Jesus the Feminist

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Last week, we looked at the story of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus refuses to condemn her, escaping the trap the teachers of the law have set for him, and her, once again.

The fact that she is freed, not only from death but from her life of shame, is the first amazing part of this story. But it’s not the only amazing part.

As modern people far removed from first century Palestine, we can’t really recognize the revolutionary things Jesus did. We don’t know that culture, and we often don’t see his actions as they would have. We usually are left to take the obvious moral and assume Jesus meek and mild except for that tossing temple tables aberration.

But Jesus was not about the status quo then, and he isn’t now either. Jesus doesn’t play, and he was never meek and mild in the face of evil. One of biggest areas he refuses to play is in the just  treatment of women. Make no mistake–that’s what’s going on in this story. We have to get into the minds of the audience to see it.

Jesus doesn’t play

He isn’t solely about setting her free here, although he certainly is about that. He’s about much, much more. He’s about the way we treat women, still, oh so horribly, sadly, still treat women, two thousand years later.

He wasn’t having it then, and he’s not having it now.

Look at some details.

She is surrounded by a circle of men willing to sacrifice her for what they want. Isn’t that relevant?

It doesn’t matter who she is or what she’s done for their purposes — but yet it does. They’ve waited for this woman  and this sin.

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Think about it—there are sinners all over the place. All they had to do was find some disobedient teenager and haul him in front of Jesus. It could not be too difficult to find. Being disrespectful to your dad would warrant the same sentence, according to the law, and they could have probably found that on any block. Why not do that, rather than create a convoluted, contrived, completely confusing drama with this woman and adultery?

Why?

Because women and sexual sins were easy targets, just like they are now. It was easy to blame them then, and it still is. It was, and is, simpler to stand aside, pretend that since we don’t sin like that we can feel like the better person.

She’s got a big red “X” on her chest, and not much has changed for the pharisees of the world.

Last week I said that sometimes, we’re the woman in this story. Sadly,

Sometimes, we’re the pharisees.

“It is terribly important that the ‘accused’ in the story is a woman. In the first century, Judaism had stereotyped women as instigators whenever sexual sins were committed and labeled them as lacking the spiritual and moral fiber needed to uphold the law. The sexual passions of adolescence, for instance, were viewed as coming from the seductive attractions of females. The absence of the woman’s lover in the story is crucial. (Gary Burge, The NIV Application Commentary)

In other words, what was she wearing? What did she have to drink? Where was she walking? When? How did she lead him on?

You know the drill.

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Jesus saw no man present at the kangaroo court. He did see a whole mess of men throwing blame at a woman. He saw a story that had been and has been since played out a thousand times. He saw a woman, a co-image of God, used as an object of someone’s passion and then blamed for the outcome. The man got a pass.

Don’t tell me Jesus isn’t relevant. 

For every #MeToo story out there, Jesus knows. He saw it. He refused to let it go by.

This isn’t the only time he made it clear that blaming the woman was not OK.

I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. (Matthew 5.28-29)

He contradicts every evangelical modesty lesson ever right here. Nope, guys. It’s not her. It’s you. Take responsibility for your own stuff. Stop blaming the women. It’s. On. You.

Eye gouging is serious language.

It’s radical. Revolutionary. Jesus was so insanely pro-woman, but his followers are still having the same issues the pharisees did. Times do not change. There should never have had to be a #MeToo if the church was really following Jesus.

Sometimes we’re the woman. Sometimes we’re the pharisees. And,

Sometimes we’re the audience.

It’s a gambit that has not changed. Vulnerable women are used by the powerful for their purposes. We see the news stories every day, and we don’t even register a reaction anymore to the Harvey Weinsteins, Larry Nassars, or Andy Savages.

The crowd watched the woman dragged half-naked before them, and they knew this was wrong. Yet no one stepped forward to say so. No one. They were too afraid of the powerful religious establishment.

It’s too tempting, and too dangerous, to watch #MeToo and #ChurchToo move across our vision, be outraged for a moment, and then move on.

Jesus confronts the whole mess. He sees a woman de-imaged before him by the religious leaders. When he forgives her and gives her back her dignity, he sends a powerful message to his audience.

See these women. Hear them. Don’t turn away.

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If we’re the audience, we have some things to ask ourselves before we move on from Jesus’ question—Does no one condemn you?

  • Do we listen to women’s stories?
  • Do we disallow the tired stereotype of women as emotional creatures, or temptresses who make up stories to trap men?
  • Do we let judges know that slaps on the wrist for assault on women are not acceptable?
  • Do we raise girls who will respect themselves?
  • Do we refuse to shame them or burden them with the sins of men and boys?
  • Do we teach our boys that we are all responsible for our own sin?

Sometimes we’ re the crowd, too afraid to speak up. Afraid to contradict the religious leaders of our day as well.

I love Jesus even more after this story. He’s not having it. Not then, not now. He won’t stand for people using women or for meting out unequal justice between the genders.

It’s radical. It’s beautiful. And we need to see it for exactly what it was and is.

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