Jesus’ Understandings on gender roles
Jesus understood man and woman as equals to receive the grace of God in the sojourn towards the Kingdom of God. He taught men and women together and at times separately. Jesus taught in the synagogues all men and women. He gave private tuitions to Martha and Maria and the Samaritan woman. The Canaanite woman, who pleaded for her daughter was tested by the Lord to the maximum that she could earn the desire of her heart. He let the sinner woman to anoint his feet with alabaster and dry it off with her hair. He had narrated parables where two men were building their houses, one on the rock and the other on the sand. There is the parable of the Kingdom of God which is like a woman mixing 3 units of flour to make bread, namely house hold duties. Martha was worried about the house hold chores and she complained to the Lord about her sister Maria not bothered about the same. The Lord is not pressing Maria on this issue too. Jesus went to fish with other men into the sea and you do not see another woman there in the sea. It is Mary the mother of God is the one who takes care of the Baby Jesus and not Joseph. Joseph is keen in giving care to Mary. Also Joseph is depicted as a carpenter, a profession to win bread for the family. In short, during Jesus’ time any work that demanded hard physical labor was that of man and that works were winning matter to make bread. It was the woman, who baked bread at home out of what the man had brought from his work. It seems that the Lord did not overturn this division of labor at all. At the same time, Jesus allowed women to grow from simply being the exploited lot to be serious partners in the active striving towards salvation.
1 Corinthians 11.3-16
This letter was written by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. They were a messed-up church! Anyway, he addresses their questions one by one throughout the letter. Here is his take on the behavior of women in church in this letter.
3. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. 4. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, 5. but every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven. 6. For if a woman will not cover her head, then she should cut her hair short. But since it is disgraceful for a woman to cut off her hair or shave her head, let her cover her head. 7. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and reflection of God, but woman is the reflection of man. 8. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. 9. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10. That is why a woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor man of woman; 12. for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. 13. Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14. Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him, 15. but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? But if anyone is disposed to be contentious- we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God.
First, in verse 3, there are several things to note. What does “head” mean? What is “headship?” Whatever it means, there seems to be some sort of hierarchy. In relationship to Christ, a man is a body and Christ is the head. In relationship to his wife, though, the man is the head and the wife is the body. Christ is a body, with God as the head. So it goes something like this . . . wife – husband — Christ — God. On that line, you are the head of the person to the left of you and the body of the person to the right of you. This analogy of gender roles and the Trinity came up in the Creation story a bit, and here it is clearer. In other passages it is clearer still. Let us try to synthesize a little more here.
Who is more powerful, Christ or God the Father? The same. They are both God. Who is more important? There is no more a silly question possible at all. However, they have different roles. The Father did not die for our sins, that was the responsibility of the Son. They are equal, but have different accomplishments. Jesus was submissive to the Father. In the gospel of John, Jesus is hard to figure out. On the one hand he keeps saying things like, “I and the Father are one” (John 10.30). On the other hand, he also keeps saying thing like, “I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me . . . I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (John 8.28-29). What does it mean that Jesus did not have the authority in himself to do what he was doing? He was/is in a submissive role to the Father. Not because he is inadequate, incompetent, or anything of the like, but because he completely trusted the Father to accomplish his task and together (with the Holy Spirit), they accomplished our redemption. This seems to be the way the Bible presents the gender differences. They are equal, but have different accomplishments. Women are in the submissive role (like Jesus in his relationship to the Father), and men are in the leadership role (like Jesus in his relationship to the Church). So, we each get to illustrate Jesus in his different relationships.
Verses 5-15 talk about a head covering for women which is inappropriate for men. First, we should notice that the women are doing the same thing as the men (vs.4-5). Paul has no problem with the women praying and prophesying in public. His instruction is about head coverings while the women do the same activities as men. These head coverings indicate some kind of submission, some kind of following. They were a cultural way of acknowledging the gender roles of creation, apparently. Today, head coverings would simply suggest that the person was Amish or really weird. How can women and men obey this teaching today? We might try an answer at the end of this deliberation though.