Men and women are different. This fact was brought home to me recently when I was asked whether one should refer to computers as masculine or feminine. A colleague set up two groups of computer experts to answer the question. The first was comprised of women and the second of men. Each group was asked to recommend whether computers should be referred to in the feminine or masculine gender. Each gave four reasons for their recommendation.
The group of women computer experts reported that computers should be referred to in masculine terms because:
1. In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on.
2. They have a lot of data, but are still clueless.
3. They're supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they are the problem.
4. As soon as you commit to one, you realise that if you had waited a little longer, you could have got a better model.
The group of men, on the other hand concluded that computers should be referred to in the feminine gender because:
1. No one but their Creator understands their internal logic.
2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else.
3. Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for later retrieval.
4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your salary on accessories for it.
I'll leave it to you to decide whether computers are masculine or feminine. Men and women are different and under pressure those differences are intended to compliment and strengthen the other. Exploited or abused, those differences can lead to division and conflict.
As you will have guessed, tonight we come to yet another highly charged and emotive issue. "How to be positive about women without being negative about men". Easy you might think for someone sharing a house with five women. Being the father of three dynamic, energetic and attractive daughters and a beautiful wife and affectionate dog, I view the world through their eyes and feel with them some of the prejudice they encounter.
I remember just a few years ago when Rachel wanted to play football at school but found it difficult to get picked for the team. The assumption still is that boys play football, while girls play net ball. But as you know sexism on the playing field is tame compared to the gender discrimination women face in career opportunities, in promotion prospects, in pay differentials, in the stereotype roles expected of both men and women, even within such a liberated and enlightened society as ours.
One women executive said, "To get anywhere in the corporate world a woman has to do the same work a man would do in the same job, but she must do it twice as well." Then she added wryly, "Fortunately, that is not difficult." Another woman said, "We deserve more pay than men. After all, anything Fred Astaire could do, Ginger Rogers could do backwards and on high heels." Just take the use of surnames as an example. The name problem for married women.... (illustration) But that all changed for me when Michael was born, or at least that's the impression some people gave when they asked how I felt to have a son and heir... My reply to that one was "I already had three heirs but was delighted to have a fourth."
It even happens in church circles. How often have you heard a Christian speaker bemoan the fact that women out number men in many churches? Usually this is seen as evidence that the church is apparently failing to relate effectively to men. Sometimes I wonder whether it may actually be an encouraging sign of something very different.
Look at it from the opposite perspective, and ask why women,
given a free choice of religions are attracted particularly to Christianity?
Perhaps women have discovered something we men haven't recognised. How do we follow Jesus without embarrassing God? By emulating the revolutionary way Jesus Christ treated women, and men. This evening I want us to discover a few of the essential lines of the Biblical portrait of what it means to be created in God's image, both male and female. I want to use the encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4, as our starting point. Here we discover what Jesus has to say on three issues - Gender Equality, Complementary Roles, and Shared Ministry.
1. JESUS ON GENDER EQUALITY: JOHN 4:4-9
I saw a car bumper sticker recently. Its said, "Equality is a myth, women are better". What ever our society has said and done, whether in joke or serious debate, equality is not something we should assume is, or ever has been the norm. Just the reverse. The way that Jesus treated this lady with gentleness and respect was one of the most radical things he ever did. Greek, Roman and Hebrew culture of the first century scorned the idea of equality. Aristotle, the father of biology regarded women as "a kind of mutilated male... imperfect... accidentally produced by the father's inadequacy or the malign influence of a moist south wind..." Even Jewish writers who should have known better from their Old Testament made similar derogatory remarks about women. Josephus expressed his opinion that "the woman is inferior to the man in every way." In Jewish law a woman was not a person, but a thing. She had no legal rights whatsoever; she was absolutely in her husband's possession to do as he willed. It is as a direct result of the way that Jesus treated women that we have seen the gradual and progressive feminine liberation. According to Dr John Gray, "The dynamics of the relationship between men and women have changed more in the last 35 years than the 965 that preceded it." It took 1900 years of Christian influence for our Parliament to pass the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919. This opened to women virtually every public function, profession and civil post, at least in theory. By the 1960's only two professions were still closed to them, the London Stock Exchange and the ordained ministry. In 1973 the Stock Exchange capitulated. Ironically it was the established churches who were the slowest to recognize the implications of Jesus actions here. But what ever the shortcomings of the Christian church in applying the equality implicit in the Scriptures, other religions are still in the comparative stone age.
The Cambodian Buddhists have a folk saying that, "A woman is cotton, a man is a diamond. If you throw cotton in the mud, its always soiled. But if you throw a diamond in the mud, it can be cleaned."
The Moslem faith is little better. The Koran is little better, claiming, "Men have authority over women because Allah has made the one superior to the other... As for those from whom you fear disobedience, admonish them and send them to their beds apart and beat them..." Moslems, Buddhists, and Christians do not worship the same God.
The essential equality of both male and female we take for granted is something unique to the Judeao-Christian heritage. From the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 1 God teaches that He created both male and female in His image. All the qualities of masculinity and femininity find their source in God. A Jewish commentary on Genesis 3 paraphrases the creation dialogue like this, "When God created man, she was only practising. Looking at Adam she said, "mmm I can do better". Lets do a little test on this Mothers Day. How does it sound to your ears when I say God's love for us is that of a mother's love for her child? Reassuring or threatening to your theology?
We are used to describing God as a Father who loves us -
but of a mother in child birth or nursing her baby or comforting her child?
Then try these verses out for size,
"For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant... I will not forsake them." (Isaiah 42:14-16)
"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! (Isaiah 49:15)
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you" (Isaiah 66:13)
Even Jesus likens himself to a mother hen longing to protect the people of Jerusalem as a mother gathers her young under he wings.
"How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Luke 13:34)
What we see in the life of Jesus is simply the outworking of that fact. So how does Jesus demonstrate this inherent equality?
1.1 Jesus spoke to her 4:7
Something a Jewish man wouldn't dream of doing in public even if it was his wife or daughter. Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. That created even greater barriers with people of other races, and those of suspect morals. But it didn't get in the way for Jesus. He spoke to this woman as a human being with dignity. There's another way he demonstrated equality.
1.2 Jesus made himself vulnerable 4:7
He asked her for a drink. He was humble enough to admit he needed help. In this way he honoured her. She was shocked that he even asked. He was prepared to break long standing traditions to build bridges and bring reconciliation. Most significant of all,
1.3 Jesus discussed theology with her 4:10
He respected the fact that women have brains, that they can think just as logically as men. Again, Jesus was radical here, for the Talmud, a man-made commentary on the Pentateuch taught that it was most impious to teach a woman the law; indeed it would be better for the words of the law to be burned than that they should be entrusted to a woman. Jesus did not regard his Jewishness or his maleness as essentially superior, and nor should we. So let me ask you men present, "Are you willing to work for a woman, take instruction from a woman, be vulnerable before a woman?" Are you afraid it might impugn your masculinity? your omnicompetence? Jesus comes across in the Gospels as a man's man, a person of strong character, clear convictions, courageous actions, but also a man of great gentleness and tenderness toward women. Without any fuss or publicity Jesus terminated the curse of the Fall, reinvested women with her partially lost nobility, and reclaimed for his new Kingdom community the original creation blessing of sexual equality. All who trust in Christ are equally accepted, equally God's children, without any distinction, discrimination or favouritism according to race, class or sex. Before God and in Christ there is neither male nor female. We are all one in Christ. Jesus on Gender Equality.
2. JESUS ON COMPLEMENTARY ROLES: JOHN 4:10-17
Although man and women are equal they are not the same. Equality and identity are not to be confused. Men and women differ in every cell of their bodies. Medically for example, women have been shown to have greater vitality and live longer, but tire more easily. On average men are 10% taller, 20% heavier and 30% stronger, but women are more resistant to fatigue, the longer the race the more likely they are to win. Since 1964, women's marathon running times have dropped 32% compared with only 4.2% for men. If the trend continues, female marathon runners could be leaving men in the dust sometime in the next century. And if fathers think it must be a vacation to stay at home and look after junior its worth remembering nursing a baby can burn 500 calories a day, the equivalent of running about 8 kilometres. Men and women are different, but to compete but to complement. It is our uniqueness that gives freshness and vitality to relationships. The differences between men and women are meant to be complementary, as we work together. But we must be careful not to accept uncritically the stereotypes which our culture has inherited or developed.
2.1 Jesus Recognised the Existence of Roles 4:11-12
This Samaritan women was at the well collecting water. Their mutual forefathers had been shepherds. Jesus didn't question these roles. Inevitably women bear the greater part of the burden of child bearing and rearing. However when roles become fixed they invariably suffer the effects of male chauvinism, as in the example of the German saying which restricts women to Kinder, Kuche und Kirche ("children, kitchen and church"), or the English derivative "A woman's place...." There is no question or any hint of there being superior or inferior roles in the Bible. Scripture is equally silent about this kind of division of labour. While Jesus recognised the existence of complementary roles,
2.2 Jesus Demonstrated the Flexibility of Roles 4:8
The disciples had gone into Sychar to buy food. Let me put it another way. They went to Tesco's to do the shopping. Shopping or cooking is not women's work, any more than it is the man's responsibility to go out and earn a living. And there's another thing that Jesus did that would embarrass most men today. Luke 8:3 says, "Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many other women were helping to support them out of their own means." So there's nothing new about the idea of the wife going out to work while the husband looks after the home, or in this case, is thereby able to be in full time ministry. Jesus recognised the existence of cultural roles, but Jesus reversed the pattern of those cultural roles. He demonstrated the flexibility of complementary roles. Roles for men and women should depend on circumstances and mutual agreement, not male chauvinism. Jesus on Gender Equality, Jesus on Complementary roles.
3. JESUS ON SHARED MINISTRY: JOHN 19-42
"I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour." Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world." (John 4:38-42)
Let me ask you, whose ministry was more effective? The apostles or this woman? The apostles, twelve men, twelve personal representatives of Jesus Christ, had been sent into Sychar to buy food. What did they do? Buy food. Jesus sent the woman back to get her husband. What does she do? One woman brings back the entire village! What does this teach us?
3.1 Ministry Grows on Relational not Terminal Thinking
The Apostles were thinking simply of the food that would make them hungry again. She wanted to share the gentleness, the compassion and the forgiveness she had experienced in Jesus. When the Apostles returned they were shocked that Jesus was even speaking to a woman. "What do you want?" they asked Jesus. They thought that perhaps they'd forgotten something on the shopping list. I'm afraid I'm a bit like that when I go shopping. I've got my list in one hand, pen in the other, and its off with my trolley like its a military operation. I can do a weeks shopping on a Friday afternoon in under an hour. When I get home, Joanna sometimes will say, "What about potatoes?" "But it wasn't on the list" is usually my lame excuse. Terminal thinking. We need to be imaginative in ministry, think about possibilities and not just problems, opportunities not just the predetermined. Ministry grows on relational not terminal thinking.
3.2 Ministry Flows from Experience not Theory 4:28-38
Notice that this woman didn't have all the answers. She didn't even know who Jesus really was, but she had begun to experience the love of God. That was enough. That's what mattered. Verses 34-38 was a gentle rebuke from Jesus. The Apostles may have been sent to buy food but clearly Jesus thought they were short sighted for failing to recognise Sychar was ready for revival. So ministry grows on relational thinking, it flows from experience.
3.3 Ministry is Functional not Positional 4:39-42
Jesus hadn't ordained this woman. She never been to a selection conference. She didn't have a Bishop's licence to preach in Sychar. The Apostles were the ones with all the labels and badges. You know I added up the other day all the titles I have. In my short life I've been called an Ordinand, a Deacon, a Curate, Curate in Charge, Rector, Vicar, Priest, Pastor, Reverend, Rev, and what do they mean? Very little. They're only labels. Like a jar of jam or a bottle of wine. Don't judge the contents by its label. The debate on Women's Ordination focusses largely on the positional and not the functional, and its diverted attention from the tremendous opportunities for both men and women to serve God. This woman was Spirit led and that's all that mattered. The New Testament pattern for ministry is essentially functional not positional. The giving of titles or labels followed the recognition of ministry. Not the other way round. So how can we be positive about women without being negative about men? By treating women and men the way Jesus did - with dignity and respect recognising their gender equality, complementary roles and shared ministry. Lets pray.