Jesus Loves the Little Children
In the third episode of the first season of “The Chosen” (“Jesus Loves the Little Children”), early in his ministry Jesus develops a relationship with a few small children. The star of this episode is a little girl named Abigail, who first discovers Jesus camping not far from her town and eventually introduces six of her friends to him. Earlier, at the end of the first episode, the writers introduced Jesus as he heals Mary Magdalene of her demon possession. Then in the third episode Jesus tells the children she is a friend he had who would soon be traveling with him and some others.
Here in these encounters Jesus shows his utter comfort level with females, be it little girls or adult women. This is in marked contrast with the customs and rules of the day that prevented girls such as Abigail from studying the Law in the synagogue school.
These fictional interactions have the ring of authenticity in them from what we read in the Gospels. Consider the following points:
- Mary Magdalene did, in fact, travel with Jesus in his evangelistic work (Luke 8:2), and she stayed with him to the end (John 20).
- The fact that Jesus welcomed children into his presence is noted in the Gospels, which make no mention of their gender. They were just children.
- Jesus defended women against men who bullied them (Luke 7:44-50,13:10-17; John 8:2-11, 12:4-8), even when it was his own disciples doing it (Matt. 26:6-13).
- Jesus was so aware of the women around him that on at least two occasions he noticed nameless women in a crowd with many things going on around them (Mark 12:41-44=Luke 21:1-4, 23:27-31).
- Jesus’ teaching about sexual lust against women (Matt. 5:28) signaled to his male disciples that it was possible to work closely with women without sex being a problem.
- Unlike the other rabbis of the day, Jesus had close contact himself with women, both touching them and allowing them to touch him.
- In his strict stance on divorce, Jesus opposed the prevailing Pharisaic practice of allowing men to divorce, and therefore abandon, their wives for almost any reason (Matt. 19:9).
- Though he opposed divorce, he upset the male monopoly on it by indicating that men and women were on an equal footing in their ability to get a divorce (Mark 10:12).
- In spite of the fact that the prevailing view among the Pharisees was that adultery occurred when a woman violated her marriage vows, he taught that the same applied to men violating theirs as well (Mark 10:11).
- Unlike the Pharisees’ practice of having only male disciples, Jesus counted women among his closest disciples, and he showed no reluctance to share with them some of his most important teachings, in some cases for the first or only time in the Gospels or the only time in the Bible.
- Perhaps most significant of all, Jesus entrusted the announcement of what would become the most fundamental tenet of the Christian faith—that Jesus had been raised from the dead—to Mary Magdalene, a woman. Mary was the first at the tomb (John 20:1), the first to proclaim the empty tomb (20:2), the first to see and converse with the resurrected Jesus (20:14-17), and the first to bear witness to the resurrected Jesus (20:18), having been commissioned by Jesus himself to deliver the news to the disciples (20:17).
Why does all this matter? It is because by his example Jesus was modeling the type of community his apostles were going to set up after he was gone, and he was indicating how central women were to be in the spread of the good news about him. We only need to read Acts and the letters of Paul to see how fully all this played out in the first decades of the church.
In Paul’s relationship with women we see strong echoes of Jesus’ example. Paul had close female friends, and he interacted freely with them. He was quite inclusive of women as evangelistic co-workers whom he treated on a par with himself and any others (Rom. 16:3, 6, 12; Phil. 4:3). Not only was it expected that women be taught (I Cor. 14:31, 35; I Tim. 2:11, 5:4), they were also to be teachers (Tit. 2:3-5; cf. Acts 18:26).
He paid high compliments to various women, including one who was his benefactor (Rom. 16:2), another who had risked her neck for him (16:4), and one who had shared prison with him (16:7). He referred to women in the warmest and most affectionate terms: “outstanding” (Rom. 16:7), “beloved” (6:12), and “my (surrogate) mother” (16:13). These sisters in Christ were integral to the spread of the Gospel and service to the church, just as the male disciples were.
The path Paul laid out for the church in both his attitude and actions toward women looks remarkably similar to that of Jesus. Do we exhibit the same attitude toward our sisters today? The question deserves a thoughtful answer.