"Do you see this woman?" A Question Heard Around the World

Inspired by Luke 7:36-8:3

I’ve been thinking a lot about all of the influential women that have been weaved into my life. I have been blessed with many. My grandmother, my mom, my mom’s five sisters, my dad’s two sisters, my own sister, my sister’s two daughters, my wife, and my own three daughters, oh and of course our Katie dog. Like I said, I have been blessed by many women, young and old, who have helped to form me into the human I am today. Having them all in my life, has broadened my mind, has stretched my heart, has allowed me to see God in ways I don’t think I would have without them. With so many throughout my life, I have seen their struggles, I have heard their stories, stories of pain, stories of abuse, stories of fear, stories of feeling less than, stories of being on the margins of society, stories of body images that didn’t match their own, but that they so desperately were made to want.

However, I have also seen them overcome. I have seen them rise above. I have heard and seen how they discovered who they were in spite of what they were told. I have heard and seen them tell the world what they can and cannot do. I am not a woman and won’t stand here before you and presume I know a woman’s struggle in this world. But what I can do is share with you what I have seen and heard. Not just because I love the women that God has placed in my life, but because, as a man, it is my responsibility. It is my responsibility to acknowledge the privilege that I have enjoyed throughout my life from the simple fact of being born with a Y chromosome, just because I was born male. It is my responsibility to acknowledge that fact, and the privileges that have come with it, and then, and then to do what I can with that privilege, to help women rise above it.

And it isn’t just the women in my own personal life that have me thinking about all this, but it’s today’s headlines as well. For the first time in our nation’s long history we have a woman capturing a party’s nomination for the presidency. A moment that should be celebrated on behalf of all the women of this great nation, and yet, much of the media, and many of her male counterparts, are talking about the way she dresses, her tone of voice, her physical appearance, things that men clearly don’t get criticized about! Women are getting raped and their attackers are not getting much more than a slap on the wrist! Women are being attacked at bathrooms by transphobic people! Women are still being demoralized for breastfeeding in public, for feeding their babies in public! Women are having to live with abusive men because either no one believes their claims or because they’re too afraid to find out if anyone will believe them! I could go on, but I’ll stop there. My point is, we still have a long way to go.

Our Gospel reading for today is a powerful one. It’s powerful in its simplicity, on the surface, but then is more powerful the deeper you dig into it. There is certainly more going on here than what meets the eye. Jesus has an encounter with two people in particular in this story, two people who come from very different worlds. The one is a Pharisee. And there are a few safe conclusions that we can come to just by knowing that. One, this is a religious leader with a lot of power. Two, this is a wealthy person. Three, Pharisee’s didn’t normally get along with Jesus, and that’s putting it mildly, so Jesus’ guard should be up, with maybe a healthy dose of suspicion, and four, this is a man. Because women were thought of as less than, and would have never been given a role of power or leadership.

Oil & acrylic on canvas by Wayne Forte
The other person that Jesus encounters is a woman and we can already stop there and come to some conclusions. One, women were put into a marginalized part of society. They were thought of as weaker, unintelligent, unspiritual, property, having very little to offer the world other than their womb and household skills. Like many women in the New Testament, she is not given a name but we don’t even need one to be able to name all that she was up against because she was born without a Y chromosome, just because she was born a female. On top of all of that, as if those weren’t enough hurdles to be born with, Luke mentions that she was a sinner.

Now that could mean a whole host of different things, the usual go to is to assume that she was a prostitute, which quite honestly isn’t a bad guess. However, we really don’t know what her sin was. What we do know is that she was labeled a sinner, and in Jewish thought, a sinner was one who was in continual violation of Moses’ Law. And “those” people were to be avoided at all costs, even touching them would be a sin and would make you temporarily a sinner until you could get to the nearest priest and do the appropriate ritual, or appropriate donation, to make the sin go away. This was the state of this woman’s life. And what is not said here is the fact that many women, because of the struggles of being born a female, in order to survive, had to make decisions, and live lifestyles, that those in power deemed “sinful”.

So Jesus is having dinner with this Pharisee, and this woman is washing his feet, kissing him, and anointing him with oil. And the Pharisee is disturbed by this, for all of the reasons that we just went through. Jesus then tells him a parable about forgiveness and love and the Pharisee seems to understand it, at least on the surface. What he is having trouble with is how to apply it, how to live out this kind of forgiveness and love that Jesus has been teaching about. And in typical Jesus fashion, he asks one simple, seemingly innocuous question, “Do you see this woman?” And I don’t think that it is the Pharisee’s eyes that are in question! And I don’t’ think that Jesus is asking him if he has noticed her sitting there this whole time.

I believe what Jesus is questioning is this guys heart. Jesus knows that if your heart is not right you won’t be able to see. And Jesus knows that this Pharisee’s heart is not right; that he can’t see this woman’s plight, that he can’t see the pain and struggle that she was born into, that he can’t see a life lived as less than, that he can’t see the fear that she constantly lives with, that he can’t see the gut wrenching decisions that she has to make in order to survive, that he can’t see how she has to daily swallow her pride until she’s practically choking on it in order to get by, that he can’t see her intelligence, that he can’t see her spirituality, that he can’t see her strength, Jesus knows that he can’t see her as anything but a sinful woman, and not the child of God who understand forgiveness and love better than he ever will, not in spite of, but because of the hand that life has dealt her.

Now, Jesus asks us this same question, “Do you see this woman?” And I can’t help but hear a note of desperation in his voice today. Why? Because our world is not as different as we would like to think, two thousand years later. This election year has proved that. This election year has seen some ugliness, which we thought was behind us, rear its ugly heads once again, along with some new ones. Because this isn’t the only question that Jesus is asking us. Along with, “Do you see this woman?” Christ is also asking us questions like, “Do you see this gay man? Do you see this teenager? Do you see this trans-gendered young man? Do you see this person of color? Do you see this homeless person? Do you see this elderly person? Do you see this child?

And that’s just right here at Bethlehem! But Jesus asks these same questions, and more, when we are at work, when we are at school, when we are at the grocery store, when we are driving our car, everywhere! And Christ’s hope for us is that we can somehow find it in ourselves, find him in ourselves, and stop looking with our eyes and begin to look with our hearts. And if that still isn’t working than it is our heart that needs changed, not the person that we are looking at. And Jesus desperately needs us to see with the heart, and if Christ is there, we will see with forgiving eyes, we will see with loving eyes, we will see the struggles that others are born with, and the possibility that there are struggles that we don’t even know about.

And this all started, two thousand years ago with one simple question, “Do you see this woman?” Let us pray. God of forgiveness and love, we thank you for placing in our lives many and great women. May their example urge us to demonstrate your heart to those who we encounter every day, especially those whom this world has set aside on the margins. Give us the courage to be bold with our love, to be bold with our forgiveness, to be bold as we welcome all, make disciples, and serve our neighbors. In the name of our Lord and savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

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