I owe my own Christian faith to the persuasive power of women. Firstly, my babysitter when I was nine did something I never realised until years later. It always used to puzzle me that I could say the Lord’s Prayer and did when I was a little kid: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” And all that. I could say it even though I’d never been inside a church. Ours was not a religious household.
When I eventually became a Christian as a 16 year old, I honestly for a moment thought that I had miraculously imbibed the Lord’s Prayer – that it was some miracle of God. But then, years later, I was speaking in a church and told the story of how I somehow magically knew the Lord’s Prayer and this gorgeous elderly woman came up and said, “Don’t be silly, John. I was your babysitter when you were nine! And I taught you the Lord’s prayer.”
Women are there from the very beginning.
I felt so embarrassed, but also delighted at the influence of this woman. I remember she was my babysitter, but I had no recollection of her teaching me anything about God. And it was years later that another woman was my scripture teacher at high school. She wasn’t pushy, she wasn’t proselytizing, but boy, she had a great case for the person of Jesus Christ. It was through her that I came to take the Christian faith really seriously as a 16 year old.
Women persuaders have been a big deal in my life. There’s lots of nutty stuff out there about Jesus and women, and it’s kind of depressing. There’s that famous Dan Brown novel, where Jesus is meant to have fallen in love with Mary Magdalene and kissed her and got married and so on.
But frankly we don’t need romance to see the prominence of women in Jesus’ life. The data we have is really clear. Women are there from the very beginning. In fact, in Matthew Chapter One – in that long genealogy – Matthew deliberately takes little sidesteps as he’s listing all the men in Jesus’ line to mention some of his grandmothers, like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba. It sort of breaks the rules of an ancient patriarchal genealogy by saying women were part of this. It acted as a reminder that women are going to have a prominent role in the life of Jesus himself.
We know also, in Jesus’ adult ministry, that the people who bankrolled his whole project were women. It wasn’t male benefactors. We’re actually told in Luke’s gospel, that there were a bunch of women – Joanna, Mary Magdalene, and others – who provided for Jesus and the 12 Apostles for their full-time travelling around Galilee and Judea. Without them the history of Christianity would have been very different.
I owe my faith to women.
We also know women travelled with Jesus. There are several mentions across the Gospels that women were in his entourage. The great New Testament scholar, James Dunn, makes the point that this will have raised eyebrows in the ancient world, to have women part of his entourage of disciples. Women also feature in Jesus’ key teachings. He sort of brings them to the fore by mentioning them.
So, for example, in Mark 12, a woman is the exemplar – the ideal of a generous follower of God. In John 8, you’ve got this marvellous story of forgiveness: The woman caught in adultery whom Jesus defends and loves. But then on the other side of the equation, in Luke 15, Jesus uses a woman in his parable as a picture of God offering mercy to others. So this woman sweeps up a house looking for a lost silver coin and that’s a picture of God’s searching out for others.
We also know that women are there at the very end. They are there at the cross watching Jesus die, when most of the disciples – male disciples – have fled. And they are at the tomb – the first to visit the empty tomb and give their testimony about the risen Jesus. I owe my faith to women: to my babysitter, to my scripture teacher. But also to my wife. I watch her and her faith in Christ. And honestly, it’s one of the guiding lights of my life. Women are everywhere in the Jesus story. And I just have to confess: women have persuaded me to remain trusting in Christ through it all.
By John Dickson
5 Minute Jesus: Women to the front