How Did Jesus View Women? Kristi McLelland
How did Jesus view women? Professor Kristi McLelland unpacks ancient Middle Eastern culture to better understand Jesus' interactions with females.
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How did Jesus view women? Professor Kristi McLelland unpacks ancient Middle Eastern culture to better understand Jesus’ interactions with females.
How Did Jesus View Women? Kristi McLelland
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Kristi: Jesus didn’t come, you know, to turn things upside down; He came to turn things right side up. It’s back to that restoration, that repair, that renewal, that redemption. He’s not okay with women being against a wall, and Luke 7 shows us that.
Ann: That makes me cry, just that term: “He’s not okay with women being against the wall.”
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Alright, I’ve got a question about SMASH. [Laughter] You’ve led SMASH for decades and something happens to women at SMASH.
Ann: Well, I should probably first explain what that is. For 48 hours—we call it SMASH 48—we’re smashing the paradigms of what a woman is. It’s really teaching: “This is what a real woman looks like.”
It’s my favorite thing that I do because I look at these women; and I sit there and think, “Look at you!”—it’s not a feminism thing; it’s a God-thing—it’s a calling out of who they are how God sees them: their gifts, their strengths. They’re women of influence; they’re so gifted and compassionate; strong leaders. They’re so many things; and yet, I see that the enemy of our souls, Satan, has diminished them to a point, where all they’re doing, sometimes, is comparing themselves to one another, feeling so lost and broken, and feeling like God can’t use them. It’s a time and a weekend that we say, “We see you! We see these gifts. We’re going to call them out, because God has something for you to do! Maybe it’s being married; maybe it’s being single; maybe it’s using your gifts to teach, or to serve, or to love.” There are so many different things. It’s so amazing!
Dave: All I know is—you know, I’m just one guy in our church, a pastor at our church—and I see these women come back—
Ann: —thousands of us!
Dave: —thousands—I mean, yes!—a couple thousand a year, and they’re alive!
Dave: There’s an identity that they seem to have been transformed by. It’s exciting.
As Ann’s telling this, she’s looking across the table at Kristi McLelland, who is leading and created a Bible study video curriculum called Jesus and Women. I know a lot of what happens at SMASH—although I’m never allowed to go, and I can’t watch any of the tapes: no men allowed!—is that it’s sort of how Jesus elevates the identity of a woman. So, Kristi, thanks for being here.
Ann: And welcome back!
Kristi: Thank you for having me. I want to go to SMASH!
Ann: I know! And I’m going to go with you to Israel!
Dave: You need to go speak at SMASH.
Dave: No question; this is an invitation, right here and right now.
Ann: Well, Kristi is a speaker; she’s a teacher; she’s a college professor. You went to Dallas Theological Seminary; you’ve written a lot. You have this passion—and that passion is, one, in the Middle East, walking where Jesus walked—but more than that, explain what else that passion is.
Kristi: You know, it was in Israel that I learned a phrase that’s changed my life; it goes like this: “The living God meets us exactly where we are; He never leaves us there.”
For the last 14 years, I’ve been carrying that; because sometimes, I think here in the West, we can carry this idea of: “I need to clean myself up. I need to get myself together!”—you know: “Get back in church,” or “Just go to church more,” —just fill in the blank.
But the story of the Bible is not man going and looking for God. The story of the Bible is God in relentless pursuit of us. I love to talk about this very famous parable that we have in Luke 15. We call it the parable of the prodigal son; but in the Middle East, they call it something else. They call it the parable of the running father. [Laughter] The reason is: sometimes, here in the West, we read the Bible and ask, “What does it teach me about me?” In the Middle East, they read the Bible and ask, “What does this teach me about who God is?” If we read Luke 15, sometimes, we feel like we’re the prodigal;—
Kristi: —so we call it the parable of the prodigal son; but for them, they call it the parable of the running father.
Ann: Their focus is on the father—
Ann: —more than the rebellion of the son,—
Ann: —which is completely different.
Kristi: Yes, completely different; and they would say that God is the point of every story in the Bible. He’s the hero of every story; He’s the pursuer. You know, you even look at Hosea 2, where the Lord says, “I’m going to allure her”—being Israel—“into the wilderness, into the desert, and there I’m going to speak tenderly to her.” It’s there in the wilderness. Think about the wilderness seasons of your life—
Kristi: —you didn’t know what to do; life had broken you in half—you were on the floor. You can’t see tomorrow; you don’t know how you’re going to get through the next hour. It’s in those wilderness seasons that the Lord comes close and says, “I will speak tenderly to you.” He goes on to say, in Hosea 2, “You will no longer call Me ‘my Master.’ You will now call me ‘my Husband.’”
Ann: I love the Scriptures, too; because you see everything happening. Now, with that culture, too, it’s very different than the culture of teaching we have today. Talk about that a little bit; because I think it’s good, as parents, as we’re teaching our kids the Bible. What’s different?
Kristi: You know, I’ll tell you a great story. In Psalm 19, it talks about that the Scriptures are “sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.” I love honey! In Israel, rabbis will visit little kindergarten classes—little kindergarten yeshivas—and they’ll bring wax paper and honey in. They’ll lay the wax paper down in front of the kindergarten students, and they’ll pour some honey. They’ll invite the little kindergarteners to dip their finger in it and taste it. While they’re tasting it, the rabbi will say, “This is what the Word of God tastes like. It is good for you.” I think there’s a difference in reading the Bible and eating it. Sometimes, we read the Bible like an Aristotle, Socrates, or Plato—you know, it’s up to our intellect to understand it—it’s up to me to dig something out of the Word of God to feed myself today. But the posture of the Jewish people is that Scriptures are the Lord’s, and He’s the One who breaks them open, and breaks them down into bite-sized pieces, and is feeding it to us, so we can take it in; we can let it do its work. “Where is the Word of the Lord?” The Jewish people would say: “It’s inside of you. We carry the Word of the Lord with us.”
Ann: Well, I know, even the way I used to try to teach the boys, when they were younger: we would just sit down and read the Bible. I realized, as I was reading the Gospels, I thought, “Jesus just taught along the way.” If He was in a field, He is talking about grain or the mustard seed. You can tell that He’s talking about what He’s seeing in the moment. I remember like doing things we’d have scavenger hunts, where I would hide—I would take Scripture, and I would hide it—but then, I would put a little prize with it. I remember saying, “When you discover, when you dig into God’s Word, it will be like a prize. The more you dig, the more prizes you’ll find. God’s Word will start changing your life.” And I thought, “Man! That way of teaching is so much better than just a classroom.” I think that Hebrew culture has that kind of teaching.
Kristi: It’s back to family. It’s back to: if the Scriptures are like food, if the Bible is like a great meal, great meals are best experienced with great people. Nobody goes to a really great restaurant to eat a really great meal all by themselves.
Ann: You’re right!
Kristi: You want to do it with your people, with your family. The families that go to Israel with me [and] I tell my students at the college: “Eat the Bible with your family.”
Dave: In some ways, you’re just showing us Deuteronomy 6. I’d love to know how you approach that passage, the Shema.
Dave: But I mean, it says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” And then, here it is—it’s just what this family is doing—you showed them: “You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in the house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand.” Talk about that: that’s this beautiful picture of devouring Scripture in a community; specifically, in a family.
Dave: Is there something that’s in that passage that can form us?
Kristi: You know, the idea that the rabbis have given us—in Hebrew—is called lasim lev. Lasim means “to set upon.” Lev is “heart” in Hebrew. What it’s talking about is—as you go along the road, day in, day out, the rabbis talk about we want to lasim lev the Scriptures—“We want to set them upon our hearts.” A student asked a rabbi: “You know, rabbi, I thought we wanted the Word in our hearts. David said, ‘I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.’
Kristi: “So why don’t you say, ‘Let’s hide the Word in our hearts?’ Why do you say, ‘Lasim lev’?—set it upon our hearts?” The rabbi responded he said, “My son, the human heart can tend to be hard; but when life breaks it, if we have set the Word on our hearts, the words just fall in the cracks and take their place.” [Laughter]
Ann: So cool.
Dave: I mean, that is one of the things that struck me when I was in the Holy Land. I didn’t appreciate or understand the visual of the Hebrew language and, really, the Hebrew people.
Kristi: That whole idea of lasim lev—I think that’s the repetitive—nobody eats once and then never eat again. No family eats one meal and never eats again. In the repetitive eating of the Word—we’re lasim lev-ing it—we’re setting it upon our hearts; so that, as life knocks us around—and we’ve all been knocked around; 2020 happened to all of us; we’re trying to get a refund on 2020! [Laughter] COVID just has rearranged the world. I’ve not been in Israel in 18 months, and I feel like I’m living in exile here;—
Kristi: —because that’s home for me—Jerusalem is home.
Dave: We’ve got to go back to women. I want to go back to—
Ann: That’s what I was going to say.
Dave: I’ve got to go back to something; because, you know, your video series is about that. There are so many stories in the New Testament.
Ann: We already talked, earlier, about the woman at the well in John 4.
Dave: I know Ann wants to go to a different place than I want to go. One of the stories I love—and that really, I think, gets at your justice of lifting a woman out of shame—is Luke 7. I’ve taught it many times; I’m guessing I haven’t mined out what’s really in there—but the sinful woman at Simon’s house—walk us through what Jesus did there.
Kristi: Man, that is a fascinating story! I like to call it: “The woman against a wall.”
Ann: Why did you call it that?
Kristi: In the first-century world, we know, historically, that sometimes the wealthy are the wealthier those with means. Because there is tzedakah, back to righteousness and generosity, they’ll invite their friends to come eat at their table. You also invite the poor and the marginalized to come to your home, but they sit against a wall. They get the leftovers. Historically, they get whatever’s left over. We think: “Who would do that? How disrespectful! You’re going to invite me to your house and tell me to sit against the wall?”
Kristi: But if you’re hungry, you’ll do whatever it takes—
Ann: —to get food.
Kristi: —to get something to eat. The fact that she’s there—and Jesus and the rabbis are sitting there the religious leaders—at Simon’s house. It’s interesting: when we’re sitting at a table, right now—you can’t see us—but 2,000 years ago, when they were sharing a meal, they were on a pallet on the floor, always on their left elbow; because you eat with your right hand. Obviously, the head is close to the table; the feet are away from the table. Now, we understand why Jesus’s feet were the closest thing to her. She’s sitting against a wall, and she loses it on Jesus. I mean, when it says that she starts wiping His feet with her hair—
Ann: —and tears.
Kristi: —and tears, this is a moment that’s going down. I like to talk about Jesus rearranging that room. [Laughter] Because, by the end of it, she is not against that wall. He has brought her out of that shame; He’s restored her; He sends her away. I liken it to: “Sometimes, you don’t want to fight in front of your kids.” He completely brings restoration to her sends her away; and then He addresses Simon and starts talking about all of these norms of hospitality, that are honorable in an honor shame world, that: “You didn’t do for Me.” It’s like, by the end of it—
Ann: Go through some of those, Kristi.
Kristi: The kiss of welcome when they come in. Jesus mentions them: the washing of the feet; they would give you olive oil, sort of like soap, to sanitize your hands—different things like that. Apparently, Simon did not extend any of those to Jesus, which is him saying to Jesus in that world—it’s very disrespectful—“I’m not going to honor You as an equal. You’re kind of like a young pup coming up; You’re a new rabbi.” You know, Simon is probably much older.
You see Simon, in a hospitality world of honor and shame, acting very shamefully in not extending these things to Jesus that He lists in Luke 7. We see this woman—and a lot of scholars think that what she’s doing, in the anointing of the feet—is she’s trying to recover what Simon wasn’t doing. She’s trying to extend some of those hospitality virtues to Jesus in a very honorable way. It’s a great story! I always say, Jesus didn’t come, you know, to turn things upside down; He came to turn things right side up. It’s back to that restoration, that repair, that renewal, that redemption. He’s not okay with women being against a wall, and Luke 7 shows us that.
Dave: Again, you know—
Ann: That makes me cry, just that term: “He’s not okay with women being against the wall.”
Dave: Why’s that? What do you mean? What hit you?
Ann: I think so many women feel like that: they feel powerless; they feel forgotten; they feel less than. The fact that Jesus lifts us up—that He notices us, that He calls us out, and then sends us along the way—I love that with John 4. You know, I just see that, when He renews someone, He offers their hope and their dignity back.
Dave: I’m sitting with two women, who might know a little bit of what it feels like to be the woman against the wall. What is that? What does that feel like, for a woman to feel that outcast?
Ann: It’s funny, when we were describing that, the first thought that came to my mind was my sister, who’s amazing—she led me and guided me into a relationship with Jesus—but she was sexually abused for eight years.
Marriage was really hard; she was bulimic; she was anorexic; and she was sitting against the wall, because she thought, “I have nothing; I’m broken. I must be shameful; I’m unworthy. I’m unworthy to be at the table; I’m unworthy to be seen. If people really saw me, they would be disgusted.” I’ve had a lot of that myself. I cover it all up; you know, “I’m strong! I’m...” But honestly, that’s that inward part of me, as a young teenager: “I’m trying to be loved, but I don’t have anything in me that’s lovely enough to be loved.” I think there are so many of us!—a broken marriage; someone who’s been divorced; someone who’s been abused; somebody who’s been abandoned—I think so many of us women are sitting against the wall. And Jesus sees her. What do you think, Kristi?
Kristi: You know, the first thing that came into my mind, when you asked the question, was just anything that diminishes us, weakens us, comes against us. Two of my dearest friends in the world: both of them have buried sons in the last 18 months. I think of the loss, the collective loss that we’ve all experienced since 2020: loss of income, loss of community, loss of being able to go to church, broken relationships, strained relationships.
Ann: —loss of hope!
Kristi: —loss of hope. I think all of those things make us feel like we’re up against a wall. It’s the things that tempt us to hopelessness; it’s the things that tempt us to believe that God is not everything that He has said that He is.
I know the things in my own life. When I say the “diminishments,” it was when life came at me so hard it just knocked the wind out of me. I think of my dad dying suddenly when I was 21 years old and a senior in college. I didn’t even have the skills to really deal with that kind of trauma, and tragedy, and loss.
I’ve been to counseling now; I’ve been through a few phases of therapy and counseling to seek after that wellness and to receive the wellness that the living God had for me. But the interesting thing about the woman against a wall—and it’s part of why I think I call it that is, and I don’t know if you would say this—but I think every single woman, if you were to ask her that question, something would come up inside of her.
Ann: Yes! I agree.
Kristi: I don’t know of a woman—that we would ask that question and she would say, “You know, life has just always gone my way! [Laughter] Everything always seems to work out for me!”—I don’t know that woman; I don’t think she exists. If she does, I’m kind of jealous of her—
Kristi: —right now; you know? I think it’s universal.
Kristi: And since it’s universal, I think it’s men as well.
Kristi: You know, there are things that make a man feel like he’s up against a wall.
Kristi: But yes, those are the first things that come to my mind. You know, I think back to that story in Luke Chapter 7. One of the things that Jesus says that’s so powerful is—He looks at Simon, who’s the Pharisee and the host—he’s the religious guy, the scholar, the big wig, wearing the big britches in the moment. Jesus looks at the woman; and He says, “Simon, do you see this woman?” It’s kind of a rhetorical question—because Simon sees her sitting there—but Simon doesn’t see her.
Kristi: Jesus is the One who sees her against the wall and has this sense of: “I’m not okay with this. I have come to bring things right side up. By the end of this story, you will be restored and sent away in shalom.”
Ann: I think, too, as I read this story, I think that the woman really probably didn’t have much; but she gave Him what she had.
As women, we can feel like, “I have nothing. I have nothing to offer You, Jesus.” And we do! We can offer Him our lives our gifts. I’ve said that so many times. I was 18 years old the first time I said it: “God, I don’t have much to give, but I give You all that I am. I give You my life. I don’t know what You’re going to do with it, Lord; but I’ll go wherever You call me to go. I’ll do whatever You call me to do.” I could say that because I realized, “Oh, He’s a good Father! Oh, He loves me!” I used to think like, “I’m not doing that! Who knows what He’ll do!” But I’ve come to realize, “He’s such a good, good Father.” This story, of seeing the woman at the wall, reminds us: “He sees us; He knows us.” What a sweet thing, and an offering for us, as women, to give Him whatever we have: our gifts, our passion, our dreams, our lives.
Shelby: You know when our hands feel empty but our heart is sincere, God is welcoming to us when we believe we have nothing to offer Him. What a beautiful reminder as Ann and Dave have been talking with Kristi McLelland on FamilyLIfe Today.
Hi, I’m Shelby Abbott. Krisit has written a book called Jesus and Women, a Bible study book in the first century and now. This book helps you to gain deeper insight into the biblical world including giving you a fresh perspective on familiar Bible stories, specifically through the eyes of women. You can pick up a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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