Jesus was the ultimate non-toxic man. Not only is this good news for all women, but particularly for survivors of domestic abuse who have had the Bible twisted and used against them by an abuser.
In her blog, Georgie, volunteer, explores how Jesus treated women and his unique attitude toward those society often shunned.
'Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the cradle and last at the cross.'
— Dorothy Sayers —
It is not a coincidence that women were 'first at the cradle and last at the cross'. It is a symbol of Jesus’ unique attitude towards women in a patriarchal culture where most women were treated as second class citizens. The way Jesus treated women was unheard of in the Greco-Roman world and Jewish culture, and he paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps. In other words, Jesus was the ultimate non-toxic man. Not only is this good news for all women, but particularly for survivors of domestic abuse who have had the Bible twisted and used against them by an abuser. When supporting victims of domestic abuse, we should take the example of Jesus that is illustrated in the following stories.
The Liberator – Luke 8:40-48
Luke 8:40-48 tells the story of Jesus healing a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. There are two key facts to note about her status in society – not only is she a woman but she is seen as unclean due to her constant bleeding. Leviticus 15:19 tells us that ‘when a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening’. This woman has bled for far more than 7 days and is therefore perpetually unclean. In other words, she is an outcast from society that should rarely be spoken to, let alone touched. Jesus steps into that place and heals the woman. More than this, he allows her to have a voice and therefore frees her from both her affliction and her downgraded status. Jesus is a beacon of hope and freedom for women. Likewise we, as the Church, should bring liberation, not condemnation, to victims of abuse.
The Challenger – John 4:1-30
Jesus also challenges the hierarchical structure of the day, as seen in his encounter with the woman at the well. At that time, Jews did not associate with Samaritans - especially those who have been sexually immoral. We know this through the dialogue and elsewhere in the Bible. In John 4:9 the woman says ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink’. This is reinforced later in the passage, when John reports that ‘his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking to a woman’ (John 4:27). This passage echoes the message of the Good Samaritan, where it is clear that Jews do not recognise Samaritans as their neighbours (Luke 10:25-37).
That’s what makes this conversation so unique. Jesus knew her ethnicity and that she didn’t have a husband, but instead of judging her for it, he continues to teach her fundamental theological truths and inspires a heart for mission. In fact, Jesus chooses this woman to be the first person he reveals himself as being the Messiah. This is significant because instead of choosing the teachers of the law, he chooses someone outside Jewish and patriarchal structures.
As a consequence, the outcast became an outpost for Jesus’ mission in Samaria and many people believed in Jesus because of her testimony (John 4:39). This is such good news, that God actively chooses women who may be treated as inferior by some people, including those who have been abused, and raises them up. Equipped with this truth, we should also challenge the Church and congregations to stand up against domestic violence.
The Restorer – John 8:1-11
In John 8, teachers of the law and Pharisees bring out an adulterous woman to test what Jesus would do. Jesus turns the tables on the teachers of the law and questions their sinfulness by asking ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her’ (John 8:7). Here Jesus prioritises the needs of the adulterous woman over satisfying the Pharisees’ pride. He doesn’t just free the woman from being condemned to a shameful death, but also frees her from her life of sin.
Feelings of shame and self-doubt can feel condemning for women who have experienced domestic abuse and wrongly believe they are at fault. Victims are never to blame for an abuser’s actions, yet it can be hard to silence these thoughts. We as the Church should never add to these feelings of shame. We need to be the voice of truth: that they are wonderfully made, loved, valued and restored as part God’s family. We can follow Jesus’ example and help restore women to their rightful and honourable place.
Following in Jesus Footsteps
As we see from these few passages, Jesus challenged injustice, restored hope to women and gave women a central role in his mission. These stories are not unusual, time and time again Jesus not only reaches out and ministers to women but he also brings women alongside him as the most loyal disciples who stay until the very end (Luke 8:1-3 and Mark 15:40-41). Women play as vital a role in his mission as they do in his death and resurrection.
This is such good news for all women, but particularly survivors. Jesus loves women and justice so dearly, he is willing to challenge the teachers of the law and pay the ultimate price. We should take delight in Jesus’ attitude towards women and follow his example in transforming our Church into a place that challenges injustice and liberates and restores women. It is so important to ground our truths in the Bible and use theology in a way that is helpful and not harmful for women experiencing abuse.