In some ways the women’s world of the first-century hasn’t changed. I know that some of you who read this will disagree, and I never expect universal agreement with any of my views, but when it comes to “respect for women” it’s hard to deny the truth of the proposition that women today must still put up with a lot of disrespect from men, from governments, even from other women.
For me, respect is a lynchpin of relationships, whether it is between me and a friend, me and my husband, me and my children, or between me and my God. Without getting into etymology or philosophy, I will put it simply like this: If I feel heard then I can assume there is respect for me in another person. A lack of respect between and among people is the fountain from which injustice springs.
The first-century women I write about lived in a world where women were little more than property. Under Jewish law, the marriage contract at that time did commit a husband to provide food and shelter for his wife. However, he could divorce her if she could not give him children. Her family was expected to provide a dowry to “sweeten the deal.” In some cases a woman could inherit, but it was usually tied to a minor son. A woman had some rights under Jewish law that women in the surrounding cultures did not have, but that should not be confused with whether they received actual respect. Much like today, some men had great respect for their women, most did not, and the penalties for exhibiting contempt for a woman were episodic and capricious. It was generally regarded as a greater crime for a man to come between another man and his wife than it was for the other man to do to his wife whatever required such an intervention.
When Jesus began teaching he included women in his inner circle, which was counter to his culture and religion. He spoke directly to women; and, just as important, he listened to them and gave weight to their words. In short, he treated them as equals. He made no differentiation between men and women when it came to his message of how to live with one other.
It is subtle, and it actually takes up very little of each storyline, but Jesus’ respect for women is a central message of every story I write.