The lectionary for the Daily Office sometimes amazes me. There is a list of readings for each day, morning and evening plus Eucharistic readings, and possibly additional readings for commemorations of holy people and saints or holy days or the eves before them. It makes for a lot of choices, but the usual option is for the morning and evening of the day. This time, though, it was the gospel for the Eucharist that struck me.
I wonder who selected which readings to go with which times of which days. The texts are always timely, but sometimes they are like a baseball bat between the eyes. They seem to say something about our modern life just as much as they do the continuing story of what happened next through the Bible. Looking at the past few weeks, the gospel for today for the Eucharist hits the nail on the head.
Jesus had been giving a series of teachings which included the Lord’s prayer and then several other lessons. This short passage we have today interrupts the instructions with a woman making a statement and Jesus dismissing her verbally. Two verses that sort of sum up what we’ve been hearing a lot about over the past few weeks in the news. A woman says something, and a man redirects or shuts her down. It’s hard to say that about Jesus, but that’s how I feel about this particular passage
The woman in the crowd made a statement that blessed the woman who bore Jesus and nursed him. Without mentioning Mary’s name, the woman seemed to express that Mary was blessed through bearing this Rabbi. Most women would probably be delighted to have something like that said about them because it recognizes one of the roles of women. But Jesus had something else to say: “…[B]lessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” In short, it seems that he exalts the people who did the same thing that his mother did, namely hearing the word brought from God and obeying it. It makes me wonder.
Over the past few weeks, the news is then overflowing with episodes of women coming forward with stories of abuse of all kinds including sexual harassment. Many have spoken out who had never done so before. They were afraid no one would believe them. Even those who had reported a crime and had spoken about it had undergone additional trauma of not being believed, being accused of asking for it, received more abusive treatment, or hearing that it probably was their fault the situation happened. It seems to give a pass to boys, young men, and even older men to do as they will with women as if the women and girls were under their control to take or leave as they chose.
Women face a lot of negativity by speaking out. People, even family members, may shun them, call them by degrading names or disbelieve them. All this for enduring something over which they had no control and no say in the matter.
These past few weeks have been especially difficult, especially for women, because it has been brought so forcefully to our attention that despite the progress women have made regarding equality, we are still seen as most probably liars and manipulators. And why? Because some dared to speak out against the wrong done to them but which others referred to as “letting boys be boys.”
I’m a little taken aback by the way Jesus spoke to the woman in today’s passage, but I have to allow him to express himself as a human and sometimes say unpopular things that I find it hard to believe he would say. Still, he was a man of his time. I think about his visits to Mary and Martha, speaking to the woman at the well, healing of Jarius’s daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage, and even his gentleness with the woman taken in adultery. So many of his stories and miracles were involving women whether they were named or not. So why would he say something like this to a woman who sought to bless his mother?
I think I’m going to have to think about this for a while. There are so many good men in this world, men who treat women fairly, as equals, with respect, and who defend them in troublesome times. Yet more and more we’re hearing powerful men making offensive statements about women as if the women were property to be spoken to and treated in whatever way they want. Some of these speak or present themselves as followers of Jesus although their actions make that presentation questionable. It makes me wonder what Jesus thinks about all that.
Yes, Jesus wants us to bless those who hear the word and do it. I can understand that. Praising his mother might be putting her above others, but I don’t think that was what Jesus meant. Jesus was pointing to one fact that we should all hear the word of God and obey it, and those who follow it show it in their actions.
Be careful. God is always watching, and so are the neighbors.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and -retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.