Tag Archives: Christianity

My Body is Fearfully & Wonderfully Made

30 May

Hello Friends,

I’m sorry for the long delay in posts. Those of you who know me in real life know that I’ve been growing a baby boy for the last seven months. Needless to say, pregnancy, in addition to pastoring a church and being a full-time graduate student, makes for a very busy life and blogging simply hasn’t been a priority. However, pregnancy has also brought about some remarkable spiritual insights.

I could probably write a dozen blogs based on my recent life experiences, but I’d like to focus on one thing today: the realization that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

“Fearfully and wonderfully made” is a biblical expression that a lot of people use in reference to babies. I’m sure than when my baby is born, and I count his ten little fingers and ten little toes, I will be uttering these words over him. In this season of life, though, I am marveling at how God has made me.

Like many women, I have struggled with body image for as long as I can remember. Diets began early. Obsession with the number on the scale was fostered by middle school. Even though I was always “healthy” I was never thin- at least by celebrity standards (I graduated high school at 5’6” and 132 lbs and now see that my body was perfect as it was). Even when I was doing well, my obsession with weight was always waiting- just below the surface- to creep back up and take over my life. Since adolescence I’ve gone through periods of extreme self-denial and over-exercise. Even when I’m not abusing my body, my mind has never been free of my disordered thoughts. Often I will lie awake in bed, grieved and repentant- not over that day’s sins, but that day’s dietary indulgences. And it’s only gotten worse in the last four years as my weight has increased. The only time I’ve felt in control was when I was exercising hours a day and counting the calories of every crumb which entered my mouth. I believed Satan’s lie that being beautiful and worthy was contingent on being thin. I believed the lie that being thin was a virtue. I believed the lie that I was a failure because I wasn’t skinny. I would never have said that aloud- I knew better intellectually. But our actions reveal what we truly believe. My actions reveal a diseased thought life. I learned how to hide it; how to disguise it as a concern with “health.” In reality, my mind was the unhealthiest thing in my body.

And then I got pregnant. I am now the “fattest” I have ever been. But for the first time since I was nine years old, I am free from my own body-hatred.

Pregnancy has shown me how beautiful my body really is. Every change reminds me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made- exactly as I am. My body has been designed for this task of motherhood. A swollen belly is hardly the only evidence of the life growing inside of me. The same chemical that causes nausea and heartburn prepares my hips to separate. The fatigue I experience is my body conserving energy for the work of growing a baby and growing the placenta which now sustains him. The aches and pains in my back, abdomen, and side are just indicators that my boy is growing. Every change is a reminder that my body is doing something amazing. It’s growing, sustaining, preparing to deliver and nourish a human being.

I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

I know that my present condition is temporary. My son will leave my body- and leave it changed. I probably won’t love my extended belly when the baby is no longer there. The Spirit of Christ inside me will likely have to re-enter the battle against my own disordered tendencies to hate my body. But this time, things will be different. I will have experienced the truth of Scripture- that my body is wonderful and beautiful- not because of how it looks, but how it works. And so:

DSC_5111-1I will delight in this body that carries, delivers and nurses my children.

I will delight this body that allows me to roll down hills, dance around the house, and squeeze my husband tight.

I will delight in this body that is strong enough to lift children into my arms, push wheelchairs around a department store, and pull the weeds out of my yard.

I will delight in this body that allows me to be the hands and feet of Jesus; to serve however he asks.

I will delight in this body that God has called good; because even my body can reflect the image of the One who made me.

And by the grace of God, I will replace the cycle of disorder with the cycle of delight. I will teach my children- especially my daughters- that they too have been made good; been made fearfully; been made wonderfully- just as they are.

Thanks be to God.

*Photo credit goes to Laura C.  Check her out at https://www.facebook.com/laura.c.camerakisses?fref=ts

 

 

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Seeing Jesus

7 Feb

A couple months ago, I met Jesus face to face.  Before you get the wrong idea, you should know that this was not a vision or prophetic experience.  On the contrary, I encountered the Spirit of Christ in the actions of another person.  This encounter was so profound, that it continues to minister to me, and I’d like to share that story.

Last semester I took Greek with a professor named Brad Johnson.  With the exception of learning the Aorist tense, it was a fairly pleasant and refining experience I feel better for having.  When the day of the final came, my worst seminary nightmare occurred.  A snow storm started in Louisville around 4am.  My final was schedule for 8 am.  Normally, my commute is an hour and forty-five minutes.  I left at 5:45am, in an attempt to give myself some extra time to get to school.  However, the weather was so treacherous that it took me three hours to get to school.  If you’re doing the math, you will have calculated that I was 45 minutes late to a timed final exam. 

 I’d found out I was pregnant the day before, so I hadn’t studied as much as I initially intended to anyway, and now I’d lost almost half the amount of time allotted to take this exam.  Let’s face it- I was in a panic. I’d pulled over to email my prof about the weather conditions early on, but I had no idea if he’d received such an early morning message.  My anxiety was on a steady increase.  By the time I reached Lexington, I was so upset that I started crying… and continued to cry all the way into Wilmore.   After parking, I jogged from the car to the classroom.  I had no idea that I was about to encounter holy love in a tangible way.

When I walked through the door, I picked a seat in the back of the room, and frantically began looking for my pencil and whatnot.  Before I even sat down, my professor was at my side.  He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I got your message, but I didn’t email you back because I didn’t want you to be tempted to read it while you were driving. Don’t worry about being late.  Before you start the test, go take a walk.  Get a drink of water.  Calm yourself down.  It will be waiting for you when you’re ready.”  He said all of this with a gentle smile.  I know it sounds like a small gesture, but for me it was HUGE.  I’d spent the morning in a state of panic, but when I got there Brad was full of nothing but grace. When I went into the hallway, I was so overwhelmed by his generosity that I started crying again.  I knew that I had just experienced the love and mercy of Jesus at work in the life of another.  Before this experience, I’d known Brad to be a person of authentic faith, but afterwards, I realized what a holy person of God he truly is.  He showed compassion and mercy, when he didn’t have to.  He even gave me the full amount of time to take my test, sacrificing his own time for my sake.  

As much as I’d like to keep praising Brad for his behavior, I know in my heart that it wasn’t really Brad.  It was Christ, at work in Brad.  And when I left that day, I felt inspired by his example, but mostly I marveled at God’s transformative work inside us simple people.  If the Holy Spirit can exude from my professor, the Holy Spirit can also exude from me.  If Christ’s face can be seen in the gentle smile of a compassionate person, his face can also been seen in mine.  God really does make people holy.  The Spirit of Christ really does envelop willing hearts.  God really does meet us in our need (and everywhere else for that matter). And I really did encounter Jesus that day.

Thanks be to God.

 

The Woman of Proverbs 31 and Why You Are Not Called to Be Her

9 Jul

 I may not qualify for the “blogger” status yet (as inconsistent as my posts can be), but I am definitely a blogging enthusiast.  I follow a lot of blogs and I read many more than I follow.  Given my passion for the large and controversial subject that is Biblical womanhood, I especially enjoy reading blogs about women, marriage, leadership, etc.  A couple days ago, two of my facebook friends shared a link to one such blog.  It was written by a lovely Christian woman who was sharing some wisdom on being a godly wife.  By the second paragraph I could tell I disagreed with her on some pretty important issues.  She’s clearly coming from a complementarian position, but I kept reading because she’s my sister in Christ and she shared a lot of wisdom which transcends the gender role debate.  And then she brought up Proverbs 31.  I’ve been meaning to write on this for a while, but seeing yet another admonishment to be like that iconic woman gave me the motivation I needed to get this post going.

 

The second half of Proverbs 31 is a passage that all women within the church are familiar with.  At least, we all are now that a purse manufacturer launched with that name.  This passage is one I’ve read a dozen times, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized how flawed my understanding of it has been.  In the past I’d looked to it as a “to do” list of sorts.  My inner dialogue went something like this:

Me:  I want to be a godly woman.  [opens up Bible to Proverbs 31]

Prov. 31:10-12: “A wife of noble character who can find?  She is worth far more than rubies.   Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.  She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”

Me:  That sounds pretty good.  Be valuable, worthy of my husband’s confidence, and spend my life doing good towards my partner.  That’s a noble goal to strive towards and seems consistent with a life of holiness.  Keep Reading….

Proverbs 31:13-28  I see this woman is very industrious.  She works with eager hands, brings food from afar, gets up so early in the morning it’s still dark, manages real estate and farms.  She works so hard that her arms are strong, and she’s up until very late in the night.  Considering she does all this and sews clothing for her family (and for sale to merchants), it’s a wonder she has time to sleep at all.  Despite all the work she’s doing, the Proverbs 31 woman is immensely generous and sees to the needs of the poor.  This woman is honorable.  In fact, she is valorous!  She’s so awesome she even makes her husband look good at the city gates. 

 Me:  Wow.  She’s totally out of my league.  I’m not industrious.  My food comes from a farmers’ market at best (and Kroger more often than not).  I consider myself accomplished to sew a straight line and by bedroom usually houses 3-7 piles of laundry.   I don’t come close to working the hours she did (and get grumpy when I try).  On top of all this, my arms are way more jiggly than I’d like to admit.   

 

Conclusion?  I am so far from this woman it’s not even funny.

 

The only thing this Proverb has ever done is make me feel woefully inadequate.   Is that the purpose of this proverb?  Was it written just so women like myself, 3000 years in the author’s future, can develop inferiority complexes about not being industrious, domestic, or sturdy, in addition to being noble and generous (which I believe are Christian virtues all believers should strive to cultivate)? 

I don’t think so. 

 

With all the hype and guilt-mongering that’s come from this passage, the most meaningful aspect of the proverb has been overlooked.  We’ve forgotten (or perhaps ignored) the fact that this passage was written about an actual woman by a proud husband or son.  Check out verse 29. “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”  Everywhere else in this passage, the Proverbs 31 woman is spoken of in the third person, but here the author uses the first person.  These 21 verses are about a real woman- a woman of great honor and valor.

 

It isn’t until the final verse of the Proverb that we’re given a direct command or admonishment.  The author says, “Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”  This proverb was never meant to be a directive or “to-do” list.  It’s a tribute to an amazing woman.  If anything, the lasting principle of this passage is for husbands and sons to honor the women in their lives who display honorable qualities, such as those exhibited by the Proverbs 31 woman.  Believe it or not, that’s exactly how Orthodox Jews treat this passage.  Husbands will recite these words over their wives when they’ve displayed valorous qualities.  For them, it is always a commendation and never a reproach. 

 

Here’s the thing, God has fearfully and wonderfully made each and every one of us.  We are unique, quirky, and interesting in our own ways.  Paul is very clear that the Holy Spirit has distributed gifts according to his own good judgment.  We don’t all have the same gifts.  Not every woman is an astute business person or a domestic goddess.  More importantly, not every woman is necessarily called to be.  If my house looked perfect every day, then  I probably wouldn’t be fulfilling the call to ministry God has given me.  I work for the good of my family, and bring in an income (as did the P31 woman!), but it doesn’t happen through industry, agriculture or manufacturing.  And that’s okay!

 

So instead of looking at the P31 woman as the standard for godly womanhood, maybe we should honor the command in verse 31.  Look for women who exhibit the valor in their lives, and praise them, the way the author of Proverbs praised this iconic woman.  And when it comes to figuring out what kind of woman (or man) we’re supposed to be, maybe we should reach for the standard Jesus sets in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

 

What’s your experience with Proverbs 31?  How is your calling different (or similar) to hers?

 

By the way, if you’re looking for another egalitarian blog, check out the work of Rachel Held Evans.  She’s basically amazing and posts nearly every day.

http://www.rachelheldevans.com

 

A Controversial Word: “Head”

19 Jun

 “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands”. ~Ephesians 5:21-24

Before we start evaluating the vying types of submission, let’s first examine what it means for the man to be the “head.”  The Greek word for head is κεφαλή or kephale. Complementarians translate this word into “authority.”  I’m going to say, upfront, that too much is read into this one word because, in reality, it has a variety of uses and meanings.  Typically, it means a physical head (you know, that thing that houses your brain).  However, it can also refer to being first, being preeminent, or the origin/source of something else.  We should look for all the ways it’s used, but we should especially watch the way Paul uses it in other letters.  Interestingly, Paul  typically uses kephale to mean “source” or “origin” rather than “authority.”

In 1 Cor. 11:2-16, kephale is used as a literal head and as source (which 11:8-9 makes clear).

In Col. 1:18, kephale, is being used in reference to the beginning, and thus can clearly be understood as origin or source.

In Col 2:10, kephale is clearly being used as source/origin because if it meant “authority” then Paul would be repeating himself.  It’s saying Christ is the source of all authority.

Eph. 1:22 is the only place where kephale can be taken as “authority” without any ambiguity.  However, just three chapters later, in Eph. 4: 15-16 Christ is identified as the “head” in that he is a unifying source of the whole body.[1]

In light of this evidence, I am more likely to believe kephale is being used as origin or source- which would be consistent with the Genesis account as well as other Pauline arguments.  Just look at this passage from 1 Cor. 11 which deals with head coverings.  “Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man. 10 For this reason 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 or man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman; but all things come from God,” (1 Cor. 11:8-12).  Women come from men, but all things come from God.  Man is the source of women, but Christ is the source of the church.  This interpretation is just as biblically sound (if not more so) as the complementarian argument which insists kephale means authority.

In light of the varying ways the word kephale is used by Paul alone, can we really say, with %100 certainty, that “head” only means authority in Ephesians 5?  I don’t think so.  Am I willing to be a martyr over whether or not it means “source” over and against “authority.”  Probably not.  But the evidence sure does make one think…


[1] Alan Padgett. As Christ Submits to the Church.  66-67

A Series on Christian Marriage

18 Jun

When I was eighteen years old, I had the following conversation with a guy who led one of the Bible studies I attended.

Me:  “I’m getting a little frustrated with this relationship.  I know it’s important for him (my boyfriend at the time who shall remain nameless) to be the leader in this relationship, but he’s not doing that at all.  I’m pretty sure I’m more spiritually mature – not to mention more emotionally mature- than he is anyway.”

Mentor J:  “Kate, if you want him to be the spiritual leader of this relationship, then you need to wear the skirt.”

I cringe even writing out this excerpt from my complementarian days.  I had been taught that men were the leaders in society, in church, and especially in the home.  My future husband was to be my spiritual “head” and I was to be his docile and submissive “helper”.  Since that was the kind of husband I needed, it was important that the guys I dated fit the bill.  I had a checklist.  1) He had to be Christian (which I still think is essential). 2) He had to pursue me. 3) He had to be a spiritual “leader.” To be honest, this list contained over sixty expectations (with varying importance), most of which I could care less about now.  Even as I evolved into the Christian egalitarian I am now, I assumed my husband would function as the spiritual leader of our home.  Mutuality wasn’t even on my radar until seminary.  Even then, I figured my future husband would want to “lead” in some fashion, even if we didn’t practice hard patriarchy.  I just assumed all men needed to feel like they were in charge in order to be satisfied in the relationship.

Then I met RC.  He’d dealt with the womanhood issue when he was in college, and came to an egalitarian position.  I knew how he felt about women in ministry early on (that was a litmus test for second dates), but it wasn’t until we got engaged that we started talking about roles within the family we were on the verge of creating.  I still remember driving on Highway 64 West, along the Ohio River in Louisville, and saying, “So you really don’t see yourself as the spiritual leader of our family?”  His response was thoughtful and considerate- classic RC.  He told me that he was a leader to our future children, just as I will be, but when it comes to our marriage, we’re on equal footing. 

That statement, while certainly not meant to be offensive, is sure to rub somebody the wrong way.  Living in a region that is almost 50% Baptist means that this kind of thinking is ingrained in the evangelical culture here.  One could respond, “But wifely submission is biblical!” Believe it or not, I agree with you.  Wives are to submit to their husbands, but the Christian ethic of submission is much larger than wives and husbands.  After all, Ephesians 5:21 states, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  So do I submit to my husband?  Yes.  Does he also submit to me?  Yes.  The ethic of submission is the foundation of our marriage (which by the way is pretty awesome), but the submission is mutual and not patriarchal. 

In this series on Biblical Womanhood, I will be exploring the world of Christian marriage.  We will cover Ephesians 5, Proverbs 31, The Song of Solomon and much more.  For this section, I’m drawing from a few sources more than others.  The first is a book by Alan G. Padgett called As Christ Submits to the Church.  The Second is Paul, Women and Wives by Craig Keener.  The third is A Year of Biblical Womanhood, by Rachel Held Evans.  Finally, I’ll be drawing from Liberating Tradition, by Kristina LaCelle-Peterson.  The Evans source is less scholarly, but still a thought-provoking read. 

I’d like to close by saying that I don’t think marriage –even Christian marriage- can be prescribed down to a “T.”  I know godly men and women who uphold complementary roles and still love and respect each other very much.  At the same time, I know couples who are hard-core Jesus feminists, reverse every role, and maintain a passionate devotion to the Lord and one another.  If God is the center of a marriage, and each partner seeks to love and honor the other, I am convinced that the couple will find a natural rhythm of leading and being lead.  That rhythm won’t be the same for everyone.  Thus, if your marriage doesn’t function the same way mine does, that’s okay.  I’m not interested in critiquing individual marriages.  I do, however, want to present an ethic of mutual submission which evangelicalism has wrongly shunned out of fear.  You may evaluate the evidence I present, and decide you disagree.  That’s fine.  You may see things for the first time and experience the same freedom I did.  That’s good too.  All I ask is that we really wrestle with this issue, let the Holy Spirit lead, and, when we disagree, do so with grace.

 

Reflections on the Marriage Equality Debate

4 Apr

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The debate about marriage equality has been heated in the USA for some time now, and it has naturally worked its way into the church.  Lines have been drawn in the sand.  The denominations which affirm the LGBT lifestyle are insisting they’re the only ones who love people (and are therefore in the right), while the other denominations are shouting back that they’re the biblical ones (and are therefore in the right).  Although I applaud the bravery of people who are willing to put their opinions into the mainstream- even unpopular opinions- it seems to me that the majority of Christians who have entered this debate have started from the wrong place.  The result has been a culture war in which everyone is a loser.

I would like to humbly suggest that we- as a church- consider two things before we make any statements about the rightness or wrongness of marriage equality.

First, I think we should ask ourselves:  Are my words being motivated by love for a person?  I don’t think it’s enough to say, “I am motivated by my love for the Bible”, or “I love the institution of church”(while it’s certainly good to love them both).  Jesus has called us to love God above all else, but also to imitate his actions and love other humans the way Jesus has loved us.  Almost everyone I know would respond, “Yes, of course I love people who are gay and lesbian.”  In fact, I don’t personally associate with anyone who would say otherwise (at least not openly), but the recent events on social media have led me to believe that many of my brothers and sister in Christ do not love individuals who are LGBT.  I don’t say that because some disagree with the lifestyle- that’s a valid position.  I say that because we seem to have forgotten a very important truth.  “That homosexual” is more than his sexual orientation.  His name is Ted.  He has two parents who he loves beyond words, a little brother who adores him, a degree in accounting, and a good job.  Ted really likes jazz music and his favorite book is O Cry the Beloved Country.  In his spare time, Ted grows tomatoes in his backyard and goes fishing with his favorite uncle.  Ted is a person.  What’s more, Ted is a human being who has been made in the image of God and is the beloved of God Almighty.  The minute we separate a human being from the image and love of God, we are in error and sin.

Perhaps it would be helpful, for those of us who wish to enter into this debate, to first know a person who identifies as LGBT.  I can tell you, I am writing this post with fear and trepidation because of the four gay people in my life who I love deeply.  I don’t love them because they’re gay- as if I’m trying to fill a quota- and I don’t love them in spite of being gay.  I love them because they are human beings, made in the image of God, and they happen to be really cool, funny, smart and brave individuals.  My love for them has shaped the way I approach this subject.  It has forced me to consider every single word and evaluate whether or not I am motivated by a holy love for people.

This same reproach can go the other directions.  Many of my brothers and sisters have come out as adamant supporters of marriage equality.  Their love for LGBT folks is evident, but their love for the community of faith is not.  Before we rail against someone else’s theological position, we must also stop and consider whether or not we are motivated by love for Christ and his bride.  The messages we have to share- whatever they may be- will never be heard until the message is seasoned with love.

Secondly, I think there is a passage of Scripture we- as the church- should revisit. 

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. “’Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

– 1 Cor. 5:9-13 (bold mine)

Paul is a huge advocate for accountability and church discipline.  This passage is written in the context where Paul addresses some sexual immorality within the church.  Very often, my friends on the LGBT side will throw out the “judge not” texts.  Those texts hold true, but do not negate the role of accountability amongst believers.  We are called to both grow in holiness and assist our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.  Therefore, it is biblical and good for those within the church to hold other believers accountable, provided we are equal opportunity critiquers when it comes to sin.  A pastor I met recently named Kevin had some good words on this topic.  He shared with me that everyone comes into the faith at different places in their spiritual walks.  That’s a given.  Some people will progress faster than others.  He told me he is less concerned with where they are in the journey of sanctification than the direction they are facing.  If we are walking with the Lord and facing Christ, then the Holy Spirit will do the Holy Spirit’s job of sanctifying.  Our role in this process is to gently correct and encourage each other to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Here is a link to a video by Dr. Ben Witherington III on this question for the believers.  I agree with his conclusions for the church.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMHXH_xERL8

However, Paul makes it clear in this passage that he is not in the business of “judging” or holding those outside the church accountable.  God will handle that according to his perfect judgment and unfailing love.  It is not my job to be the morality police.  The whole premise that those who are outside the faith can/should be expected to live up to Christian standards of holiness is flawed to begin with because no one is capable of doing that. It is only through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we are made righteous.   Some people will point to John the Baptist’s rebuke of King Herod as justification for “calling out” the sin in government.  However, Herod was a Jewish King who was supposed to be leading God’s people according to God’s standard (Torah).   John was rebuking another member of the covenant community not an outsider.  I’m afraid I must hold to the same conclusion as Paul.  “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church…? God will judge those outside.” God is perfectly capable of handling the eternal implications of every choice humans make- and I’d prefer to leave that job in God’s capable hands.

I know I will have upset some people with this post.  Some will think I crossed a line and others will think I haven’t gone far enough.  Honestly, my intention is not to upset anyone.  I desire unity within the body of Christ, but I am also deeply saddened by the fact that the gay couple at Panera chose to move their table when they realized I was reading the Bible.  Something is terribly amiss when Christians are known for their hatred of a sin rather than their love for human beings made in God’s image.  It’s breaking my heart- and I can’t help but think it breaks God’s too.

Jesus & Women

22 Mar

Hello Friends!

Today I’m writing on an aspect of biblical womanhood which is often overlooked- Jesus’ own interactions with women.  If you’re reading my blog you probably agree with my starting premise:  Jesus, as incarnate God, is the best gauge of what God actually thinks about womenfolk.  Because the Bible was written by men who were raised in a patriarchal culture (and therefore probably didn’t give much thought to including a “woman’s perspective” on Jesus’ ministry), we’re going to have to dig a little deeper.  For this blog, I am referencing a recorded lecture in which Dr. Ben Witherington III taught on the subject.  He also has some published works on women of the Bible.  I haven’t read them, but can attest to his excellence in the field of biblical scholarship.

Background

It can be helpful to understand the world in which Jesus lived.  In the first century, Israel was not autonomous.  It was part of the Roman Empire and was engaged in a desperate struggle to maintain their cultural and religious identity amidst the pluralism of Rome.  Some women in the Roman Empire enjoyed considerable freedoms, such as owning their own businesses, having individual bank accounts, initiating divorce and even being elected to lower-level government leadership.  In addition to the civic role of women, pagan religions provided opportunities for women to serve as priestesses (especially of female gods).  Israel, on the other hand, had none of this.  There, a woman could neither inherit property nor sue for divorce.  Even widows were not entitled to inherit their husband’s property, which meant their survival depended on a hasty remarriage or the financial support of other male relatives.  Women were extremely limited in regard to economic opportunity and were almost entirely dependent on men for their subsistence.  Women were equally limited when it came to the practice of Judaism.  Because women were considered “unclean” during a menstrual period, they could not lead, nor be counted as part of a quorum for a synagogue to form.  There were female prophets (such as Anna), but they were few and far between.  On top of this, it was men- and not women- who received the mark of the covenant (circumcision).

The family was the center of Jewish life and community.  Jewish girls were married between the ages of eleven and thirteen (put’s the role of Mother Mary into perspective a little!), but these marriages were not for love.  They were a financial transaction.  IN the Greco-Roman world, women were considered “movable property” along with slaves and minors.  A woman had two obligations:  1) Get married and 2) have children.  Marriage was the only honorable profession available to Jewish women.  This is the world Jesus came into.

ImageMotherhood

Before we go any further with the ways Jesus challenged the culture of first century Israel, I’d like to say a word Jesus’ first human relationship- his mother.  The incarnation did not begin on a starry night in Bethlehem.  God became Emmanuel (God With Us) the moment Mary’s womb was filled.  God chose to spend his first nine months swimming inside a woman’s body.  And his first years were spent drinking from her breast and depending on her willingness to care for a helpless child.  Jesus forever sanctified the role of mother.  Those people who wish to diminish the holy task of motherhood obviously don’t know Jesus well.

Jesus Challenges Culture

Mark 3:31-35

 Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him.  A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.”  And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

In this passage, Jesus’ biological family has come to take him home, but Jesus says something pretty radical.  He makes the claim that the family of faith now supersedes the biological family.  The central family unit is no longer determined by heredity, but by faith.  The family of faith holds the trump card.  This is Jesus’ way of saying the physical family will not hold the same prominent position that it held in Judaism.  He intended to create a new, universal family- which you can bet rattled the sensibilities of patriarchal Israel.

Mark 7:17-23

When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable.  He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile,  since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)  And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The connection from this passage to the issue of women may not be readily apparent, but it’s actually very important.  In these few verses, Jesus has declared Levitical law to be unnecessary.  He is doing away with the concept of things and people being “clean” and “unclean.”  Being unclean for one week of every month is what barred women from religious service, but that barrier no longer stood.  Even the sign of the covenant, male circumcision, was soon to be replaced by baptism, which is administered to both sexes.

Luke 8:1-3

 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,  as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out,  and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

In this passage, we see Jesus deconstructing social norms within his own following.  He’s challenging the accepted view of womanhood in multiple ways.  1) Women were not entitled to learn Torah, and here they are serving as disciples. 2) Women were leaving the responsibilities of their homes in order to follow this rabbi around. 3) They were providing financially for Jesus and the male disciples, which means they had somehow accumulated finances.  As Ben Witherington says, they were not the “hospitality brigade.” These women were traveling with and providing for Jesus’ ministry.  We also see Jesus consorting with women of various status.  Mary had been possessed by demons, and Joanna was married to Herod’s steward.  You may recall that Herod hated Jesus.

Luke 10:38-42            Image                     

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Martha has taken up the traditional role as hostess.  She then confronts Jesus, suggesting that Mary should be in the kitchen too.  Jesus responds in an unexpected way.  He defends Mary’s right so sit at his feet- the traditional role of a disciple- and he even says she has chosen the better part.  In Greek, Jesus says she’s chosen the better “dish”- a play on words.  Jesus is teaching, with his actions, that the priority for men and for women is to be a disciple of Jesus.  He offers women a religious education and inclusion they would not receive anywhere else. 

Matthew 19:3-12

 Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?”  He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’  and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  They said to him, “Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?”  He said to them, “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.”

 His disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”  But he said to them, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given.  For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”

Two things are going on here.  First, Jesus is extending the protection for women who are married.  In ancient Israel, only men could initiate divorce, and this could be done for a variety of reasons.  Some rabbis were conservative and believed divorce was only for infidelity (though one should keep in mind a woman could be executed for the same crime), but there were other rabbis who said a woman could be divorced for burning the toast.  Since women were economically dependent on their husbands (and a divorced woman was “damaged goods) divorce often resulted in the ruin of Jewish women.  By restricting divorce Jesus was actually extending protection for women.

The second- and perhaps more significant- change in this passage deals with the second half of the text.  Jesus declares singleness to be a viable option.  Jews took the command to “be fruitful and multiply” very seriously.  In their mind, every able-bodied person should be married and procreating.  Jesus, however, makes singleness for the Kingdom a legitimate option for men and for women.  This means that women can pursue religious service instead of having a family.  That’s big.  Motherhood is not only contribution women make in the Kingdom Jesus has inaugurated.

ImageThe Passion and Resurrection Narratives

According to Mark 14, it was only the female disciples who remained with Jesus until his death (John says one male disciple was there).  The men all fled, which means the women were the only faithful disciples at the close of Jesus life.  It was the women who tended to his burial needs and it was the women who first encountered the risen Christ.  Mary Magdalene was the first evangelist.  The text says, “and she went proclaiming.”  Tell me, how is that not a call for women to preach?

Jesus and His Twelve Male Disciples

I’ll go ahead and address this, because it comes up so often.  Many people respond to the above information by noting that Jesus’ twelve disciples were all men.  That’s only natural.  Jesus chose them as emissaries to the traditional culture ancient Israel/Palestine.  They are sent out to seek the lost sheep of Israel, which means they couldn’t be so radical no one would listen to them.  Trust me; women would not have been able to evangelize as easily as the men could in that culture.  In addition to that, they are meant to mirror the twelve patriarchs of Israel.

I’m not trying to insinuate that Jesus puts down male leadership.  Rather, I’m trying to show all the ways Jesus actively trained up women in addition to men for ministry.