Lady Susan Vernon is in trouble. She is a widow of no fixed abode and her eligible but somewhat reluctant daughter, Frederica, has been thrown out of her rather good school. Frederica would like to be a teacher, but Lady Susan has her sights set on marrying her off to rich bachelor, Sir James Martin, even if Mr Martin is a bit of nincompoop. In trying to persuade Frederica to ‘do the right thing’ she quotes the 4th commandment, ‘Honour your father and mother’ (unaware that this is actually the 5th commandment!)
Lady Susan is a sharp individual, highly intelligent, and dead set on getting what she wants from life, even if that means manipulating a few things on the way. What she needs, of course, is a husband and a home. In her culture she must find a man to pay the bills. Not unlike many of the women in the Bible. Ruth and Naomi, having sadly lost their husbands, need the same thing, so they travel back to Israel in search of a good man. They encounter Boaz, Ruth’s cousin, and Naomi wisely guides her daughter-in-law in the ways of winning him over. When Jesus resurrects Lazarus, he is also resurrecting his two sisters, Mary and Martha, who would most likely become homeless and bereft without their brother.
Abigail (in 1 Samuel 25) is an intelligent and resourceful woman. Initially married to the foolish Nabal, she is widowed when the old duffer overindulges himself and dies of a heart attack. However, Abigail has already thought ahead, and when she meets a renegade called David she prophecies that one day he might well be King Dave, and when this takes place, could he please remember a resourceful and generous woman called Abigail. David certainly does remember her, and doesn’t wait to become king to go back and rescue her from a life of potential poverty.
Jesus treated women as equals in his society, something quite shocking and counter-cultural in his day. At times he tells stories specifically aimed at a female audience – a woman loses a coin, no one stitches new cloth onto an old garment, a widow harangues a judge until she gets justice. He also took women along on his missions, and when he rose from the dead the first witnesses to this earth shattering miracle were women. Odd that, in a culture where a woman’s testimony was not seen as trustworthy. But Jesus had come to carve a new way, to challenge the prejudices in society. And later that old Saint known as Paul would write – ‘In Jesus we’re all the same, no male or female divides, we are one in Jesus, he unites us.’ (My paraphrase, drawing on Colossian 3 v 11, Galatians 3 v 28)