Scripture for the week: 1 Kings 21.1-21a (Jezebel arranges for her husband Ahab to acquire a vineyard by having the owner killed); Psalm 5.1-8; Galatians 2.15-21 (the Apostle Paul reflects on faith); Luke 7.36-8.3 (Jesus goes to dinner with Simon the Pharisee, has his feet anointed by an unknown woman, and compassionately forgives her).
Simon the Pharisee challenged Jesus, wondering whether he really knew what kind of woman it was who was anointing him. Jesus gave him a parable about forgiveness.
Let’s consider four very different examples: what kind of women are they?
The first has just published a lengthy account (warning: rather graphic details) of what it is like to be the victim of a Stanford student who has been convicted of raping her. The young man’s father bewailed a life ruined by, “20 minutes of action.” What kind of a woman is she? Despite being subject to painful scrutiny by the legal system, she emerges with dignity and worthy of respect, holding up a mirror to those who would suggest that young women are just “action.”
Another woman, Jezebel: what kind of woman is she? A mendacious plotter who exploits the downtrodden, she will eventually fall to judgement, but not before dragging others, especially her husband Ahab, with her. She holds a mirror to our willingness to take what we want just because we can.
A third woman, one who anoints Jesus’ feet, and embarrasses the host, Simon: what kind of woman is she? The host and others judge and condemn her sinfulness. Jesus sees a repentant sinner and forgives her. She holds a mirror in which is reflected the hardness of heart of those who presume to judge others, but also an invitation to repent and be forgiven.
Finally, a fourth woman, one who has served her country as leader for 64 years: what kind of woman is she? One who is committed to the people in her United Kingdom, who places service before self, and who sees faith in terms of service and service in terms of faith. She holds a mirror to examine whether we place self before service, or vice versa.
These four different women reveal something about ourselves and teach us something about our attitudes and our place in the world. They embody Paul’s warning to the Galatians: we can have no grounds for the exclusion of others from the body of Christ. That’s entirely up to God.
What kind of women are these?
One sacrificed on the altar of legalism and sexual violence.
One busily arranging the sacrificing of others on the altar of privilege and exploitation, and dragging others down with her.
One understanding that in the midst of our sinfulness we can be forgiven, and overflowing with gratitude.
One who serves in faith, and has done so for a lifetime.
Four very different women, in different times and cultures, yet all pointing towards our God who is patient, kind, compassionate, supportive and forgiving – yet also calling us to account.
What kind of people are we? Where do we fit amongst these women? Each of them can reveal something about ourselves to us, and teach us something as we examine the mirrors they hold up to us. What do they teach us about ourselves, our attitudes, and the way we fit into the world around us?
The Sufi poet, Rumi, wrote:
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
Jesus would have liked that.
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