My Lenten reading consists of one book that I’m hopeful I will be able to read in full: Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey. While it feels like one book seems a little meagre, I look at my children and I think ‘Ah, yes. One book should be much more than enough.’
I was looking forward to this book after reading a bit about the author and her general perspective on Jesus and his (and our) lived-out faith. Basic premises: Jesus was a feminist. And not in the secular-type way, but in the bringing-fullness-to-humanity-type way.
She demonstrates many examples of this through Scripture, but one that has stuck with me (so far) is the story of the crippled woman.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?’ When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing. Luke 13:10-17.
This is what stands out to me: Jesus saying, ‘And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for these eighteen long years, be set free…?’
In a time and a cultural history in which the sons of Abraham have been given glory and honour and historical mention, it is in stark contrast that Jesus refers to the woman as a daughter of Abraham. As a daughter of Abraham, she deserves God’s grace. I can almost visualise Jesus standing there in the synagogue, trying not to falter at their bad logic. ‘You hypocrites! You treat your animals better than you would a daughter of Abraham?! Her healing brings glory to God on the sabbath!’ He shows incredulity at what they consider ‘honouring the sabbath.’ Women were valuable in Jesus’ eyes. They were equal in value to him as men were and (surprisingly?) are so even now. Women are key components in the cosmological saving plan of God, or we would not have shared being created in the first place.
I am reminded of so many forgotten women in today’s age. Most obviously to me are the missing and murdered aboriginal women of whom our governments and local forces wish to forget. These are some of the forgotten women in our time. Their stories have been pushed to the wayside in the hopes that no one would notice. Their lives did not matter to the governments in their time, but they do matter to God, and therefore to us. Their lives deserve God’s grace and equal recognition. And the fact of the matter is this: we are Jesus’ hands and feet. We are the ones who need to step up and recognise their dignity and support it in any way we can. Through Jesus and the Spirit, we are God’s action in this world and we need to spend it in a way that illumines the world to God’s all-encompassing love.
As Sarah Bessey states early on, patriarchy is not God’s dream for humanity. Jesus’ actions demonstrate that and his example, over and over again, informs us of the inherent and equal dignity women have in God’s eyes. God’s plan for us is waaay beyond anything we can imagine. God’s dreams for us follow suite to the image of the mustard seed. If only we had the faith to believe…