In many ancient cultures (and in many cultures even today) women knew exactly what their roles were. They were expected to marry, to serve their husbands and to bear and raise children.
In such a culture, women had two primary concerns. First, they were anxious to be chosen to be some man's wife. Unchosen women often remained in their parents' home for their entire life. Second, they were anxious about whether or not they could have children. When a married woman was barren, she felt unfulfilled and less than other women. She was often pitied and disdained. Her husband might divorce her. If such a woman were desperate enough, she might even choose the self-defeating life of being a prostitute. In that way, she might feel a temporary sense of worth.
What happens when God begins to act in such a culture? God's ways are not our ways. He values women as individual persons regardless of the roles society gives them. In each society where God's word is honored, the status of women is elevated. Some women have been given a very special role in God's plan for mankind.
One woman in particular stood out in religious history as a unique person, especially chosen by God for a very important task. Her culture might easily have ignored or pitied her. She was unmarried. Like other women of her day, she was illiterate with no hope and no desire for advancement. Her family was of no importance. She was neither famous nor rich. Yet God chose her to have a central place in His plan. The woman's name was Mary.
According to the Qur'an, Mary was so important in God's eyes that the angels argued about who would have the privilege of guarding and caring for her. They chose the winner by casting lots. (Sura 3:44)
The angels informed Mary that God had honored her, choosing her from among other women, purifying her. In the Qur'an we read that an angel told Mary that she would bear a very special son whose name would be Christ Jesus.
The angel described Jesus. He would be taught by God Himself. He would be honored in this world and the next. He would be among those nearest to God. He would be a prophet, giving his message both as a child and as an adult. He would be righteous. He is God's Word, a Spirit sent from God and an apostle to the children of Israel. (Sura 3:42-46) See also Sura 19 for details of Mary's trip into the wilderness, the appearance of the angel, etc.
Mary asked the angel how she could have a son since she had never been touched by a man. The answer was that God would create the son as He had created Adam, an easy thing for God to do.
God often chooses unmarried, childless women for special roles in His plan for mankind. Their destiny was selected for them just as Mary's was. Some of the world's greatest scientists, politicians, doctors and social workers have been women. Consider Madam Curie, Mother Teresa and others.
Because God respects, honors and often chooses women for special places in His world's history, His true prophets must also honor women and teach others to do so. Mary's son, Jesus, certainly did. As he is revealed in the Bible, Jesus held women in high regard no matter what their status in society. He was even kind to the adulteress and the prostitute. Their downfall was partly caused by the negative way others thought of them.
Once while Jesus was teaching in the temple, some religious leaders brought a disheveled woman to him, accusing her of adultery and demanding that she be stoned to death as the law required. Jesus calmly told them,
The value of each woman is raised, and she is given dignity by Jesus' words. If you are a woman, whether you are unmarried or married, fertile or barren, God places a high value on you. You deserve respect and honor. You are a woman!
The Bible expresses the words the angel used when he spoke to Mary.
The angel described the son Mary would bear in this way:
In gratitude for God's favor, Mary sang,
When Mary's kinswoman, Elizabeth, received Mary into her home for a visit, her first words were:
"Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!" (Luke 1:42)
Like Elizabeth, all of us can rejoice that God chooses to use humble women in His world for His purposes. Women have a very important place in God's world.
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