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Today: 17 October 2019


Women in their place

First published 16/06/2019

An author, being interviewed on the radio recently, said - “Women are the problem!”  It was a man who said it, but he wasn’t being negative about women, but about the way men, as authors for instance, often portray them in their books.  They tend to say, he suggested, “The problem is not Adam, it’s Eve; it’s not Jesus, it’s Mary Magdalen!”

I wonder where that last thought came from?  Possibly from reading too much Dan Brown with his invention of scandal for the sake of a story?

In fact, there is no evidence in the Bible that suggests Mary Magdalen was a problem to Jesus or anyone.   And while the church has often been accused of treating women as second class, that is not how things were meant to be or have to be.

Part of the difficulty is that the Bible was written in the context of a patriarchal world, where women often did have to live in the shadow of men.  But that is not the whole story.

Take Adam and Eve, for instance.  The problem was not simply with one or other of them, but with both of them.  They both got it wrong and failed to support each other.

One of the most beautiful stories in the Bible, or even in all literature, is the Old Testament story of Ruth, the ‘foreigner’ who became an ancestor of King David and of Jesus himself.  She lived in the time before there were kings in the land, when the leaders were called ‘judges’ Among the judges was at least one woman, Deborah, who even in those male dominated times, was consulted about political matters affecting the whole nation (Judges chapter 4).  And in so many of those ancient stories there are significant women, like Hannah the mother of the prophet Samuel.

Even though God comes increasingly to be seen as Father throughout the Bible, the feminine side is also part of the story, as the prophet Isaiah puts it (ch 66, verse 12), “The Lord says, ‘You will be like a child that is nursed by its mother, carried in her arms, and treated with love.  I will comfort you … as a mother comforts her child.’”

St Paul is often held up as the arch woman-hater of the New Testament.  But that is a gross distortion of his outlook.  Writing in a world where women were expected to know and keep their place, he was clear that men and women need to live in partnership, and that in Christ, there is now no difference between male and female - the differences fade to being of no consequence.

The message surely is that men and women need to treat one another with respect, to look down on no one, to abuse no one, and to remember how God honoured Mary, the mother of Jesus, lifting her from very humble beginnings, to being the most significant woman in history.

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Lord God, thank you for the women who were among the followers of Jesus, who made his work possible and who were the first witnesses to his resurrection.  Help us to honour those you honour.

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