The previous posts have been a surface look at Jesus’ interaction with women, and how those interactions were important milestones for him with regard to his journey toward maturity. Post-resurrection, and as both risen Lord and first-born from the dead, the firstfruits of all creation his interactions transform women. It starts with his realignment for Mary his own mother. No longer is he to be her son, but John is (Jn. 19:26,27). Relationships in this age are important, but cannot define relationships in that age. They are transformed as we will be transformed into his (mature) image. I will be ME, truly me!
He transforms Mary’s relationship, an equality alongside himself ‘My God… your God… My Father… your Father’. Transformation of relationship so with a skip in her step she can follow up the work of the Gardener (second Adam).
In John’s Gospel Jesus is shaped by his interaction with women, the interactions are a catalyst to provoke an expansion of thinking. The women are key as the world was strongly (is strongly) patriarchal. We too can find in the world of marginalisation the catalysts to enable our thinking to expand (there will always be a limit as to what academia can provide as the ‘experts’ are the ones who inform that world. A limit is not something negative, but it remains a limit!) If we are willing to be touched by the marginal within society, we will find that our interactions with the Ascended Messiah will transform us, and will transform us – not by confirming how right we are, but by showing us a wonderful, even if challenging, journey forward.
This is such a rich story and we begin with the opening verses:
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
‘Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair’ – an important statement for later!
‘Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus’ – why Martha named and not Mary?
The resuscitation of Lazarus takes place and we then come to the next chapter and a subsequent visit to Lazarus’ home. In John’s account it is Mary, the sister, who anoints Jesus with an extravagant show of love. (We might pull in from Luke’s account that Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet had chosen the ‘better part’.)
She anoints his feet and ‘washes’ them… anoints him for burial. Was her act a catalyst in Jesus’ understanding that his death was both necessary and approaching? Did he meditate on this and that enabled him to reply to the Greeks who wanted to see him (John 12:20-25) that they would one day… but only once a grain of wheat had fallen into the ground and that grain (a Jewish male Messiah) would be raised as a Greek Saviour (and substitute what is necessary for an resurrected but fully incarnated Saviour into all cultures and tribes)?
Did her washing of his feet provoke him to wash the feet of his own disciples? Is there a link between the two for all we have is a chapter division separating the two accounts? (Culturally, it was seriously undignified to wash feet, a woman could be forced to do so, even though it was below what one could expect a Hebrew slave to perform.)
I realise this passage is a disputed one as original to the Gospel of John, but it seems to have stood the test of time as being canonical, so I am more than happy to include it. (And in including it I indicate that the question of authenticity is not simply answered by the problematic test of was it ‘apostolic’.) Here is part of the text:
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her…
Something that is interesting as I read these verses is the movement of Jesus: ‘Jesus straightened up’… ‘once again he bent down’… ‘Jesus straightened up’. Of course a description of his posture, but is more intended to be understood than something physical?
There is a final straightening up when we come to a release for the woman, an exposure of ‘self-established’ righteousness, and an empowerment to live differently. In between there is a finger in the dust, a writing by the finger in the very substance of humanity. Humanity created from the dust of the earth was the point of connection for Jesus. ‘He touched me’ not simply to transform me… but to be transformed / to see clearly by touching me?
What a mess is dust. What did Jesus touch while writing? Male superiority, male excuse (the old question remains where was the man as it takes two to tango?), religion being on ‘my’ side, a woman ‘caught’ and made to stand before them all (shamed for guilt will never be enough for religion). Once he had touched and deeply touched humanity, and touched something at the heart of humanity, that exploitation of the male / female relationship he straightens up for the final time.
Does Jesus grow / develop in this encounter. I think so.
Next up in John’s Gospel is Samaria and the encounter there with a woman. It has to be read in contrast to John 3 and Nicodemus. Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel with ‘the Law, the prophets and the writings’; this woman with a religion that was somewhat syncretistic and had access only to the first five books of Moses; one at the darkest hour, the other at the brightest hour; one unable to see, the other ‘seeing’ at such a level that she enabled others to see that Jesus was the ‘Saviour of the world’.
Now for some speculation as the text does not automatically push us in this direction. The discussion takes place at Jacob’s well. Jacob who became Israel, the third generation patriarch from whom the nation derived its name. The patriarch that meant for Jews that Samaritans were not ‘in’, so much so that any Jew travelling north would take the long route around Samaria so as not to enter there. Was Jesus processing at this time what would have to take place for Samaritans to be included? He understood he was sent ‘only to the lost sheep of Israel’ (Matt. 15:24). Could it be that his understanding of inclusion and how the inclusion would take place was further developed in his interchange with the woman?
Salvation is from the Jews but that salvation had nothing to do with place – this mountain nor Jerusalem. The hour was coming, indeed Jesus in this context pronounces it has already come when inclusion will be based on Spirit and truth.
Perhaps coming to a well, Jacob’s well, and having a discourse about water and marriage (as per many former stories in the Old Testament) provoked Jesus to not only push for the issue of spiritual water and spiritual thirst but to consider covenant relationship with God, a covenant that would no longer exclude non-Jews, but might indeed exclude Jews who did not worship in Spirit and truth.
It is interesting that the next passages have Jesus returning to Galilee (Galilee of the Gentiles, Jn. 4:43) and that he heals a ‘royal official’s’ son – was this royal official a Gentile? (The jury is out as to whether this is John’s recording of the healing of the Centurion’s servant.) He does it back in Cana, where the first miracle was done. Did Jesus return with an expanded view of inclusion, a view provoked by his discussion in Samaria?
Then immediately following this miracle comes the deliberate healing of the man by the ‘sheep gate’ on the Sabbath, that caused offence to the Jews. John’s flow from Nicodemus to Samaria on to Cana and then back to Jerusalem might just indicate that the encounter in Samaria was important for Jesus’ development.
I plan to write a few random posts on Jesus’ interaction with women in the New Testament (yes I realised that I have excluded the Old Testament!). They will just involve a few observations, a little bit of ‘probably this is going on’. I am provoked to do this as I am convinced that the Gospel values the small, the small gift that is given. And the provocation was provoked by Gayle returning from walking the dog with a cup of coffee given to her by a woman who lives on the end of our street. A small gift – a cup of coffee; but the context makes it a much bigger gift than a 1000.00€ from someone who can afford it – though if you need our bank account number….
My observations carry a pre-supposition that Jesus was the Great Teacher because he was the Great Learner. He never sinned but became mature and his growth in maturity was before God and humanity, that maturity growing because he was always willing to step outside his previous boundary. That stepping outside being provoked at times through a new experience, and often those new experiences were encounters with women.
Starting off with John’s Gospel, my reading of the text brings us to John 2 and the wedding at Cana. The whole context is set ‘on the third day’ indicating that this is to be read as a ‘new covenant’ reality. That is further backed up by the water jars used for cleansing within Jewish rituals becoming the jars for drinking the ‘new’ wine from. The passage ends with:
After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers and his disciples…
First on the list – his mother.
In the story it seems a pretty clear reading that Jesus and his mother had two different perspectives on the time-line. ‘My hour has not come’ was Jesus’ understanding. And Mary’s? It seems she understood it was ‘the hour’! The writer presents it as ‘on the third day’, indicates it was ‘his hour’.
Mary I am sure knew her son well, and knew that at this stage he needed a gentle nudge with regard to his view of timing. I have no idea if she had not been present what would have taken place. We will never know if he would have moved ahead to shift the time and bring forward ‘the hour’ or not. But it remains that it appears to me in this situation that she was the catalyst for the shift, and as a result, ‘the first of his signs’ and the revelation of ‘his glory’ took place on that day.
Some while back we had a confirming word sent us while we were focusing on the removal of Franco’s body from the valley of the fallen. It was during the time when the process seemed stuck. We had begun to home in on the release of three groups of people: the students (youth), the women and the pensioners as key in that process and the wider picture of Spain. After a number of weeks without knowing about our focus Michael Schiffman called us to say we needed to release 3 distinct groups of people and the shift on Franco would come.
Today Greta Thunberg will arrive in Spain and will be present at the climate crisis change conference in Madrid over the coming days. She is a sign in these times. A young woman. And with her are rising an army of youth. It is their future that they are calling for. Recently while presenting a small paper on politics and theology I touched on the ‘touchstone’ issue for many Christians, the issue of abortion, which for sure is a major issue, yet I suggested there is a spectrum that it sits on which has to include that of creation care (also war, nationalism and immigration are on the same spectrum). Both the issue of abortion and climate care are to do with the future and how we relate to those not yet born and those who are yet to live – true life being defined as becoming those who contribute to others, that being the real test of how much glory is present.
Some years back we made a small visit to Columbus Square where the adventurer(*) is honoured and it has become one of the centres for nationalism (Spain Day), the military and power displays. Since our little venture into that square we have noted some wonderful shifts in the response to such celebrations of power. And just after that time this wonderful focused statue of the woman has been there. And in this photo with the juxtaposition of the woman and the Spanish flag surely speaks loudly! Love for nation and nationalism are not one and the same. It is the same as equating evangelism with seeing people as objects to be evangelised… no good news there!!
The woman, the feminine. There is a future that is held at this time in the hands and hearts of women. In the same way as there were good men at the time of Jesus, so there are ‘bad’ women today, who use power and ungodly position for their own ends. Yet Jesus died as a man – he nailed where the central corruption of humanity lay. So I suggest there is a new centring in of hope to be found in and among women in this time.
In Spain since 2003 there are over 1000 women who have been killed in domestic violence situations. Many more physically and emotionally beaten. Yes there is a violence that at times has gone the other way, but this is not a level field.
Pensioners. Some who have made their contribution, have lived through trauma to help give a future (and some of course who have not been contributors over their years). Care for the elderly. Honour those who have walked before, otherwise there is little genuine hope for a better tomorrow. Many pensioners are going to find a new lease of life. Their time is not over, even if the money (in Spain) set aside for them has been raided by previous governments. (Not a surprise when so much financial basis is founded on debt, the way to ‘create’ wealth!)
Yesterday in parliament – yes still no government here, and a total police barricade so we were not able to get to the building yesterday – Agustin Zamarron (70+ and still seeking to serve as an MP) with great dignity spoke of the responsibility to Spain and the deep embarrassment he felt that to date there has been no success in forming a government.
An army that is different. That has a different spirit. I am looking at this when I think of the 2010 -2020 dream and the final level playing field. I am not a student, nor a woman nor a pensioner… but I am and need to be involved. There is though a centre, and maybe it is just Spain but there is something congregating around youth, women and pensioners.
Madrid, with the work of the last mayoress, despite reversals being activated by the new administration has seen pollution drop by 20%, the most of any major world city. The climate conference is here, and the TV news spoke of this conference and ‘the planet is looking for her salvation’. That is a quote from someone I read… where then are the daughters and sons of God? And maybe we also have to ask who then are the daughters and sons of God? The opening day one of the biggest Spanish polluters of the environment were on the front page of most of the main papers. Money can buy publicity, as always. It buys elections. Power wins. Or it has, but here comes 2020. A level playing field. Could love find a way?
Before 2020, comes tomorrow (literally). The streets will speak once again in Spain, so we need to be there as wisdom cries out in the public square. Walking boots on and with many thousands others we will walk.
*I very generously described Columbus as an adventurer. Read the stories as he left in the service of God and Spanish crown, accompanied by a priest who preached in Spanish, giving all an opportunity to respond to the message of salvation (I know some preaching is hard to understand but this takes the cake!), then those who did not respond were ‘legitimately’ killed or enslaved. I called him an adventurer, and I do that not to excuse him, but to allow the challenge to be ours of clearing up the mess, for those who have conviction that something is wrong surely must be those who seek to shift the effects of what has gone before.
I will from time to time look at a few of the wonderful Scriptures that overwhelmingly convince me that status by gender is not something the Gospel entertains. Of course as always how we read Scripture is an issue for we can read it to almost defend whatever view we wish. Maybe if I get round to it I will also look at that. But for an opener there are two verses that record for us an interchange between Jesus and a woman that are simply mind-blowing (Luke 11: 27, 28). They follow on from some pretty hot teaching and activity by Jesus, demonstrating wisdom, understanding and the delivering power of God in a way that had not been seen before. In that context the woman says:
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”
Jesus responds immediately. He does not need to wait to consider what she said. We read
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”
In this very short exchange comes an amazing contrast of world views. A world view that was common to the day and the starkly contrasting world view of Jesus as far as the status of women was concerned. The woman holds to the dominant world view of her day concerning the gender difference, and she articulates, without realising it, what the culture has taught her about as far as significance was concerned. She is so impacted by what she sees, hears and experiences when encountering Jesus directly that from deep inside something spills out.
It spills out, almost involuntarily, because the very act of speaking (shouting?) out as she did in public was not something that her world view supported. The impact of Jesus provoked her in that moment to act beyond what she believed was even appropriate. Her speech even confronted her own views!
Her world told her that her gender had a status that could increase with every break she might get in life:
She would start as the daughter of, growing up her status might increase if she was not single. So singleness was the base level. If however she could be married – be the wife of someone – she would go to the next level. Married but childless? That was not something she could live with easily. So to bear a child was the next level… and if the child was a male an even higher status was hers. That was as high as anyone could ever hope for, but on this day when she encountered Jesus she realised there was one higher step: imagine giving birth to a rabbi who lived, taught and behaved as Jesus did.
Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.
The contrasting view is the one Jesus came back at her with and in a few words turned her world upside down. Status is not based on gender, it is the same for women and for men. It is simply becoming who we were meant to be. There is no higher blessing, perhaps I might even suggest no higher glory.
Pause for a moment. Being the mother of Jesus is not the highest calling for a woman. Mary is blessed, but…
The Gospel is crazy. It does not put us down but pulls us all up. Unless of course we take a superior attitude then it seriously does pull us down. There are not many attitudes that God actively opposes but pride, arrogance, superiority? The Gospel has always been good news for the marginalised. And it will not appear as good news to those who do not make way for others to discover who they are and express who they are. Freedom to discover and to express rather than restrictions and blockages will always be the bias of the good news that Jesus brought.