Have you heard? Pope Francis has elevated Mary Magdalene’s saint day (July 22) to a Feast Day. Among Catholics, the move puts Mary on equal footing with the Apostles. The decree states that this woman, “recognized as one who loved Christ and who was very dear to him,” can be considered by the faithful as “a paradigm of the ministry of women in the Church.”
In a letter released along with the announcement, the Secretary of the Congregation, Archbishop Arthur Roche, argued that the decision speaks to the current moment facing the Church, which, in part, calls for “a deeper reflection on the dignity of women.”
Isn’t that just great?
And yet, life is still precarious–and dangerous–for women worldwide. 30% of women worldwide have experienced physical or sexual violence. The figure in the US is closer to 33%. Half of those who abuse women are intimate partners or family members. An alarming number of women across the globe have inadequate access to healthcare. The vast majority of the world’s poor are women and children. Rape is a terrifyingly common practice.
The issues are widespread and run deep in most cultures. Where does one begin the process of acting women into wellbeing?
It’s a crucial question for people of faith in the 21st century. Based on today’s Gospel story, I suspect few people were asking it in the 1st century.
Simon, a religious leader invites Jesus to dinner. As they eat, a woman—who is known in town as a “sinner”—enters the house carrying an alabaster jar of ointment. Imagine the scene with me. “She stands behind Jesus, at his feet, weeping. She begins to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. She continually kisses his feet and anoints them with the ointment.”
What do you imagine those present are feeling? Here’s the word that’s coming to my mind: AWKWARD! Yikes! Even in our more progressive 21st century culture, if this happened at a gathering we were attending, I suspect it would make most of us uncomfortable. Like, really uncomfortable. But in that culture? A culture that did not honor the whole personhood of women? Or of so called “sinners?” This was a social disaster—especially for Simon. A sinful woman acting this way, doing these things to the great religious teacher? It was scandalous!
Even more scandalous, is Jesus’ response. Instead of scolding the woman and quoting Scripture at her, as any good religious teacher would have done, he tells Simon a story, a sure sign the Pharisee is about to be taken to school.
“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answers, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” Jesus says to him, “You have judged rightly.” Oh no! Not the “You have judged rightly” response! Fasten your seatbelt, Simon, because your ride is about to get very bumpy.
“You have judged rightly,” Jesus tells Simon. “Then turning toward the woman, Jesus says to Simon….” Wow. With one simple gesture, Jesus upends every social expectation, every modicum of propriety. He looks at the woman….while he addresses Simon.
…which begs the question: With whom is Jesus trying to communicate? Are his words for Simon or are they for the woman? While looking at the woman, Jesus says to Simon:
“Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet (a common sign of hospitality), but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven (that’s you, Simon), loves little.”
If you’re Simon, the words are a scathing indictment. If you’re the woman, they’re a deep affirmation of your personhood and generosity. So, with his words, Jesus indicts Simon and praises the woman. But what does his gaze communicate? His gaze shows us that Jesus saw the woman. The one Simon would have dismissed without a second thought, to Jesus is a human being, a beloved child of God…and more generous in spirit than the religious leader.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus spends a lot of time seeing women in their full personhood. After the scene at Simon’s house, Luke tells us that Jesus “went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women…Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.” Perhaps those women followed Jesus and helped with his ministry because he had seen them and welcomed them as equal partners in the work he was doing.
Which is great…but how might this story help us figure out how to act women into wellbeing today? How do we act women into wellbeing? We do what Jesus did: we see them. We see women as beloved children of God. (And for the women in the room, that means we see ourselves as beloved children of God.) We see women as whole human beings. We see them as deserving of a life free from fear of violence, as deserving of equal pay for equal work, as deserving of having a say in what happens to their bodies, as deserving of respect and dignity and freedom from being objectified simply because of their gender.
Remember all the hubbub when Caitlyn Jenner came out? Jon Stewart nailed it when he said: “It’s really heartening to see that everyone is willing to not only accept Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, but to waste no time in treating her like a woman. You see, Caitlyn, when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen, but now you’re a woman, and your looks are really the only thing we care about.
“Pundits are asking each other important questions about the societal impact of Caitlyn’s transition, such as “Do you think Caitlyn is hotter than Kris?” and “Does she have a better body than Kim Kardashian?” and, saving the best for last: “She looks good! Especially for her age.”
“There you go! That’s the caveat we were missing: Remind her she has an expiration date now! You came out at 65, you’ve got another two years before you become invisible to society.”
Trying to make the world a safer, more life-giving place for women is a daunting task. If you want to work for women’s health and wellness, I encourage you to check out the Half the Sky Movement website at halftheskymovement.org http://www.halftheskymovement.org/pages/movement In the meantime, here’s a place all of us can begin—with the women in our lives, the girls and women we know.
Last week was Father’s Day. In all the excitement of VBS Sunday, I totally forgot to mention it. As a way to make up for the omission last week and connect it to worship this week, I invited some of our fathers who have daughters to name their hopes for their daughters. They’ve given me permission to share some of their responses.
One father hopes his older daughter gets through her husband’s retirement from the military and that his younger daughter successfully completes college.
Another dad hopes his daughter will live a long, healthy life, where she feels empowered and fulfilled with what she does with her life, and of course, be happy.
One dad said this. I’ve always said to my daughter – if you want something and you work hard, you will attain it. No matter what it is you want to do or accomplish you will always be competing against others so do your best every time; relax and breathe and you will be successful. At this time in her life she has actually listened and done what I instilled in her and she is successful and knows what it takes to accomplish anything that she wants. I am glad and very proud and I know she will keep going with that.
My hope for our daughters is that through the influence of family, church and school, our daughters will make decisions which will help fulfill each one’s goals and ambitions and allow them to grow into the person they want to be.
What do I hope or wish for my daughter? My sincerest wish is that she finds happiness and contentment in life. That she continues to chase rainbows. That she never loses faith in God or in herself. That she remains the independent and determined soul that she is and I hope always will be. That she finds the love of her life. And, that she knows my love for her is eternal.
I pray that my daughters will always have love in their hearts, and be lights in the darkest of places. I pray they will find what they love to do and not let any struggle keep them from doing it. I pray they will dance with such great joy they will bring the same peace and happiness to all those watching that I experience. I pray they will never go a day without hearing the words, “I love you.” I pray they will know how wonderful and beautiful they are but also understand the same wonder and beauty exist in all of their friends. And I pray that if the road of life does get too hard for them, I, or someone else, will always be there ready to give them a hug. Finally, I pray for all the daughters of the world that their voices will continue to remain strong and that one day all of our daughters will grow up in world without violence so they can realize what sweet gifts they are.
Want to act women into wellbeing? Follow the examples of these dads and the example of Jesus—see the women in your life, listen to them, and do everything in your power to help them become all God has created them to be.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2016