“But [Jesus] said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” (Luke 7:50)(+)
Sometimes God works in mysterious ways.This afternoon parishioners from our local Seniorate parishes have been invited to participate in a Women in the Ministry Retreat.And lo and behold what does our church assign as the Gospel reading for this weekend?A selection from Luke’s Gospel about a woman and a Pharisee, and a second selection about some almost anonymous women who were “accompanying Jesus” as he proclaimed the Good News.Let me begin with the second selection first.There’s not too much known for certain about this Lucan passage.The Evangelist gives us this tantalizing bit of information that a group of women accompanied Jesus and the twelve disciples, and furthermore that they “provided for them out of their resources.” (8:3)Yet we have no real idea what this may mean.Is this the tip of an iceberg?Were there other women who were followers of Jesus?And if there were, why isn’t more said about them?
It has been argued that the more conservative Jerusalem church held on to the idea of the Twelve Apostles more firmly than the rest of the church, and this would help to explain why there are variations in the remembered names of the twelve apostlesThis was the church that still worshipped at the Temple, still kept the Jewish dietary laws, still held on to the idea of the Twelve Apostles as the representation of the twelve tribes of Israel.But there was a new church emerging beside the JerusalemChurch that wasn’t as attached to the past.It was a church represented by the likes of St. Paul.It was a church that could say things like “The letter kills, but he Spirit gives life,” (2 Cor. 3:6) that “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” (Gal. 2:20) and that “There is no longer Jew of Greek, slave or free, male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28)This was a church that emphasized Christ as always present in the church, as always leading and teaching the church.It could be possible that we do not hear about the women followers of Jesus because as the church expanded out into the world, a male-dominated world of 2,000 years ago, that the full equality Jesus offered to women-followers was a hindrance, and that the more traditional concept of the twelve male apostles fit in more neatly with the needs of a growing church that was bringing in more and more members from this outside world.In other words, as the church adopted the customs of the world, the place of women in the church became more and more invisible.And that’s why we get tantalizing bits of information about these women, and then no more.
Now let’s return to the story of the woman and the Pharisee. This story reinforces both the ideas that Jesus recognized the spiritual equality of women and simultaneously that women represented a lower social status.I think we all know the story of the Good Samaritan.This was also told by Luke.In this parable, the Samaritan is chosen because of the social distance between this generally despised race of the Samaritans and the respected place of priest and Levite in society, and yet it is the Samaritan who is held up by Jesus as the example of Christian morality.In today’s reading, we have a similar occurrence.The woman in this story is described as a sinner, and her story takes place within the home of a Pharisee, a religious leader and teacher.It is this woman’s act of humility that inspires Jesus’ own comments that link together the ideas of forgiveness and love, and it is her act of humble devotion that leads Jesus to say to her:“‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” (7:50)
For all of the Pharisee’s learning and religion, he could not understand what the sinful woman understood.He invited Jesus into his home and then treated Him without the common courtesies of the day.He disparages Jesus by saying to himself, in his own thoughts in other words, “‘If He were a prophet, He would know who and what sort ofwomen this is.’” (7:39)Then, Jesus answers the Pharisee’s unspoken complaint, proving that truly Jesus is a prophet, but a prophet that this religious man could not see nor appreciate.Thus, in this little capsule of a story we find that Jesus honours the spiritual insight of this woman, not because she is a woman, but because gender does not matter to Him, and we also see at the same time in the world around Jesus that women were far less than a man’s equal.There is neither male nor female said the earliest church, in faithfulness to the example of Jesus Christ, but somehow the prejudices of the ancient world seeped into the community of the church and replaced this spiritual equality of Jesus, and we have had to live with these ancient ideas ever since.
And now to bring in the last mention of today’s readings, which is the amazing story of the Prophet Nathan’s rebuke of King David.The king had lusted after Bathsheba and in order to have her as his own he arranged for the murder of her husband Uriah the Hittite.Nathan is sent by God to David with the story of the rich man with many flocks who killed the poor man’s only little lamb to prepare a meal for his guests.David is enraged and orders retribution, then the prophet reveals that the story is about David, with all his possessions and all his wives, who then killed Uriah to steal from him his wife Bathsheba.When the offense belongs to someone else, it seems so much clearer than when it is our own.We can complain about the prejudice of 2,000 years ago and the backtracking of the church that has remained with us ever since, but we also have to face up to the possibility that maybe we today are also guilty, that we today are still treating women as second class members of the church, and that’s a question that can only be answered by thinking about our history and praying about our calling, and that’s why it’s so fortunate that the church chose for these readings to be shared with our congregations on the very day we hold our Women in the Ministry Retreat.I hope that if you are at all interested in this subject, and if you have the time, that you will join us this afternoon.And for these things we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)