time to find women who were financial independent and could travel with Jesus as Luke describes. And, it would have been even more unique for women to have had the funds to financially support Jesus and the other disciples. Jesus includes a story about a woman who had lost a silver coin, so the women listening to his message could also understand the importance of seeking and saving the lost.


Jesus’ places himself in this parable as a good woman, so he can restore women. Women were not treated very well in the first century. But, the truth is most women have not been treated well in any century. Without this example of Christ relating to and elevating women we would continue to be seen as less than men.


Rabbi Ben Sirach, a very popular Hebrew scholar, who taught about two hundred years before Jesus’ ministry, had some very disturbing teachings about women. What makes his words, so appalling was his fear of the women he actually knew, his wife and daughter. Here are some of his more alarming quotes he wrote about women,


            A gift from the Lord is a silent wife, and nothing is so precious as her self-discipline. Charm upon charm is a wife with a sense of shame.

            And nothing is more valuable than her bound-up mouth. (26:14-15)


            A daughter is a secret anxiety to her father, and worry over her robs him of sleep;

            when she is young, for fear she may not marry, or if married for fear she maybe disliked; while a virgin, for fear she may be seduced and become pregnant in her father’s house; or having a husband, for fear she may go astray, or though married, for fear she may be barren. Keep strict watch over a headstrong daughter, or she may make you a laughingstock to your enemies…. (42:9-11d)


            Better is the wickedness of a man than a woman who does good; it is a woman who brings shame and disgrace. (42:14)


I would have hated to have been this rabbi’s wife or his daughter. He certainly didn’t know how to cherish a woman. He saw women as an awful burden and his attitude is very different than Jesus’ approach.


This is also, the emotionally abusive atmosphere the women in Jesus’ audience had suffered under. When Jesus taught he gave women the privilege of sitting at his very feet, along with his male disciples (Luke 10:38-42). Sitting at the feet of a rabbi was reserved for his disciples. Jesus was restoring and rebuilding relationships in Luke 15 when he compared himself to a good woman. In contrast, Rabbi Sirach taught that the wickedness of a man was better than a good woman. Jesus’ parable and actions have far reaching consequences for us today.


Jesus’ places himself in this parable as a good woman, so he can reach women. Jesus knew the best person to reach out to another woman is a woman. Let’s be real honest here many women are scared of men. Unfortunately, the abusiveness and controlling of some men have been the source of great heartache and trouble. Wounded women will struggle to trust men, even godly men. But, another woman feels less threatening.


Jesus’ places himself in this parable as a good woman, so he can relate to, restore and reach women.


In Luke 15 Jesus makes it clear that repentance is God’s work.  He seeks and saves the lost. Jesus teaches us that sinners are helpless to return to God in their own strength.


One of my favorite binge worthy TV shows is Call the Midwife. I think currently there are 11 seasons streaming on Netflix and 12 on PBS. It is a drama about a group of Anglican nuns who as a spiritual order are seeking more midwives. So, they invite single women who want to train as midwives to move into their convent for a season without having to commit to becoming a nun. In each episode and in graphic detail, at least two babies are delivered, so it is certainly not a G rated show, and in every episode the nuns exercise their faith in God. My husband Gary could not watch this show with me. As he was leaving the room he would say to me, “Jan, that show has way to much estrogen.” It is definitely true that men and women look for different story lines in a TV drama. Strangely, though things changed after my husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. As he was recovering from his surgery and enduring chemo therapy we would sit for hours watching this drama. And, with every episode we appreciated the Christian community portrayed in this series.


If you can, watch at least one episode of Call the Midwife. With that visual answer this question. How can we encourage and enable women today to reach more women for Jesus?

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