Before you read this, do a little exercise for yourself. Think about the life and ministry of Jesus as we know it from the Gospels. Of course, He spent most time with His family and His disciples. But beyond them, what were the most intimate encounters that Jesus had (based on subject matter, time spent, and emotional content)?
Finished? Here’s my top ten:
John 4 The promiscuous woman of Samaria.
John 8:1-11 An adulteress.
John 20:11-18 Mary, clinging to Jesus when she met Him outside His tomb.
John 11 Mary and Martha in their grief at Lazarus’ death.
John 3:1-21 An evening with Nicodemus.
John 12:1-8 Mary with the nard and at Jesus’ feet.
John 13 The disciples, especially at the last supper.
Luke 19:1-10 Dinner with Zaccheus.
Matt. 9:20-22 A woman with a hemorrhage.
Matt. 17:1-8 Peter, James, and John at the transfiguration.
Perhaps your list is different to mine, but I see an interesting pattern. Women head my list and, shocking as it seems, in two cases the interactions involved their sexual relationships. Typical Christian teaching says that, outside of marriage, men and women should keep their distance and avoid intimate conversations. Jesus seems to have missed that teaching. So how do we respond to the pattern?
One answer is to make Jesus the exception. I.e. Jesus is the perfect Son of God; He could do whatever He wanted. However, we are told that He was “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) Did Jesus resist temptation because He was special? That misses the point of the verse: Jesus is like us but still overcame temptation. So perhaps the women that He encountered were not tempting. Somehow I doubt that they went around with sacks over their heads.
Doesn’t this pattern of intimate encounters rather make a statement to us about our new life as children of God? Jesus valued women and treated them honorably, not as dispensable playthings or possessions. He cared enough to listen to their hearts. He could speak into their pain, shame, and confusion. He accepted their affection. His longer standing relationships with women like Mary Magdalene were probably consistent with Paul’s counsel to Timothy:
Treat “the older women and mothers, and the younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1 Tim. 5:2)
Jesus demonstrated kingdom behavior—the life we are inheriting. What an opportunity for today’s men to do the same.