Monday, April 11, 2011

Bleeding Heart: how Jesus looks at women

Just grab on.
As a Christian I feel compelled to think and act differently on Sundays.  That may sound as if I think that Sundays are my day to build up some brownie points with God, so that I can slack off and do what I want Monday-Saturday, but that's not what I mean.  One of the ten commandments is "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8).  For a long time I thought that that meant nothing more than going to church on Sundays, but when you put this verse into its full context, it is much more than that. The ninth verse of Exodus 20 reminds us that we must rest from work on the Sabbath.  Then about four years ago I read a wonderful book called Breathe by Keri Wyatt Kent, in which she discusses living life in a rhythm of  work and Sabbath rest.  This includes not just taking advantage of Sabbath as a day off from housework and paid employment, but seeing it as a time set aside for growing in one's relationship with God through, among other things, rest, Scripture reading, meditation, times of quiet stillness, quality "down time" with family, etc. So now I try my best to reserve my Sundays for things that grow my faith and help me connect with my Creator.

I hope I haven't lost the non-Christians who may be reading this.  It is not my intention with this blog to alienate those who don't think like I do; on the contrary, I hope to share my perspectives and find ways to broaden them by hearing others. (Side note: If you are reading this, please comment! Even if it's just to say hi it would be encouraging to know who's out there, but even better I'd love to hear what you really think about what I have to say!) However, it would be impossible and inauthentic of me to write here on a daily basis without bringing things back to what's in my heart, and that is my faith in Jesus Christ. If you're already rolling your eyes, hear me out, then tell me what you really think in the comments; I can take it.  I'll hear your thoughts if you'll hear mine.

Why do I believe this stuff? Well, the answer I give you depends on the day, because there are a lot of reasons.  Since I am trying for the most part to maintain a focus on what are sometimes called "women's issues" (though I don't like that name for it), I'd like to take a look at how Jesus related to women during his human lifetime, and how that effects a Christian woman today.  It seems to me that feminist viewpoints and Christian viewpoints do not have good history together.  Author Nick Don of the blog "revelife" explains that the earliest attempts at a feminist examination of Scripture focused on the status of women in Biblical culture, but failed to separate the cultural aspects of recorded accounts and Old Testament laws from the overarching message of the Bible.  I would suggest that this could be compared to confusing the message or theme of a novel with its setting.  The setting is a backdrop on which the story enfolds, and the nature of the backdrop will effect the events as they take place.  The theme or message, on the other hand, is usually not bound to the setting and could be defined as the idea the author wants to convey to the reader.

A complete examination of feminist Biblical interpretation is beyond the scope of one blog post.  Since the Christian faith is ultimately about understanding and trusting in Jesus Christ, we can learn more about God's view of women by studying Him. There are probably a million ways to go about this, but for tonight I would like to start by taking one example from the New Testament where Jesus interacted with a woman, and examine what that reveals about Him.

Jesus lived a very short life, and during that time He was a busy man.  When you read the gospels' descriptions of His short three year ministry, there is a sense of urgency and chaos at times, particularly when Jesus is interacting with the multitudes who came to Him for healing or to hear what He had to say.  In the ninth chapter of Matthew Jesus heals two women in very different ways, in the midst of a pressing crowd of people who all seemed to want something from Him.  He had just finished a meal at the home of a hated tax collector (Matthew himself), and was presumably traveling on foot.  First, John the Baptist's disciples approach Him with questions about fasting, and no sooner has He finished answering them when a "ruler" met Him, knelt, and asks Him to bring his dead daughter back to life.  Jesus' reaction is immediate: "Jesus got up and went with him, and so did His disciples" (Matthew 9:19).

But their trip is interrupted again when a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years reaches out from the crowd to touch the edge of His cloak.  Stop here.  Notice how this woman has chosen to approach Him, and we can learn about her.  While the ruler approached Jesus with humility and knelt before Him before making his request, this woman didn't necessarily even want Jesus' attention.  Verse 21 says, "She said to herself, 'If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed."  Why the difference?  To find one reason we could examine the culture in which Jesus lived, how women were seen as property to be owned and controlled by a father or husband (see for example, Deuteronomy 21:10-14), or we could make the logical assumption that this woman was poor, and had no real hope of getting the same attention as a "ruler".  Also, remember that under the Old Testament law a woman was considered "unclean" when she had her period, and men would refuse to touch her, sexually or otherwise.  This woman had had her period for twelve years; Israelite law or not, I would feel unclean, and this woman probably had not had someone touch her voluntarily in a long long time.  But there are other differences between her and the ruler as well.  Look at their requests.  The ruler asked Jesus to "come and put your hand on her, and she will live" (Matthew 9:18).  The woman doesn't see the need for all that touching, or even to get Jesus' attention.  She has faith that simply touching his coat will heal her, and she is rewarded for that faith.  In a quick moment, He turns to her and says, "Take heart, daughter, your faith has healed you" (Matthew 9:22).  And so it has.

There is so much to see here.  Jesus was a young Jewish man who was now well known as a teacher, prophet, and healer.  Based on the Old Testament law He was raised to live by, He had every right to get angry with the woman for even coming near Him, but He didn't, because He didn't see her as an unclean poor woman.  I believe He saw two things: need and faith.  Old Testament laws about what was clean and unclean didn't matter, and for a moment neither did the ruler's dead daughter.  What mattered was this woman's need and her faith that He could provide the answer.  Compare His actions here with the misogynistic culture in which He lived, and you can see how shockingly controversial Jesus really was, even then.  This is also a great illustration of why we can't properly understand a Biblical view of women by examining verses taken from Old Testament law, and why the first feminist approach to Scripture fails to understand the real message.  Jesus' actions here not only differ from those implied by Old Testament law and historical knowledge of how women were viewed and valued in His earthly culture, they directly contradict it.  Jesus is reflecting the message of Scripture, not the setting, because it was His mission to do just that.  The message here is that He sees our need, our faith, and our love, male or female.  The message here is that what God sees transcends societal and cultural boundaries and limitations, and our thinking about Him and our reactions to Him need to do the same.

Happy Sunday.


  1. This has always been a profoundly powerful story for me. Just the fact that she did not even call to Jesus in the crowd and he knew she was there, and he stopped for her. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I enjoyed reading that Mel, Thanks for the inspiration. :) I am now a follower. I have a blog as well, but just on days in my life. To get feelings out and a diary so to speak. But, this is enjoyable. Thanks, Patty :)

  3. wonderful message. Thank You for sharing. Signed, Doncella

  4. I agree with Chris. This is an amazing story. The fact that in all of the hustle and bustle of the crowd around Jesus, he felt the touch on his gown, is amazing. How reassuring to know that he can and will hear us even in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. He cares about dirty, broken us to turn away from 'bigger' issues and care for us and purify us.