Jesus and Women: Kristi McLelland
What did Jesus think of women? Through the eyes Jewish culture, Kristi McLelland reveals how Jesus was radically empowering and compassionate toward women.
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What did Jesus think of women? Through the eyes Jewish culture, Kristi McLelland reveals how Jesus was radically empowering and compassionate toward women.
Jesus and Women: Kristi McLelland
Dave: Alright, so I’m going to ask you a question; I already know your answer.
Ann: Maybe I’m going to change it.
Dave: Yes, I just know.
Dave: There’s no option for you with this question.
Dave: You’ve been all around the country; you’ve been all around several different countries in the world. What’s your favorite country, favorite place to visit?
Ann: No doubt—
Dave: Why am I even asking you?
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 the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife-
Ann: We have traveled all around the world.
Dave: It sounds like: “Oh, we’re so special.”
Ann: I was going to add—and it’s not that we’re these rich people vacationing—we’re really doing mission work all around the world, which has been even better to me; because we’re really living in the midst of people around the world. But there’s something about Israel.
Dave: You’re getting teary just talking about it; isn’t that crazy?
Ann: It’s so weird—when I go there, I feel like I’m home—it’s the weirdest thing. I felt like [that] the first time I went, and I’ve only been four times.
Dave: Only four times—I’ve been there once—what’s wrong with that picture? How do you get to go four, and I’ve been there once?
Ann: I’m taking women over more.
Dave: Yes, that’s true.
Dave: Yes, but why?
Ann: Because it’s where Jesus walked. There’s something about reading the Scriptures there—and you know this is where it happened, and so it really did make Scripture come alive in a way I’ve never experienced. Did you feel that when you went?
Dave: Oh, it was life-changing for all the same reasons; but we’re done talking about us because we have—I’m so excited; I know you are as well—because we have an expert scholar guide, Kristi McLelland, with us, who’s going to bring this to life.
Ann: Kristi, first of all, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Kristi: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here!
Ann: We’re excited, too. You’re a speaker; you’re a teacher; you’re a college professor. You’ve made several trips to Israel; how many times have you been there?
Kristi: I’ve been taking teams to Israel for 14 years, multiple times a year.
Dave: Your video series and your workbook study guide is Jesus and Women. Walk us through that journey. How did that become something so passionate you said, “I’ve got to get this on video really to help men and women understand Jesus”?
Kristi: You know, one of the things that I really came home with in 2007 was getting to know Jesus in His Jewish world: eating the foods He would have eaten, looking up and seeing the stars in the sky that He would have known. Like you mentioned—the Sea of Galilee—I will never forget the first time I ever saw the Sea of Galilee; I just started crying, because that’s Jesus’s world. He is all around and on that lake during His earthly ministry.
One of the things I really learned, as I was studying there, was just how different Jesus was in His world, 2000 years ago, when it came to His posture toward, His attitude about, and His ministry to women. It really set Him apart; it made Him very distinctive from the other rabbis, sages, Pharisees, teachers of the law of the day. Being a female, myself, it just lit me on fire. I tell people all the time: “I went to Israel and learned that God is better than I ever knew.”
Dave: Well, walk us into some of that; because I mean, it’s obviously gold that you, like you said, you felt like: “I have to get this out.”
Kristi: Yes, it’s important to understand what Jesus is doing when it comes to women, 2000 years ago. He’s actually repairing something; He’s restoring something. Something good had been marred, and He was bringing it back to good. Women and Judaism have a very good history and a very good beginning. I know you guys are a family and marriage show. You know the first man and woman in the story of the Bible: Adamah, which literally means land, dirt, soil. He’s the dirt man the dust man; and Eve Chava, and her name means life. When you’re reading the Bible through that Hebraic lens, the story goes like: “The living God created a dust man and brought life to him.” You know, woman has a very good start.
Ann: Did you hear that honey? I like that. [Laughter]
Dave: I’m a dust man.
Kristi: I brought Valentine’s Day stuff right there.
Ann: It is Valentine’s Day.
Dave: Just don’t ever call me dust man, but I will call you life woman. [Laughter]
Kristi: Absolutely. When you look at even things like Sabbath for the Jewish people—Shabbat, sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday night—they light two Shabbat candles to welcome the Sabbath into their home—“like a bride”—is what the Rabbinics say. Interestingly enough, in a patriarchal world, where men lead and rule, there’s only one member of the family that’s allowed to light the Shabbat candles; and it’s the mother. That honor goes to the mater to the matriarch. If the mother is not home, it’s a grandmother; it’s a sister; it’s a daughter; but it has to be a girl.
Ann: It’s always a woman.
Kristi: It’s always a woman that lights the Shabbat candles.
Ann: It’s interesting. I think my most memorable time in Israel was we were at a Shabbat dinner.
Dave: —at a family’s home.
Ann: Yes. I was astounded at the value of family. The Scripture talks about that, and we hear that, but to see it—and the honoring of the mother—of the father even then going through part of Proverbs 31, and honoring her, and then kissing the children. I was in tears.
Dave: —speaking life to the children.
Ann: Children, yes.
Dave: It was powerful. It’s one of those things, as an American in the church, where you haven’t captured what they have understood and live, and you come back thinking, “We have to capture that.”
Dave: Again, it’s what you spent your life understanding; but talk to us a little bit about that because as I watched the patriarch of this family—and again, it’s a family we didn’t know; we’re just invited into their home for Shabbat—and just watched him honor his wife—
Ann: —the wife light the candles and begin the Shabbat.
Dave: It was just so beautiful. I’m guessing it was a sense of what Jesus has done to elevate the view of women, but this patriarch had that. It modeled for us: “I don’t think I treat my wife that good.”
Ann: What a difference going to the American church, where we sit in pews. We don’t talk to one another; we’re just listening to one man. This is: the entire family is involved. I think it shows God’s love for the family.
Kristi: That’s right. You fast forward from Adam and Eve to Jesus’ world, 2000 years ago, and woman had lost that sense of honor in the culture. I always say the Middle East is an honor shame society; they’re an honor shame culture. Being honorable is everything; being shamed or shameful is everything. Jesus is born into a world, where woman has been located and lowered into shame. What I talk about, throughout the Jesus and Women series, is that in every interaction we have in all four Gospels of Jesus and a woman, He’s bringing two things into her life; He is adamant, persistent, and consistent to bring two things into her life. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Samaritan woman, the Syrophoenician woman, Mary—it doesn’t matter—He’s bringing justice and righteousness to her—mishpat and tzedakah in Hebrew. We think: “In what way is He bringing justice and righteousness?”
Ann: And what happened?—like why did that fall?—what happened?
Kristi: I traced that in Week Two of the series. We see it really begin to happen in the intertestamental period—the 400 years between Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, and Matthew, the first book of the New Testament—that little white page in our Bibles, that’s blank, a whole lot went down.
Ann: Yes, where there was silence for 400 years.
Kristi: A whole lot happened during that 400 years. There were various teachers that came on the scene that started teaching things like: “Women aren’t safe,” “Don’t really trust women,”—you know, if you give her money, you better count all of it before she goes to market; because she may not bring the right change back. You have rabbis saying things like: “Don’t talk a lot to a woman, even your own wife.” That’s not really good for marriages and things like that. [Laughter]
Ann: I remember reading one—
Dave: That would be the opposite of the truth.
Ann: Yes; I remember reading one Hebrew scholar that said there was a time that they doubted that a woman had a soul. I was like, “What?!”
Ann: When you look at Adam and Eve, I think, “How could you think that? We were both made in God’s image.”
Kristi: Right. One distinction in the way we understand the biblical terms—here in the West versus in the Middle East is—when we think of justice, we think Lady Justice; and we think the scales, and we usually think of justice in terms of equality. But biblical justice is vertical; it’s not horizontal. Biblical justice happens when the honorable reaches down to the shameful: lifts them out of their shame, restores their honor, and sends them forward in shalom.
Ann: This is Jesus.
Kristi: And this is Jesus and women.
Dave: Just that image—when you said Jesus brings two things—one of them justice. Now you explain justice this vertical thing. As a man, and as a husband, and as a father, that hits me right in the face, like: “Wait, wait, wait. So if I’m going to love Ann like Christ loved the church—Ephesians 5—that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to lift up my wife; I’m going to lift up my daughters.” Actually, any woman in our church—you name it—should have a sense that me, as a Christian man, does the same thing Jesus does: that she feels honored; she feels lifted up. We would probably never use the word, “justice”; because that’s not how we think of it in this term. But that’s what real justice is; that’s what I’m called to do as a husband as a dad; right?
Kristi: Absolutely; well-said.
Ann: This is a great interview; isn’t it? [Laughter]
Kristi: I’m having fun!
Ann: Yes, me, too! That’s all I need, hon.
Dave: I mean, again, we haven’t even—we’ve just barely touched the surface—but I’m thinking, “Have you felt that with me?”
Ann: Yes, of course, I do.
Dave: Oh good! Because I was thinking you were going to say, “Not very often.”
Ann: No, I totally do. I feel like you’re always cheering me on; you’re always pushing me forward. You’re always speaking life into me. I feel like you’re very much like what Jesus would say, like: “You can do this, Ann,” and “I see you.” I think that’s what women are longing, like: “God, do You see me? Do You see what I’m going through?” “God, do You believe in me? Do You think I have what it takes to live out the call that You’ve put on my life?”
Like I look at you, Kristi; and I think: “Oh, Jesus put that in you—that desire for His Word for Truth—you’re a teacher; you’re a scholar,” and “Look what you’re living. He’s brought that and, now, you’re spreading that all around the world.” So let’s go back to that. We have these 400 years, where all of a sudden, the culture is shifted. Women are being dishonored; they’re not being seen; and now, Jesus comes onto the scene.
Kristi: And it’s so important just to begin with the fact that Jesus was never okay with women being anchored in shame, so part of why He came was to do something about it. That from the very beginning from the very genesis, we envision Jesus growing up, with Mary lighting the Shabbat candles in His home. He’s growing up in that sense of the honor of woman, of Chava of Eve. You start to see that justice and righteousness—we’ve kind of unpacked justice a little bit in this vertical world—but tzedakah, the Hebrew word for righteousness, we often think righteousness means clean, or pure, or something like that; so we want to hold that. But Hebrew words—they’re rich—a Hebrew word is like a suitcase full of meanings. You can just pull out a lot of different meanings. Tzedakah also carries the meaning of generosity of being generous.
A person of tzedakah, in the Middle East to this day, means they are a generous person. Jesus is not only bringing justice to women, He’s bringing generous justice to women. Jesus is not okay just to lift woman a little bit out of her shame. He is adamant, persistent, and consistent to lift her all the way out of her shame, restore her honor, and send her forth in shalom.
Think of the stories: the Samaritan woman. And by the way, Jacob’s well is still there in Israel: it’s 180 feet deep; it has never run dry, and you can still pull up water. When we take teams there, we have the women surround the well; and we read John 4 out loud. Every woman gets to read a verse, a part of that story, where it happened. So, we have the Samaritan woman. We understand, historically and culturally, the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along. There’s a 700-year rift between them when Jesus comes on the scene. The beef is already 700 years growing; and we see Jesus and this Samaritan woman in the heat of the day, and she’s alone. The Middle East is—they’re not an individualistic culture—they’re a communal culture. The very fact that, as a woman, that she’s coming to the well alone, bells and whistles are going off for us in this story: “Where are her friends? Where’s her community?” You’re already getting the tinge of shame that she’s coming alone; no one will come with her to the well. Jesus begins to interact with her. One of the first things He asked her for is for a drink.
Ann: And it’s interesting—He’s already there, alone—
Kristi: —already there.
Ann: The disciples have gone to get food; and He’s alone, almost waiting for her.
Kristi: I think, absolutely, waiting for her. Even in rabbinic literature, the spittle of a Samaritan woman is unclean; that is in rabbinic literature. So when Jesus, as a holy rabbi of Israel, looks at her, as a Samaritan woman, and says, “Give me a drink,” what He’s saying is: “I’ll drink after you.”
Ann: —meaning He’ll be unclean now.
Kristi: “I’ll drink after you,”—absolutely. And for Jesus, in that world of clean and unclean—you know, in Judaism, you’re just trying not to touch something to make you unclean. Jesus comes on the scene and radically reverses that; because He, who is clean, is never afraid to touch unclean; because when He touches unclean, unclean becomes clean. It’s the exact opposite of everything they had known and experienced, in the way that they were relating to God through the laws and commandments.
We have this holy rabbi of Israel offering to drink after a Samaritan woman that’s unheard of; a holy rabbi of Israel talking to a woman, alone, at a public well in the heat of the day that’s unheard of. We don’t have time to just unpack the whole story, but He begins discussing theology with her. [Laughter] She starts talking about: “You guys say we have to worship in Jerusalem. We worship up on this mountain, Mount Gerizim.” The rabbis in that day they weren’t really talking with women; they definitely weren’t talking theology with women.
Ann: —ever, because women didn’t have that right. They didn’t even think they had it in them to have that discussion.
Kristi: That’s right. Then we have this huge moment this watershed—if it’s a movie, the da-te-daaaah comes in—when Jesus looks at her and he says, “Go call your husband.” She says, “I don’t have a husband”; and He says, “You are right. What you say is right; you’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re now living with is not your husband.”
One of the things that I like to unpack—as we understand Jesus in His historical, cultural world—in this moment is, at that time, divorce was the exclusive right of the male; only men could divorce their wives. Women could not even legally that just wasn’t even a thing. We’ve often thought of her as—having five husbands—it means that: “She’s a man-eater,” “She’s a perpetual cheater,” or something like this.
Ann: —“She’s loose.”
Kristi: Yes: “She’s loose.”
Ann: —“Bad morals.”
Kristi: But there’s absolutely no way that’s what the text is saying, because she would be dead. They stoned adulteresses in that world; we have a story in John, Chapter 8, that tells us that. She’s not lascivious. She’s had five husbands; what’s going on? I always say Jesus was not naming her sin in that moment— He was naming her shame—because she had been left five times. Five men had married and left her; it’s different.
Ann: She felt like: “What is wrong with me that all these men would leave me? I must be broken.”
Dave: That’s her shame.
Kristi: Yes, that’s her shame. Jesus grabs her back to our definition of justice from the moment He says that to her. Go read the narrative; He starts lifting her out of it. In the Gospel of John, she is the first person the first person that He ever explicitly admits that He is the Messiah.
Kristi: You can only do a thing for the first time one time. For all of human history, from Genesis 1 to the end of it all, she will forever always be the one that holds the right that she was the first one that He told that He was the Messiah. I always joke we’re going to recognize her in heaven; because she’s going to be wearing a pink t-shirt that says, “I was the first.” [Laughter] We’re going to know her, so just to even give her that honor. And you know the rest of the story. She comes to the well, alone, in shame. Jesus is the shame-killer; He is the honor-restorer; and He’s the shalom-bringer. She goes back; she tells her village: “Come meet a man that told me everything I ever did,”—that’s pretty incredible. And by the end of the story, she’s the missiologist for her village.
Ann: She’s the evangelist.
Kristi: Her village needs Him.
Ann: Yes, the first evangelist is a woman; incredible!
Kristi: And you have to just know they’re all looking at her, saying, “Thank you. We would have missed Him if it weren’t for you. We wouldn’t know Him if it wasn’t for you.”
The text doesn’t say it, so this is a “Kristi-sm” as I like to say. The Bible does not say this; but you know, Jesus is a Galilean rabbi. He’s coming through Samaria down to Jerusalem for the feast and the festivals. I just imagine—as they’re making those treks up and down, after that moment and after that trip—“What if they stopped off at that town every time? What if He made friends in that village? What you know, just what time, beyond even that moment, would He have spent with them?” We don’t know. We may get to heaven and find out: she started out this woman by herself at a well; and by the end of it, once a year, Jesus and the disciples came through and spent four days with them; I mean, can you just even imagine?
Ann: I want to talk to women. I get teary thinking about it; because I mean, my story is I have abuse. I have done a lot of things that I regret, and a lot of things have been done to me that have brought so much shame and condemnation. And yet, Jesus—this same Jesus—has lifted me up. He’s freed me from those bondages of sin, of shame, of regret; and I’m amazed that He uses me in all my brokenness. He has the same thing for you. I don’t know where you are, or what’s happened, or where you’ve come from; but I do know this: “Jesus wants to meet you right where you are.” If it’s at the well, if it’s in the carpool line, if it’s in your shower on the floor, as you’re crying, Jesus is right there; and He wants to bring you hope; He wants to bring you healing; and He wants to lift you up and bring you to that place of: “You’re Mine, daughter. I see you. I love you, and I will make all things new.”
Shelby: You know Ann is a woman of such character, vulnerability, and compassion. Her heart always shines through so beautifully on FamilyLife Today and I appreciate her caring and thoughtful words as she and Dave have been talking today with Kristi McLelland.
Hi, I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Kristi and the Wilsons on FamilyLIfe Today as she talks about Jesus and women, exploring how our Lord generously restores dignity and honor to women in both the first century and now. Kristi has written a book called Jesus and Women. It’s a Bible study book that you can pick up by going online to FamilyLifeToday.com or giving us a call at 800-358-6329.
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Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to talk again with Kristi McLelland about a dinner party Jesus was attending, where a woman disrupted the party and began anointing Jesus’ feet with her tears. We’ll hear that story and hear more about the value and dignity of women in the eyes of Jesus. I hope you can tune in for that tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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