Down through ages humankind has developed strange notions, philosophies and practices much to its own detriment. One such practice is that of treating women as less human, downplaying their role. It is sad to realise that the church cannot be exonerated from this crime.
By Fibion Mapholisa
Some religious circles have gone to the extent of denying women access to education and positions of leadership.
In some parts of the world women are still struggling to find space in the civic and political arena. The world has recently struggled to find ways to rescue school girls abducted in Nigeria and held prisoners by the extremist Islamic sect of Boko Haram who believe that those girls have “offended Allah by accepting Western education and Christianity”. Their leader has vowed they are at his disposal for sale in the Allah market.
In Zimbabwe there are perhaps “smart abductions”, but equally evil by some religious sects which deny the girl child access to education and the right to choose their helpmates. Given room such religious sects would go the Boko Haram way.
Women have been victims of this warped notion for too long, hence their outcry demanding justice, equality and respect is being heard as they wail day and night in our homes and streets. The Beijing conference testifies to their disgruntlement as they protest against such notions and practices.
Interesting to note is that both in Greek and Jewish culture, a woman had no legal rights. They were not allowed to inherit property or give testimony in a court of law, implying that they could not be trusted with any valuables.
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Their word could not be trusted and whatever they said was viewed with suspicion and thus rendered false and insignificant.
They were completely under their husbands’ power. The Jewish man therefore would thank God each day that he was not created a slave, a Gentile or a woman. The Jews were a chosen nation and one would have expected them to be an enlightened community of faith treating women as fully human. One wonders why women have been victims of this social ill in almost every culture on planet earth. Could it be due to the pronounced punishment after the fall that has now affected all our social structures — “. . .your desire will be your husband and he will rule over you”? [Genesis 3:16].
The evangelist Matthew’s inclusion of women in Jesus’ genealogy [Matthew 1:1-17] sheds light on the importance of women figure in our world. Startling though it could have been to Jewish mindset, Matthew wanted to prove a point. And what calibre of women!
Tamar [Matthew 1:3] an adulterous who notoriously found a way to get to bed with her father-in-law after he failed to keep his promise to give her his youngest son after she was widowed [Genesis 38]. Rahab [Matt. 1:5], a prostitute from pagan Jericho [Joshua 2:1-7], who helped Israelite spies. Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife [Matt. 1:6] who was seduced by David and whose first child died, but subsequently through her son Solomon, the royal line was traced [2Samuel 11-12]. Ruth [Matt. 1:5]not even a Jewess at all, but a Moabitess, and Moabites were not allowed near the assembly of the Lord for they had not helped Israel on her exodus from Egypt, but instead asked Balaam to curse them [Ruth 1:4; Deuteronomy 23:3;4]. Mary of course the gentle mother of Jesus — and is set as the climax of the women discussed above.
Thus in Jesus’ ancestry, there are notorious women whom God worked to rescue and use in His service. Matthew is asserting right at the outset of his gospel that barriers between men and women are broken down at Jesus’ coming, for women share in the official genealogy of the Messiah alongside men.
Jesus came to save and transform society — women and men alike, so that they have abundant life [John 10:10]. Royalty has stooped down for the good and joy of women as well. Salvation and transformation could not be fully ushered without their inclusion.
Thus as much as women share in the official genealogy of the Messiah alongside men, they should share in the official structures of our society to help bring about the desired change and development for the common good, to the glory of God. The cultural barriers of superiority complex of men over women should find a nailing to the cross by our constitutions to allow women to work well without being looked down upon.
Women have demonstrated aptitude in many field areas — in some cases better than men. Millions of them are equally well read like their male counterparts and are good administrators as school heads, accountants and managers. They have won Nobel prizes in literature, physiology, chemistry, etc putting them at par with men. some of them have been on merit appointed or elected as presidents. In our country we have one, Joice Mujuru, the former Vice-President.
In many countries today, women are in power either as Presidents, chancellors, queens or Prime Ministers. Liberia, Brazil and Argentina are some of the many countries having female presidents while Senegal, Denmark and Jamaica have female Prime Ministers affirming the competence of women.
In the Bible we have such women of noble character like Esther [in the book of Esther] who saved the Jews from being exterminated from the face of the world. In the New Testament we see some devout women who resolutely followed the Lord as Roman soldiers seized him and gruesomely crucified him on the Cross outside the city [Matt. 27:55-56]. Of course we also should be wary of dangerous, callous and destructive women like Jezebel who turned her husband away from the Lord and caused instability in the Israelite nation — leading the whole nation to run after Baal [1Kings 16:29 – 22:40].
Yet still the simple, but profound reality that men cannot bear children by themselves or with trees, but with women speaks volumes of the importance of women flavour in nation building and transformation. Interesting to note is that Adam groped in the darkness of loneliness till he found Eve. Society is lonely and its vision impaired without women involvement. At times it takes women to realise how significant they are to be an effective flavour in the community.
Ruth’s involvement in bringing about the Messiah also shows barriers between Gentiles and Jews being broken down. Women in tender — caring love can play some noble role in demolishing walls of hatred and pride built over years on tribal and racial grounds in and across nations. Recently in 2014, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistani was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “the struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education”. Women are indeed contributing to sustainable development, democracy and peace throughout the world.
The “juxtaposition of sinful women like Bathsheba, Rahab and Tamar with Mary the gentle mother of Jesus shows that the barrier between good and bad people also have come down crushing” by the coming of the Messiah. Thus whether women have shown some bad and weak traits in some areas of life — it is good insight for the living to note that through the grace of God in Christ they are enabled to live strong. In fact all of us, women and men stand condemned before the judgment seat of God, but through grace demonstrated on the cross we stand acceptable as we repent and commit ourselves to transformed thinking and living.
Consequently, even the once notorious street women, who once lived an illicit sex life like Rahab of a pagan Jericho, can be of a noble cause in the society after an encounter with God.
Lest we lean too much towards women, it is important to note that in Jesus’ genealogy there is a whole list of men, showing that women need men as well to complement them. The peculiarity of women figure in the royal blood is meant to show that Christ’s coming into this world resulted in the demolishing of these barriers that stood between men and women, suffocating female efforts out of the picture. Our societies should take counsel from Matthew’s inclusion of women in the royal genealogy and appreciate their flavour as they serve alongside men for the transformation and development of our communities.
This, however, does not mean that man’s God-given headship in the family should disappear, for going that extreme would be detrimental as well.
We thank the Lord that in today’s world the climate is fast changing as regards the way women have been viewed and millions of them are finding space to serve their communities! ,