On Believing Women

Luke 24v11

The story appeared to them to be nonsense, and they would not believe them.

jacarandas

So… seems like women have to jump through some hoops to be believed in some situations. (I’m referring to some of the awful responses to women who have come forward with stories that expose, often high profile men, in the #metoo and other circumstances.)

As I went to sleep a bit worked up by this last night I was reminded that is not a pattern that the Bible sets out for us.

Two women sprang to my mind – One from the Old Testament and another from the New. Women who may have easily been dismissed with the unbelievable message they were given. Women who prove to me that God believes women, God entrusts himself to women and God expects men (and others!) to believe women.

Step up Rahab – what a woman!

She is mentioned in Hebrews 11 the chapter of the the faith greats. She is a gentile so pretty much expressly off limits for the Israelites in terms of marriage material. She is a prostitute… also not winning her any points. And yet! She is also named in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1) and she plays a key role in the battle of Jericho.

Spies are sent into the land to get a sense of what may be in store. They come back with their proverbial tails between their legs – ‘the land is great, but it’s too hard to conquer’ is essentially the feedback they give.

Two spies return with great news. This land is ours to take. They’ve spent the evening in the company of an intelligent, gentile woman who has protected them, reminded them of their past and their faith in God, prophetically declared what will happen, she has encouraged them, strategised with them and they have made her a promise, ‘Our lives for yours.’ (Which they follow through on).

Contextually, Rahab lived in Jericho, the most important Canaanite fortress city in the Jordan Valley, a stronghold in the path of the advancing Israelites. She practises prostitution in a key place of idol worship to Ashtaroth, goddess of the moon. Being one of the vilest and most degrading of the Canaanite religions (it could include child sacrifice and sex acts).

She owns a home in the city walls ‘entertaining’ travellers, being well versed in the history of Israel from the men she has met. Familiar to the king of Jericho, she is called on for information pertaining to the Israelite spies who have entered the city. She chooses to mislead them, hiding the spies. Rahab also provides advice, ensuring their continued safety after they have left her home. At the time her actions would have been viewed as treason with punishment including eye gouging, tongue and hand removal, public humiliation and stoning. Rahab’s overwhelming trust in the God of the Israelites, and her accompanying actions, leave no doubt of the justification of her title as one of the faith heroes.

The message Rahab gave the spies was an unbelievable one, but they believed her. They didn’t try to take advantage of her or dismiss her because of her questionable character. They spent an evening with a prostitute and no-one felt entitled to take anything from her physically. They saw a person who was intelligent, quick thinking, who had much to lose by speaking truth to them, and they believed her. Equally, God entrusted Rahab and Jesus has her named as one of his ancestors. The writer of Hebrews recognises her faith and courage. This is what it looks like to #believewomen and this is our example to follow.

This story could have played out so differently, and sadly I think in many spaces it still would – the foreigner, the woman, the reputation – none of these are unscalable walls to God. May they not be for me.

Woman two – Mary Magdalene.

Mary of all people is perhaps given the most impossible of messages. Standing as we do on this side of Easter it is easy for us to forget that the disciples had no framework for their Messiah to be crucified and no inkling that he would be resurrected. When they heard ‘it is finished‘ it had no wonderful ring to it. It was a funeral bell tolling for all they had believed.

In first century Judaism the testimony of a woman was not permissible in a court of law. So we have a grieving woman, bravely entering a garden as night turns to light only to be delivered the most exceptionally unexpected news and then commissioned to go and tell the others.

Mary is the first apostle. God doesn’t care if her testimony will hold up in a court of law. Jesus is not worried about the fact he is giving his message to a woman, that he is commissioning her before anyone else. Mary is the first choice! Jesus expects his followers to believe her. Mary has been right in the circle of Jesus friends, she is at the cross (most of the blokes had scarpered) and she is named in all the Gospel accounts as the first to encounter the risen one. This commission is given first to a woman, and subversively underscores something of the nature of salvation and mission. “John regarded the apostolic testimony of a woman as valid, effective and approved by Jesus.”[1]

Mary clearly went and told the news. She raised her voice, she declared truth that some were unwilling to receive. Perhaps they put it down to ’emotionalism’ or a ‘fragile mental state’ or something else. I’m glad that didn’t stop her. If this woman Mary could speak truth then I can do the same. If Jesus trusted her and she was bold and courageous maybe this might be true for me too.

The Bible clearly shows us, on more than these two occasions, that God believes women and sees them as valid agents of participating with and declaring what is and will be. Wouldn’t it be great if Christians were more like this too?

Here’s my morning reflections as I sat with these thoughts and the wonder of the women at the empty tomb:

It doesn’t look good for the credibility of the story when a woman, whose testimony does not count, is the bearer of the news

…. but God operates beyond our accepted systems.

It’s hard to deliver news that appears to be nonsense when you don’t have a framework for a crucified or resurrected Messiah

… but God is not limited to all we have understood thus far.

God is…

reframing our perceptions

reestablishing Eden

recalling the lowly to honour

repositioning the honoured to kneel

reordering relationships

exposing our prejudices

entrusting the message to the unexpected

expecting the faithful to respond with humility, faith and joy.

May we not forget that the most unexpected Good News may be delivered to us by the most unlikely of candidates.

Are we listening? or, will we miss out and remain wandering in the desert of our unbelief and prejudice, barred by our smallness and deaf ears from the welcoming voice of the promised land?

Be blessed and be courageous. May we champion all those who choose to speak the truth when their voice shakes and they have much to lose.

MJ x

 

[1] Schneiders, Sandra Marie. Written That You May Believe: Encountering Jesus in the Fourth Gospel. Rev. and expanded ed. New York: Crossroad Pub, 2003.

 

 

 

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Justifying Ourselves

Today I’ve been listening to the song of Valjean from the musical Les Miserables. I’ve felt incredibly challenged by the lyrics and how easily they challenge self-justification.

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You can listen to it here.

Here are the lyrics:

He thinks that man is me
He knew him at a glance!
That stranger he has found
This man could be my chance!
 
Why should I save his hide?
Why should I right this wrong
When I have come so far
And struggled for so long?
 
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
 
I am the master of hundreds of workers.
They all look to me.
Can I abandon them?
How would they live
If I am not free?
 
If I speak, I am condemned.
If I stay silent, I am damned!
 
Who am I?
Can I condemn this man to slavery
Pretend I do not see his agony
This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
Who am I?
Can I conceal myself forevermore?
Pretend I’m not the man I was before?
And must my name until I die
Be no more than an alibi?
Must I lie?
How can I ever face my fellow men?
How can I ever face myself again?
My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on
 
[He appears in front of the court]
 
Who am I? Who am I?
I am Jean Valjean!
 
[He unbuttons his shirt to reveal the number tattooed to his chest]
 
And so Javert, you see it’s true
That man bears no more guilt than you!
Who am I?
24601!
Valjean is suddenly presented with this wonderful opportunity to be truly free. A life no longer pursued by Javert. How easy it would be for him to think, ‘oh great. God has seen my hard work and he’s freeing me.’
But the one who knows God, who knows redemption and forgiveness must deeply know that our freedom is never at the expense of another.
Paul and Silas knew this in the dark of a prison cell, beaten and put in stocks – that earthquake that loosen their shackles seemed like a freedom gift from heaven.
But their freedom in this instance would have cost the jailer his life.
We want to think we are more important, the rules don’t really apply to us the way they apply to everyone else, our rights are worth defending at all costs. It is so easy to justify ourselves, to think about what we are doing and why it is so good/right/justified.
Slavery, racism, division, oppression…. these things cannot belong to the person who truly knows that every life is of equal value.
It’s easy for Valjean to justify this circumstance – he is a factory owner, the mayor, people rely on him – he has campaigned to be a light in his community. He is making a difference. This other person is probably poor and has no power or title.
Justice comes at a price.
We can live free but it will cost us – it might cost us financially missing out because we’re not prepared to compromise on things that come at the expense of others or dishonest business practice, it might cost us friendships, it might mean we are marginalised with the marginalised…
Yet in this story we also see the bright light of redemption. Because we have an

This innocent who bears my face
Who goes to judgement in my place
The truth is that we are condemned, we are broken, we have damaged others, we have been complicit in silence or in action and we deserve the sentence.
But Jesus.
The innocent who bears our face – whose full humanity allowed him to go to judgement in our place.
And so we are faced with the great irony
But the one who knows God, who knows redemption and forgiveness must deeply know that our freedom is never at the expense of another.
because
our redemption and forgiveness has come at the expense of another
May we all have courage to confront our own desires to justify the behaviours in us that come at the expense of others. Maybe it’s the way we purchase (ouch), the way we make friends with some people and leave others out (ouch) maybe it’s the protective boundaries we put around ourselves, our families, our communities to keep ourselves in and ‘others’ out (ouch).
As I say, these are things that challenge me deeply. As a dear friend puts it, ‘I am a hypocrite in transition.’
Do we have the courage to not allow our freedoms, our comfort to be at the expense of others?
May we know what it is to have been loved so deeply that an innocent went to judgement in our place, and may we see that value in every other.
May we be brave and may we be agents of justice and freedom.
x

Justice for the Waiting

Sometimes your friend is the protagonist, the favoured one, the top of the pile.

And that’s okay because you love them… but it can be hard to feel like the sideline story. Then this one with all the gifting and all the gifts takes something of yours, brings you shame, serves out injustice against you, and then conspires to your death.

And that is Uriah’s story.

This faithful guy who served David, loved David, loyally supported his country, stayed in solidarity with his soldiers instead of taking his night off in pleasure with his wife. Uriah, whose name is just a whisper in David’s Story.

This Uriah, who did everything right, this guy who played second fiddle to the ‘main event’ and his life ended at the whim and will of David who wanted his wife. David who had many wives, the castle, the ‘world’ at his command.

Uriah needed justice.
We need justice.

Justice is the story of God.

We are spared from the sentence we all deserve by the sacrifice of Jesus but in time, at the right time, at the fulfilment of time God will put all to rights. There is justice for all, to come.

We are living in a world of supreme injustice where the protagonists, the rich, the educated, the ones born in the ‘right’ countries, live, shop, eat, socialise -often- at the expense of the ‘others’.

Uriah was murdered at the hand of David and maybe it looks like he didn’t get the justice he deserved.

Maybe it feels like you have been cheated of justice, 
and for millions they have, no question, 
been cheated of justice – here and now.

But Uriah’s story didn’t end at his death, Nathan came to David with a message from God, a story, that turned the heart of David and made him realise how great the cost of his behaviour. David lost a child.

God lost a Son to conquer injustice and the story is not finished yet.

Michael Lloyd puts it more eloquently when he says,
Judgement then, though a dreadful prospect, is part of the good news of God. It is good news because it means that pain and suffering and injustice and oppression will not go one forever… It will thereby be a gateway to a new heavens and a new earth in which justice dwells (2 Peter 3:13) because God himself has taken up residence amongst us and death and mourning and crying and pain have passed away. (Revelation 21:1-14)*

Because the world is longing for justice. It is not okay to sell a story to a broken heart that says – it doesn’t really matter.

… and while we wait for the beautiful and awe-inspiring, and fearful justice of God to be lavished we can partner with justice now.

We can be part of the voice that says enough.
We can give when it hurts.
We can shop more painfully, thoughtfully, cautiously.
We can eat more radically.

We can wash the feet, serve the least, honour the invisible.

Uriah was not forgotten by God. Maybe it feels like you have missed out on justice, that you are a sideline in someone else’s star performance but today remember that even the sparrows are noticed.

The very hairs on your head.
The moment you rise in the morning.
The words you speak before they leave your mouth.

These things, all known, all noticed.

Because the world is full of stories of protagonists but in the story of God You are a character worth sending the Prince for. You are a character of enough value, that the Prince, and not some underling, was sent to rescue.

If your heart is broken by feeling forgotten remember today you are not forgotten.

If your heart is crumbling at the stories of injustice, have Hope – justice will one day roll on like a river, for all.

And let us all seek justice as we can. Let us all Act Justly, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly.

God of justice comfort, confront and challenge injustice in us, towards us and that we do thoughtlessly or wilfully. God forgive us the injustice we have dealt.
Jesus, who lead by servanthood, call us to serve alongside you today.
Holy Spirit, give us divine inspiration to act creatively and passionately for justice wherever we are today.
Father wrap the broken pieces in your tender hands and speak peace to the wounded today.

Lloyd also includes this statement that challenges my heart,
Do we long for the appearing of Christ and the putting right of the world’s wrongs? Or have we made our peace with current compromised state of the world? Have we become so inured to the injustices of our world (because our lifestyles are so dependent on them?) that we harbour no hatred for them in our hearts?*

* if you are hungry for authentic, intelligent, life-challenging teaching on Christianity I can wholeheartedly recommend Cafe Theology by Michael Lloyd.