Tag Archives: Women of the Bible

penny's worth of time

Guest post: The extravagance in a penny’s worth of time

Guest post today courtesy of Mo Morrison, Her blog appears biweekly at http://shakethetree.info/blog.

The widow of Jesus’ day occupies a very different place in society from the religious bureaucracy.  She represents the under-privileged, one of the least fortunate among God’s people.  Throughout the Bible she’s placed alongside the fatherless, the orphan, and the immigrant who owns no property.  Counted among the poorest of the people, we often see her weeping, grieving, desolate and in debt.  The widow’s tragedy is such that with no partner to defend her rights or provide for her needs, she’s vulnerable.

As recorded in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is sitting across from the treasury watching people as they pass-by, putting their money into the offering-box.  He observes the many who are rich putting in a lot of money, and He also sees a poor widow who tosses in a couple of coins.  Jesus gathers His disciples close and says to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others.  For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had – she gave all she had to live on.(Mark 12:43-44, GNT)

The widow offers up two small copper coins that scarcely make a penny, but what seems insignificant in the eyes of men, Jesus sees as extravagant.  Jesus is notably impressed by this widow’s offering.  Where many have deep pockets and give out of their excess, offering up what they’ll barely miss, she gives from empty pockets and out of her lack, gives her all.  And though counted among the least in her society, it’s evident that Jesus counts her among the highly esteemed in His Kingdom.

In this sacrificial offering of a poverty-stricken widow, Jesus points out to His disciples a true and living expression of the heart and spirit of God’s law.  Ultimately, His goal is to lead me to the place where He is free, to help Himself, to my whole life.

In this day and age, time is our most precious commodity. As we navigate the busyness of our daily lives, walking in the light of Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbour as yourself,Jesus wants to know He can bank on us to stop and help someone in need.

Jesus wants to count on me putting my schedule on hold should He bring someone in a vulnerable situation across my path.  He wants to depend on my putting another’s distress ahead of the time constraints of my own day.  If it’s going to slow me down and cost me valuable time, can Jesus trust me to preserve the dignity of another living soul?

To the glory of God where no one else sees, praises or can even repay, am I willing to lend a helping hand and boost the family in their stalled vehicle I noticed in the parking-lot, where I just stopped to pickup my dry-cleaning but they’ve come to a grinding halt on a scorching hot day?  Am I willing to lend an attentive ear to the elderly lady in the laundry room as she opens up to unburden her soul and pour out her sorrow, when my laundry is done and I’m ready to exit stage left?  Am I willing to take the young single mother grocery shopping on a Saturday afternoon to save her time maneuvering on the bus with her little ones, when I have a gazillion other things to get done on my day off?

Indeed, in this day and age time is our most precious commodity.  Yet, with the promise of all eternity, our stretch of time here is like the widow’s drop in the bucket.  We are free to spend ours helping others move forward.

May we be found true and living expressions of the heart and spirit of God’s law, fulfilling its original intent. For the whole Law is summed up in one commandment, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (Galatians 5:14, GNT)

women torn off

For God’s sake: let a woman preach

One day I flew to Texas and I met a cute girl. I asked her to dinner, and that night, my whole life changed. That was the night I learned about Jesus. I’d grown up in a Christian church, but I’d never heard about a Jesus like this. Her Jesus was alive and real and revolutionary and transformative. Her Jesus didn’t nibble around the edges of your life; he was pervasive through the entire thing. That night she spoke words into me that breathed with life like nothing I’d ever known before.

Was she wrong? Should she have done that? Many churches quote scripture that says “I do not permit a woman to teach, or to have authority over a man.” So should she have simply left me where I was for fear of teaching me something?

In reality, most Christians would quote other scriptures to limit, restrict, or reinterpret this verse and make an exception for this case. So why not a larger exception? Why not allow our society’s many well educated, gifted, female writers and speakers an unrestricted hall pass to teach what they know? As a high schooler, best-selling author Rachel Held Evans was once told, “‘Rachel you’re such a great speaker; it’s too bad you’re a girl.” Blogger Jory Micah was told, at age 18, that her desire to serve God as a pastor was sinful.

On the question, “Should a woman preach?” I would submit that such answers :

  1. Result more from evangelical culture than Biblical truth
  2. Are inconsistent with our practice, even in the most conservative of congregations
  3. May turn a blind eye to the actual reality of what God is doing
Culture vs. Truth

The Bible is long, and there’s a lot in there. How do we choose which parts of it to talk about the most? Ideally, our discussion of topics from the Bible would be in exact proportion the the frequency of those topics within the text itself. To do otherwise is to risk a distortion of the actual Biblical message. Christ himself addresses this tendency when he says, “What sorrow awaits you. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23). We can fall into sin, even in perfect obedience to God’s law, when obsessive legalism  leads us away from the real point.

Yet this is the reality of our time. We attack certain topics with an energy and enthusiasm out of all proportion with the Bible’s text, yet remain oddly silent on other topics of greater Biblical importance. If the need to suppress women’s teaching gifts were an important doctrine, then why— with just the one mention in 1 Timothy— does the Bible devote only 0.016% of its verses to the topic? That would work out to a full Sunday sermon a little less than once a century. Some argue that the particular obsessions of American culture require more frequent responses from Christians in those areas. Yet in this, too, we Christians reveal our cultural biases by what we omit from such scrutiny: everything from covering women’s hair to honoring our leaders to refraining from anger.

Practicing what we preach?

The fact is, even in conservative congregations that would never hire a female pastor, women are teaching men every week. Just walk into the Sunday school.

The injunction in 1 Timothy explains Paul’s resistance to women teaching on the grounds that Eve was deceived, and sin was the result. In Paul’s eyes, we may conclude, a female teacher is more likely to lead us into sin. Yet if we are to protect ourselves from deceptiveness, who is more vulnerable than a young child? If our genuine concern were for sound doctrine, the Sunday school should be the first line of defense. That it is not reveals a different motivation is at work.

The same inconsistency appears in other areas as well. Of the same church where her potential as a teacher was so casually dismissed, Rachel Held Evans writes, “The only time women spoke in church was when they were missionaries. I didn’t understand why that was allowed, but teaching from the pulpit was not.” Again, if our true concern were the validity of what women have to say, should we not be equally passionate for the protection of men abroad?

Rather, it seems to me, our insistence on male pastors results more from simple bias against women in certain roles than from some kind of principled stand on Biblical truth.

Which side is which?

What emerges again and again from women in ministry is the conviction that they are called to it by God, that the scriptures used to dissuade them have somehow been misunderstood. What if they are right?

Misunderstanding scripture is possible. While scripture is infallible, we are not, and in the history of the Church, conventional wisdom has often been wrong. That can happen to us as well. For a non-controversial example, it would be a gross error to read 1 Timothy 4:12 as a blanket negation of the need to respect our elders; in fact, many other places in scripture urge us to respect our elders. What if we have made the same mistake in using 1 Timothy 2:12 to overrule all the many Biblical teachings about the importance of recognizing our gifts and putting them to work for the kingdom?

Consider this thought experiment: imagine a God who might break out of expectations (that has happened before), who might choose a vessel for his message that confounds conventional wisdom (that has happened before too). Imagine that messenger is sent among a people who refuse to listen (also has happened). What would God’s judgment on those people be for their failure to listen and receive? When someone claims she has a message from God, if we dismiss her out of hand because she doesn’t match our expectations, we do so only at our own mortal peril. She may be right; we may even find ourselves fighting against God.

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Photo credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office / Foter.com / CC BY

What to do with sinners

Jesus and the “ho”, or, what to do with sinners

Fifteen years ago, a friend shared an insight from scripture. I lay awake most of that night turning over what she’d said, and I’ve remembered it ever since, mostly because I profoundly disagreed.

She was talking about the story of “the woman at the well“. Quick recap: Jesus strikes up a conversation with a woman drawing water and reveals himself as the Messiah, first to her and subsequently to her whole village. My friend’s observation was drawn mainly from this line: “Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.'”

“I read this story a bunch of times,” she said, “and this time it just hit me: Jesus is callin’ her a ho! He is totally in her face! We gotta confront people over their sin, because look what can happen if we do… she and her whole village got saved!”

Now first let me say, balancing Jesus’ message of grace and truth is a tricky business and none of us consistently gets it right. Maybe my friend had been way over on the side of ignoring damaging behavior, even among those close to her. Maybe, with this new conviction, she was emboldened to show them a better way out of their self-destruction (think of an alcoholic intervention). I do believe that, reading it as God intended in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, scripture is alive and active, and different aspects of a story may strike different believers differently, depending on the word that God has to speak into their particular situation.

That said, here is how the story of the woman at the well strikes me. (For convenience, for the remainder of this post, I will refer to “the woman at the well” as “Allison”.)

Who is she?

To me, the first thing worth noting in the story is that confrontation about her sin (a form of social pressure) is the last thing that Allison needs. The social pressure on her is already turned to 11. How do we know? Just take a look at where Jesus found her:

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon, when a Samaritan woman came to draw water.

Things to know:

Nobody goes to collect water at noon. Have you heard the expression, “Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun”? It originated in India, but it could equally well apply to the Middle East. Carrying a heavy water jug in the midday heat is lunacy. Instead, normal women go at the crack of dawn, all together. It’s fun! They chat, they socialize. The only way you’d go at noon is if you were such a social outcast that you couldn’t tolerate any of that.

She’s an hour outside of town. Jacob’s well was a mile and a half out into the middle of the desert from Sychar, about an hour’s walk. Lots of other wells were closer. Again, what is Allison doing out there? The most obvious answer is that she badly, badly wants to avoid running into anyone.

What she’s used to

Jewish men of the first century were not shy. Doubly so for a religious leader like Christ. Suffice it to say, when one of them called you a whore, you knew it. It didn’t take multiple close readings of the text to tease it out.

Most of the time, however, they said nothing at all, because Samaritans were their northern heretic cousins, so in their view, any Samaritan (and especially a woman) was simply beneath contempt. The text clearly reflects Allison’s astonishment when Christ even condescends to speak to her: “The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)”

They begin to converse somewhat comfortably, until Christ ventures onto a sore spot, bringing out an answer from Allison that is all half-truth and evasion:

He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

“I have no husband,” she replied.

Much of the bible is culturally pretty inaccessible to us, but a world where a woman would rather walk an hour into the mid-day heat than see another person… that is not so far removed. Her story could just as easily have been set in Puritan America; she is only missing the scarlet letter. In a world like that, our heroine only meets two categories of people: those who know what she is and shun her, and those who don’t know what she is.

The Jesus surprise

In that kind of context, what do we make of the statement that seemed so confrontational to my friend? Is Jesus really “calling out her sin” and “getting in her face”? As I read it, the answer is no. Rather, Christ is pulling one of his favorite tricks and confounding expectations.

By restating the source of her shame in the gentlest and most non-confrontational language possible, Christ declines to fit into either of her pre-defined categories. He is something new, unexpected, revolutionary: a person who knows what she is but doesn’t shun her. That’s the point that blows the doors off, and it’s only ten verses later that the woman who was too ashamed to show her face at the watering hole that morning is running down Main Street announcing the coming of the Messiah.

Regular old confrontation, regular old judgment, regular old shame… we’ve had all these available to us for thousands of years before Christ. None of that is transformative; none of that was why Christ needed to come, and live, and die, and rise. We sell our birthright for pottage when we walk up to a stranger and casually condemn. Let us rather walk up to a stranger in unexpected love and grace and mercy; it is in that context that the message of Messiah can be spoken and heard. Remember John 3:17: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

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