Chapter 10: Jesus, The Christ
Jesus Christ was the male embodiment of the female principle. He manifested the male and female strengths in perfect balance, and that balance--that wholeness--was the source of his power, his wisdom, and his love
Jesus began his public ministry when he was thirty years old. He had gone to the Jordan River where John the Baptist was warning people that the old order was about to end. He was telling them, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." And he challenged the belief that being circumcised fulfilled the terms of their covenant with God. "You brood of vipers...let your lives prove your change of heart; And do not presume to say to yourselves, We have Abraham for our forefather."
The ritual of baptism was a reenactment of the new beginning that had been made after the Great Flood washed away a "corrupt world, filled with violence." Noah and the other survivors began a new life after the earth emerged from beneath the waters of the Flood. In the same way, those who came to John were washing away the sins of the past, and when they emerged from the Jordan River they were ready to begin a new way of life.
But when Jesus was baptized it did not symbolize repentance for past sins. His baptism signaled the new beginning for which John had been preparing the people. The Bible presents it as the moment when the Holy Spirit--the female Spirit of God--descended upon him in the form of a dove.
As soon as Jesus was baptized he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, "This is my son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him."
Jesus understood the significance of this sign of the dove. He knew it was the sign that had been given to Noah to let him know that the world of the past, washed away by the Flood, was ready to be replaced by the new order. "[Noah] sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters were abated from off the face of the ground: But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot...and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark...and lo, in her mouth was an olive leaf plucked off: so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth."
And when Jesus emerged from the waters of the Jordan and saw the Spirit of God descending upon him "like a dove," he knew it was time for him to begin his ministry. She was the sign that he had achieved the necessary balance in his person--the male/female wholeness in which the human race had originally been created. The female principle of the Godhead had found a place "for the sole of her foot"--for the establishment of the new order. And Jesus was the ground upon which that new order would be built.
But before the new order could begin, he had to test the strength of the male/female balance that he now embodied. He had to struggle with the tendency to succumb to the old ways, to the abuses of power that had developed under the sway of the unbalanced male principle.
Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil for forty days.
During those forty days, he had to overcome the temptation to use his powers either to either exalt himself or to fulfill the expectations of the people among whom he been born. Most of the Jews expected a Messiah whose power would be used to give them political and military victories over their enemies; a Messiah who would make them the most powerful and prosperous people on earth. And they were ready to accept the exercise of destructive power as a sign of God's presence and blessing.
But Jesus knew that the power of God was not to be used for the aggrandizement of a nation, or for self-aggrandizement. He resisted those temptations, and after forty days of "having exhausted all these ways of tempting him, the devil left him."
After overcoming the temptations to misuse his power, he began teaching in the synagogues around Galilee. And the first thing he did was to identify his ministry as the fulfillment of a prophecy given by Isaiah. In the synagogue he read aloud from the scroll:
The Spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
When he finished reading, Jesus told the congregation, "today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." He had been anointed with the female principle--the "Spirit of the Lord." He was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. His ministry was one of compassion and healing that reached out to the powerless and the oppressed. It was a ministry that demonstrated the power of love rather than the destructive power of brute force. Jesus spoke of a God who was loving and compassionate--not a partisan deity whose miraculous powers could be used to destroy one's enemies.
The old way--the way of the unbalanced male principle--included the belief in God-given powers that allowed men to maim and kill their enemies. But the miraculous powers attributed to Jesus were never destructive in their application. They were always used to serve people, to help or heal them.
Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
He taught a new way of life to the crowds that followed him. This new way--this new dispensation--would be built on a foundation of love, compassion, and nonviolence; on the foundation of a male/female balance in the affairs of the world. It meant letting go of the old way--a way of life in which hatred, anger, and vengeance were acceptable ways of dealing with one's enemies.
You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you....If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?....And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. But love your enemies, do good to them....Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Jesus also taught that the old ethic of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" was no longer acceptable. That rule had been given in order to limit the degree of retaliation that a person could inflict on someone who had injured him. But it had been abused and treated as if it were a command to return evil for evil. Even the most ancient angers and feuds were dredged up by individuals--and by nations--to justify the harm that they inflicted on others.
There was only one way to stop this never-ending cycle of self-righteous anger and violence. Jesus told the multitudes: "You have heard that it was said 'An eye for eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say unto you, whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also."
There was no place for any violence in the way of life that he taught, and there was no celebration of the violent hero. Jesus told the people that God valued the gentle and the nonviolent. "Blessed are the peacemakers," he said, "for they shall be called the sons of God." And he promised that, ultimately, "the gentle, they shall have the earth for their heritage."
This new dispensation included a nonviolent attitude towards animals. Neither Jesus nor his disciples participated in the sacrifice of animals at the Jerusalem Temple. The Latter Prophets called for an end to this bloody form of worship but, as in other matters, their call had been ignored. It was an important issue for Jesus. He taught that God's compassion embraced all creatures and it was the slaughter of animals, in the name of God, that led him to the most aggressive act of his ministry. He disrupted the entire sacrificial procedure and freed the animals who were about to be slaughtered.
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the Temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he...drove all from the Temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here!"
Jesus taught that God loved all creatures, nonhuman as well as human. "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And [yet] not one of them is forgotten or uncared for in the presence of God." The violence of sacrificial worship was just another reflection of the violent rule of the male power principle.
The only way to insure a world in which neither humans nor nonhumans were treated as means to an end, was to allow a balanced male/female rule in which the woman exercised an equal and active partnership with the man. That was the kind of world the Jewish people had been called to establish. But in spite of their covenant with God, they refused to release the female from bondage.
They continued to circumcise their flesh--to maintain the outward symbol of the covenant--but in spite of prophetic warnings to do so, they had not kept the spirit of the Law. They had not heeded the Deuteronomic command to "circumcise the foreskin of your heart." They ignored the prophet Jeremiah's warning to "Circumcise yourselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart."
They had been ignoring these injunctions since the time of Moses. The great Lawgiver had told his people that the God with whom they covenanted was loving and compassionate, and that their covenant was an agreement to manifest those godly qualities in their own lives.
To the Lord your God belong the heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affections on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you their descendants, above all the nations...Circumcise your heart, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. For the lord your God...shows no partiality...He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien giving him food and clothing.
By the time of Jesus, it had been more than 1,000 years since Moses had spoken of a loving and compassionate God. But the people still worshipped the god of their own creation: a powerful and violent deity. They continued to idolize the power of the male principle and to allow women only the roles of mother and domestic worker.
Jesus did not limit women to these activities, nor did he reserve his praise for their fulfillment of such gender-dictated roles. Instead, he praised both men and women for their spiritual development and for fulfilling God's will. His attitude and evaluation of a woman's place in the world contradicted all the religious and cultural norms of Judaism.
The Bible records that after he had been teaching a multitude of people, a woman yelled out from the crowd: "Blessed is the womb that bore You and the breasts at which You nursed." She was paying tribute to her own sex; the highest tribute she could imagine. A woman had born a son who was now a great spiritual teacher: no female would aspire to any greater religious role than that. But Jesus contradicted that idea and told her, "on the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it."
It was a radical statement. Until his ministry, only the men of Israel were fully called to God's service. Only the male was obligated to hear and observe the word of God in its entirety. Women were "excused" from many religious practices, and in the case of Temple worship, they were physically restrained from full participation.
But Jesus set a different standard: a standard of full participation. The female was called to the same religious duties as the male. Her function was not limited to producing sons who would "hear the word of God and observe it." The woman, as well as the man, was to be fully conformed to God's laws.
On still another occasion when he spoke of doing the will of God, Christ again made it clear that both men and women were to fulfill the same high calling. He had taken time out from teaching to share a meal with his disciples, but once it was known that Jesus was in the neighborhood everyone crowded into the host's home. Those who could not jam themselves into the house were milling around outside. At this point his mother came to see him but could not get past the crowd. So she sent word to tell him that she and his brothers were outside.
Instead of doing the obvious thing--instead of immediately having his mother escorted inside--Jesus used the situation as another opportunity to downplay the biological function of motherhood in order to give precedence to the spiritual function demanded of women, as well as men.
Then Jesus' mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." "Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whosoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."
It was not only the biological role of motherhood that Jesus subordinated to the religious/spiritual life of women. He also challenged the importance of the domestic role, which was the only other activity considered suitable for females. This challenge of cultural roles took place in Bethany, a town located about a mile and a half east of Jerusalem. Jesus and a group of his disciples were staying at the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, who were among his closest friends. In fact, the Bible says of them that "Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus."
Because he had a group of his followers with him, there was quite a bit of work involved with feeding and extending the hospitality of the house to these guests. And of course that work fell to the women. But Martha's sister, Mary, would not stay in the kitchen for long. She was too interested in hearing what Jesus was teaching his disciples about the things of God. That left Martha to do all the domestic chores.
Mary sat down at the feet of the Lord and listened to his teaching. Martha was upset over all the work she had to do, so she came and said, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come and help me!" The Lord answered her: "Martha, Martha! You are worried and troubled over so many things, but few things are needed. Mary has chosen the right thing, and it will not be taken away from her."
This is not the response Martha would have expected. To have Jesus commend a woman who sat listening to a religious discourse when her duty was to carry out her domestic chores must have been startling. The entire religious structure of her time was constructed to keep women from the study of religion. They were told that the restrictions placed on them were tributes to the importance of their biological and domestic functions, and they were not to think of themselves as being forbidden to participate in the most important aspects of Jewish life.
But of course they were being excluded, and this was at a time when the study of Torah had become as important as Temple worship in the life of the Jews. The prevailing attitude, committed to writing by a prominent rabbi, said: "May the words of the Torah be burned rather than be given to women!" Another such observation from the learned rabbi stated, "If any man teach his daughter Torah it is as though he taught her lechery."
This denigration and segregation of women extended to every area of their lives. They were considered ritually unclean every time they menstruated and every time they gave birth to a child. A man could become unclean by neglecting to follow established procedures that guaranteed ritual purity, but a woman was in the position of being unclean simply because she was a woman. And the state of ritual impurity meant that for the duration of the uncleanness, the person was to be treated as an outcast, as someone who must be shunned. To come in contact with such persons was to be defiled by them.
Not only did ritual impurity make people unfit for human contact, it was also believed that they became outcasts in the eyes of God. The person in a state of ritual impurity was "considered hateful to God, and man is to take care in order not to find himself thus excluded from his divine presence."
The Pharisees and scribes were particularly scrupulous about observing every nuance of those ritual laws. They enjoyed enormous prestige and were considered paragons of virtue and godliness. Under their influence, women had been increasingly secluded from religious life. But Jesus was never impressed with their observances, their piety, or the claim that they lived godly lives. Instead, he repeatedly characterized them as self-righteous men whose religious rituals were a substitute for godly living. And when a group of scribes and Pharisees came from Jerusalem to find fault with his ministry, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah to them.
How right Isaiah was when he prophesied about you! "These people, says God, honor me with their words, but their heart is really far away from me. It is no use for them to worship me, because they teach man-made rules as though they were my laws."
Those "man-made rules" dictated every area of life from the most significant to the most trivial. They regulated the punitive and restrictive treatment of women as well as the paying of tithes and the precise manner in which people were to wash their hands and their eating utensils. And Jesus told the religious leaders that those rules were being substituted for the love, compassion, and social justice that were the signs of true religion.
Alas for you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You who pay your tithe...and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law--justice, mercy, good faith!....You blind guides! Straining out gnats and swallowing camels!
But it was not only the scribes and Pharisees whose religious pretensions were denounced by Jesus; he also had harsh words for the chief priests in Jerusalem. They were considered models of religious leadership, yet Christ told them, "the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you."
It was a scathing indictment, but throughout his ministry Jesus preached against the self-serving hypocrisy of those who made their religion a substitute for godly living. He told such people, "on the outside you appear righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
The religion that Jesus taught had nothing to do with outward observances or with public demonstrations of piety. It was a matter of the heart; of an inward relatedness to God that was expressed in acts of kindness, love, mercy, and compassion. It was a religion that incorporated the female principle of service into every area of life.
The Bible relates an incident that took place when Jesus and his disciples were on their way to Jerusalem. The men had been arguing about who was the greatest among them--about who deserved the highest recognition and authority. When he heard about this power struggle, Jesus gave them a different standard by which to measure themselves. He told them: "You know that in the world, rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great men make them feel the weight of authority; but it shall not be so with you. Among you, whoever wants to be great must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the willing servant of all...just as [I] came not to be served, but to serve."
He knew this message of service was difficult for them to understand. They lived in a world where men of authority and stature were catered to by other men; a world in which status meant privilege and dominion over others.
Because the disciples were men, they did not understand how Jesus could ask them to give themselves in service to others. No matter how lowly the male's status might be in the larger world, there was always someone lower on the social scale; there was always someone there to serve him. There was always a wife, mother, or sister to attend to his needs.
Women understood the need to give service; they were born into a world that trained them for that role. But women were considered subservient and inferior by nature, and Jesus was telling his disciples to voluntarily take on the role of serving others. In fact, he finally told them unless they understood the importance of serving others they had "nothing in common" with him.
The concept of serving others instead of exercising power and dominion over them was such an important issue that Jesus brought it up again at the Last Supper. He and the Apostles were in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. He knew this was the last time they would be together and it was crucial that they learn to serve others. They had to balance the male principle with the female. They had to begin their journey to the wholeness--the holiness--of Christ, in whom the male and female were perfectly united. And one of the ways to achieve that balance was by serving others, as Jesus had done throughout his ministry.
At the Last Supper, he demonstrated the degree to which his followers must be willing to serve. And because women symbolized the female principle, Jesus performed the kind of service that was usually their responsibility.
They were at supper...and [Jesus] got up from the table...he then poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples feet....When he had washed their feet...he went back to the table. "Do you understand" he said, "what I have done to you? You call me Master and Lord, and rightly; so I am. If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each others' feet. I have given you an example so that you may copy what I have done to you....Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly."
When supper was over, and the time of teaching was done, Jesus and the Apostles went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a critical time for him. His denouncement of the Pharisees, scribes, and priests, and his popularity with the multitudes who followed him about, had infuriated the religious leaders. He knew it was only a matter of time until they would act against him. And he been warned that it would be very dangerous for him to be in Jerusalem during Passover.
They came for him while he was still praying. The chief priests sent a group of armed men to arrest him and Jesus asked them why they came with weapons; he was not a dangerous or violent criminal. He was a teacher. "Did you have to come with swords and clubs to capture me, as though I were an outlaw? Every day I sat down and taught in the Temple, and you did not arrest me."
It was at this point in his life that Jesus lived the lesson that he had taught his disciples: "Love your enemies, do good to them that persecute you;...if your enemy strikes you, turn the other cheek." He had preached against violence; he told his followers that it was never justified. And now, when he was about to be delivered over to his enemies, he demonstrated the ultimate tenet of his doctrine of nonviolence: even in defense of the highest good, violent acts were sinful.
When they came to arrest him, one of the Apostles unsheathed his sword to begin an attack against those who were about to take him prisoner. But Jesus commanded him to stop what he was doing and told him, "Put your sword back in its place. All who take the sword will die by the sword." Violence always begets violence, and the followers of Christ could not be part of that brutal and continuous cycle.
Jesus was arrested and taken to the place where the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. They found him guilty of blasphemy for claiming to be the Messiah and a son of God. Then they turned him over to the Roman authorities, charging him with sedition against Rome. They demanded he be executed for inciting rebellion.
They based the charge of sedition on his messianic claims. The Messiah was expected to be a political and military leader who would overthrow Jewish enemies and grant worldwide supremacy to the nation of Israel. The Romans knew of this expectation and would have to execute any such potential source of insurrection.
They sentenced him to be crucified.
As Jesus was dying, a group of women gathered at the foot of his cross. Women had always been with him during the triumphs of his life, and they were with him in the agony of his death.
During his life, female disciples had traveled with him from town to town. In allowing them to be a part of his public ministry, he was setting an example for female participation in the world beyond the home. He was also breaking the religious and cultural taboos of his time--something he frequently did.
Unlike the men of his own time, Jesus treated women with a respect and dignity that refused to make them objects of ritual impurity. The Gospel of Mark records an incident that took place in Capernaum, at a time when he was surrounded by a throng of people. Standing among them was a woman who had a continuing "issue of blood." This prolonged uterine bleeding would categorize her as being a continually menstruous woman; she would be ritually unclean all the time.
The woman was desperate. She had heard stories of the healings that Jesus performed but because she was "impure" she could not directly approach him and asked to be healed of her condition. She had already broken the religious Law by being part of a large crowd. In such surroundings, it would be impossible for her not to have physical contact with other people, who would then be contaminated by her touch.
But she was convinced that Jesus could heal her. She pushed her way through the crowd until she stood behind him. Then she reached out and touched the border of his garment. The Bible says that as she did so, "immediately, her flow of blood ceased."
Her joy was short-lived. She thought she would just fade into the crowd and go on her way, but Jesus suddenly demanded to know who had touched him. No one would admit having done so. The disciples obviously thought the question was unreasonable, given the mass of people surrounding him. They told him, "Master, the multitudes surround you and press you on every side."
But Jesus was referring to a very special kind of contact. He said, "Some one did touch me; for I perceived that [healing] power has gone forth from me."
"And when the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came up trembling, and falling down before Him she declared in the presence of all the people for what reason she had touched him." She was trembling with fear because she had dared to touch a holy man when her condition rendered her outcast. Even if Jesus did not condemn her, the crowd she had contaminated was likely to turn on her. It was a terrible moment.
But when she confessed what had taken place, Christ spoke to her most tenderly, calling her "daughter" and commending her for what she had done. He also pronounced his blessing upon her, telling her to leave in peace. After he vindicated the woman, no one in the crowd would have dared to abuse her.
Jesus understood that the constant degradation of women, the demeaning of their very personhood, and the humiliating roles a misogynist society assigned to them, were all designed to prevent the "feminization" of society. And like the Latter Prophets, he knew such a feminization was a necessary step towards a millennial world.
But in spite of Jesus, in spite of the Latter Prophets, and in spite of the covenant of circumcision, the Jewish people had not fulfilled the role of leadership to which they had been called. Instead of providing an environment in which in which the female principle could increasingly manifest itself, they had enshrined the dictatorial rule of the male principle.
For many generations after the death of Jesus, his followers did maintain an environment in which the female was given the opportunity to function in ways that had previously been denied her. But within a few centuries, this distinctive characteristic of Christian culture had been eroded. Like mainstream Judaism, orthodox Christianity became a vehicle for the oppression of women.
It was a gradual process, but in time the patriarchs of the Christian church became just as hostile and disparaging in their attitudes and their pronouncements regarding women as any rabbi had ever been.