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Published Date: May 11, 2023

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Four Attitudes of Jesus that Empower Women

A few years ago, I sat across the desk from a car salesman discussing the vehicle I’d just test-driven. I was already feeling annoyed by his pressure tactics. Finally, refusing again to sign on the dotted line, I told him, “I don’t make major financial decisions without talking to my husband. If I decide to buy it, I’ll let you know.”

He looked across the desk, shrugged, smiled, and said, “Just tell him you really wanted the car, and you were carried away by your emotions.”

I raised my eyebrows, gave him a couple beats to rethink the wisdom of that sales tactic, then replied, “Thank you, I won’t be purchasing anything here,” and left.

Women everywhere recognize that conversation or one like it. It’s a common complaint that we’re not taken seriously in many different situations, from dealing with car salespeople to physicians to technicians. This complaint isn’t without data to support it. For instance, gender bias in medicine is common, where “women are diagnosed later than men in more than 700 diseases—2.5 years later for cancer and 4.5 years later for diabetes.”[1]

In too many arenas, including ministry, women fight to be given the same respect as men. When our Doctor of Ministry cohort of twenty people was asked why we were in the program, all five women said some version of, “Partly because I need the letters before my name for credibility in this field.” None of the fifteen men did.

This is why Jesus’ treatment of women is so refreshing. Can we take a page from Jesus in the way he interacts with women? One of my favorite examples—his conversation with the nameless woman at the well—illustrates four actions we can emulate. The encounter is described in John 4.

Eventually he [Jesus] came to a Samaritan village. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

Jesus replied, ”If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

(John 4:4–10) [2]

The woman’s first reaction when meeting Jesus is surprise. (Isn’t that the case for a lot of us?) He speaks to her, and the request for water is one she doesn’t expect. Most of us understand the reasons why. He’s Jewish; she’s Samaritan—a 700-year-old feud of religion and ethnicity stands between them. He’s a man; she’s a woman. For the former to speak to the latter while the two are alone is inappropriate. Potentially, she’s also a shunned member of her community on account of her relationships with the men in her life, though that interpretation is up for debate. [3]

Yet Jesus does speak, indicating that he has little concern for social conventions or religious concerns about reputation. He first sees the human soul.

Thus we see the first aspect of Jesus’ dealings with women that stands out. Jesus notices women.

Girls learn from an early age to accept not being seen. They accommodate themselves to it, as the Samaritan woman has. They get used to being overlooked. Someone else gets the credit for their idea. Another person is chosen for a promotion they’re better qualified for. A salesperson speaks to their partner rather than to them about their computer purchase. Worse, from a young age, girls may get used to only being noticed for their sexuality.

So, Jesus surprises this woman. He goes out of his way to shock her with recognition. He doesn’t ignore her, as she expects; he sees her there. He notices. He pays attention. He even makes himself the vulnerable party by asking her for the one thing she can give that he can’t get—water.

What does it say about the way Jesus views women that he would intentionally make this request and then make it clear to her: “I’ve got all the time in the world to sit here and pay attention to you?”

In Jesus’ dealings with women, time and again he pays attention when no one else does. He sees the small things. He recognizes their gifts.

Second, Jesus humbles himself to women.

He makes himself dependent on women—an unprecedented move for a man of his time. He asks this woman for water when he’s tired and thirsty. He welcomes women funding his ministry (Luke 8:2–3). He entrusts to them the message of resurrection (John 20:11–18). God puts eternity in the womb of a girl and trusts her for his safety (Luke 1:26–56). These are not small, token steps of vulnerability, but large ones. He is legitimately dependent on them.

What would happen if men who profess Jesus would follow this particular example? What if they deliberately humbled themselves to need the women around them? Not for sex or support or sandwiches but for real partnership? What if, in line with Jesus’ humble attitudes, men today sought out women who could teach or lead them? It’s a radical thought for men in ministry who are surrounded by other men. It requires the kind of proactive and humble behavior Jesus displayed.

Third, Jesus takes women’s ideas seriously.

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again.But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.

“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.

Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”

The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”

(John 4:10–26)

We’ve just been to a seminary class. The pair discusses some weighty things at this well-side—the Messiah, comparative religion, best worship practices, even the Trinity. Few women dared bring up such topics with a rabbi. She did, though, and Jesus listened.

Many commentators have suggested that these questions were the woman’s attempt to smokescreen Jesus from getting around to her questionable personal life and morals. I think the interpreters have been a little afraid of actually wrangling with an intelligent woman. There is no textual evidence that she’s dodging him; she’s asking deep theological questions. And he’s not only listening; he’s taking her seriously.

In fact, despite multiple husbands and the hardships of being dependent on (and probably very wronged by) those husbands, this woman has managed to study her theology. Despite all the hard edges of her life, this woman has been spiritually hungry. Jesus knows it. He’s paying attention.

Why is she free to ask the sort of questions that no woman is supposed to ask? Because he sees her. So, she steps out further and finds out if he will listen to her as well. What a refreshing breeze at this well-side to see Jesus treat a woman’s intellect and questions with respect!

Finally, Jesus empowers women.

Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked to find him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her? ”The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone,Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?” So the people came streaming from the village to see him.

Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus because the woman had said, “He told me everything I ever did!” When they came out to see him, they begged him to stay in their village. So he stayed for two days, long enough for many more to hear his message and believe. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
(John 4:27, 39–42)

Jesus’ disciples return to find out he’s having a seminary session with a woman. They’re a tad confused by this, but watch Jesus turn her into a more dynamic evangelist than they themselves have been. Jesus deals with the things holding her back and then sets her free to go tell the entire neighborhood what she’s learned.

Jesus had women follow him for a reason. He saw and heard them. He never treated them as second class. He believed in their minds and gifts. He trusted those gifts when he needed them. He gave them meaningful work to do and credit when they did it.

The kingdom Jesus said was present and coming depended on, and still does depend on, this vision of humility and empowerment expressed by the men of that kingdom toward its women. An entire village heard about Jesus from this woman when she was actually seen, respected, and set free to take the lead.

How many people in the world have not heard God’s truth because women have felt silenced rather than seen, condescended to rather than respected, and shackled rather than set free? If we are to create the kind of world Christ envisioned, we need 100 percent of his people walking—no, running—in their giftedness, just as the Samaritan woman did. Jesus sets the example of how it’s done.

Photo by Siarhei Tolak on Shutterstock


[1] “Just Your Imagination? The Dangerous Gender Bias In Women’s Healthcare,” Forbes, Renee Goyeneche, September 21, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/sites/womensmedia/2021/09/21/just-your-imagination-the-dangerous-gender-bias-in-womens-healthcare/?sh=7afcfcb53e54.

[2] All Scripture references are from the New Living Translation.

[3] Read differing views on the Samaritan woman below in “Related Resources.”

Related Resources

Three Reasons to Rethink the Samaritan Woman in John 4

Women in Scripture and Mission: Samaritan Woman

The Stranger at the Well: Inspired by John 4:3-42

Video: Gender and Ethnic Challenges: A Personal Journey

Three women smiling at the camera, each is holding a present.

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