Jesus’ words and actions express his esteem for women’s faith and his openness to their indispensable co-operation in the task of evangelization
At the time of the General Audience on Wednesday, 6 July, the Holy Father again came to the window of his study to greet the pilgrims and visitors in St. Peter's Square. Continuing his catechesis on the dignity and mission of women, the Pope talked about Jesus' attitude towards women in the Gospel and his admiration of their faith. Here is a translation of the Holy Father's address, which was the 93rd in the series on the mystery of the Church and was given in Italian.
1. When speaking of the dignity and mission of woman according to the teaching and spirit of the Church, one must always look to the Gospel in whose light the Christian sees, examines and judges everything.
In the preceding catechesis we cast the light of Revelation on woman's identity and destiny, presenting the Virgin Mary as the symbol according to what is indicated in the Gospel. However, in that same divine source we find other signs of Christ's will towards women. He speaks of them with respect and goodness showing by his attitude his willingness to accept women and to seek their involvement in establishing God's kingdom in the world.
2. First we can recall the many cases in which women were healed (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, n. 13), and those others in which Jesus revealed his Saviour's heart full of tenderness in his encounters with the suffering, be they men or women. "Do not weep!", he says to the widow of Nain (Lk 7:13). And then he gave her back the son he raised from the dead. This episode allows us to glimpse what must have been Jesus' personal feelings towards his mother Mary, in the dramatic setting of her sharing in his own passion and death. To the deceased daughter of Jairus, Jesus says tenderly: "Little girl, I say to you, arise!". And, having raised her, he "told them to give her something to eat" (Mk 5:41, 43). And he shows his sympathy for the stooped woman whom he heals: in this case, by referring to Satan he also calls to mind the spiritual salvation he is bringing that woman (cf. Lk 13:10-17).
Both women and men have access to the kingdom
3. On other pages of the Gospel we find Jesus expressing his admiration for the faith of some women. For example in the case of the woman with a hemorrhage, he tells her: "Your faith has made you well" (Mk 5:34). This is praise that has all the more value because the woman was subject to the segregation imposed by the old law. Jesus frees women from this social oppression too. In her turn, the Canaanite receives this recognition from Jesus: "O woman, great is your faith!" (Mt 15:28). This praise has an altogether special meaning, if one considers that it was addressed to a stranger to Israel's world. We can also recall Jesus' admiration for the widow who gave her mite to the temple treasury (cf. Lk 21:1-4); and his appreciation of the service he received from Mary of Bethany (cf. Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9; Jn 12: 1-8), whose action—he announces— will be known throughout the world.
4. In his parables too Jesus does not hesitate to draw examples and comparisons from the feminine world, unlike the rabbis' midrash, where only male figures appear. Jesus makes reference to both women and men. If one wishes to make a comparison, it could perhaps be said that women have the advantage. This at least means that Jesus avoided even appearing to attribute inferiority to women.
Again, Jesus allows women as well as men to enter his kingdom. In opening it to women, he wants to open it to children. When he says: "Let the children come to me" (Mk 10:14), he is reacting to the watchfulness of the disciples, who wanted to prevent the women from bringing their children to the Teacher. It could be said that he agreed with the women and their love for children!
In his ministry Jesus was accompanied by many women, who followed him and assisted him and the community of disciples (cf. Lk 8:1-3). It is something new with respect to Jewish tradition. Having drawn those women to following him, Jesus thus shows how he went beyond the widespread prejudices in his surroundings, as in much of the ancient world, regarding the inferiority of women. This rejection of discrimination between men and women in his Church is part of his struggle against injustice and arrogance (cf. Mulieris dignitatem, n . 13).
5. We must add that the Gospel shows Jesus' kindness also to several women sinners, whose repentance he asks for, but without acting harshly towards them because of their mistakes, all the more so because the latter involve man's co-responsibility. Several episodes are very significant: the woman who goes to the house of Simon the Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:3650) is not only forgiven her sins, but is also praised for her love; the Samaritan woman becomes a messenger of her new faith (cf. Jn 4:7-37); the woman caught in adultery receives with her pardon the simple exhortation not to sin again (cf. Jn 8:3-11; Mulieris dignitatem, n. 14). Doubtless Jesus does not acquiesce in the face of evil, of sin, regardless of who commits it, but what understanding of human weakness and what goodness towards the one who is suffering from his own spiritual misery and more or less seeking in him a Saviour!
'You are all one in Christ Jesus'
6. Lastly, the Gospel attests that Jesus expressly calls women to collaborate in his saving work. He does not only allow them to follow him to assist him and his community of disciples, but he asks for other forms of personal commitment. Thus he asks Martha for a faith commitment (cf. Jn 11 :26-27); responding to the Teacher's invitation, she makes her profession of faith before Lazarus is raised. After the Resurrection, he entrusts the devout women who had gone to the tomb and Mary Magdalene with the task of conveying his message to the Apostles (cf. Mt 28:8-10; Jn 20:17-18): "Thus the women were the first messengers of Christ's Resurrection for the Apostles themselves" (Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 641). These are rather eloquent signs of his desire to involve women too in the service of the kingdom.
7. Jesus' behaviour is explained theologically by his intention to unify humanity. As St. Paul says, he wished to reconcile all men through his sacrifice "in one body" and make everyone "one new man" (Eph 2:15, 16), so that now "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28).
This is the conclusion of our catechesis: if Jesus Christ reunited man and woman in their equal status as children of God, he engages both of them in his mission, not indeed by suppressing their differences, but by eliminating all unjust inequality and by reconciling all in the unity of the Church.
8. The history of the first Christian communities shows the great contribution women made to evangelization: beginning with "our sister Phoebe", as St. Paul calls her "a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae, he says: "she has been a helper of many and of myself as well" (Rom 16:1-2). Here I would like to pay homage to her memory and to the many other women who assisted the Apostles at Cenchreae, in Rome and all Christian communities. With them we remember and extol all the other women —religious and lay—who down the centuries have witnessed to the Gospel and handed on the faith, exercising a great influence on the flourishing of a Christian atmosphere in the family and in society.
L'Osservatore Romano July 13, 1994