On Really Seeing Someone
As a culture, one of the ways we perpetuate male privilege is through some outdated and archaic social conventions. Consider the following tweet from a dear friend of mine, a woman who knows a thing or two about being “tertullianed“:
“I feel like chopped liver when our mail comes addressed to “Mr. & Mrs. <Husband’s Full Name>.”
Now I’ve never had chopped liver, but it doesn’t sound good. In fact, it sounds bad. Like the sound of feeling unseen. Of feeling small. Of feeling ignored. It’s the sound of feeling overlooked.
I don’t know about you, but I really hate feeling unseen.
Jesus was born into a world where women went routinely unseen. It was a world where women had only marginal and narrowly-prescribed social, political or ecclesiastical access. In Jesus’ day women were little more than property. First-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described it this way:
“The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive, not for her humiliation, but that she may be directed; for the authority has been given by God to man.”
Friends, it’s hard to be seen when you are by law inferior in all things.
As we spend time these next two weeks looking at how Jesus treated the women of his day, I want to start with a notion that on the surface sounds simple but underneath is utterly profound. It’s at once basic and revolutionary:
Jesus saw women.
That is, he paid attention to them. He stopped to talk to them. He laid down privilege and gave them the time of day. When he mailed them a letter, it had their name on it and not just their husbands’. For Jesus, a woman was not someone to be ignored, she was someone to be fundamentally seen.
To illustrate, I could talk about a lot of women in the Gospels, from the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5 to the woman caught in adultery in John 8 to the woman at the well in John 4.
But one of my favorite “Jesus sees a woman” stories is from Luke 7:11-17:
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
What a story! The dead are raised and the Gospel spreads. Indeed, “God has come to help his people.”
But all of that happened because first God came to see his people.
How many people walked past this woman that day without more than a quick glance? For how many was this widowed women just a part of the landscape? Great things happen at the end of this passage, but it started with Jesus seeing this woman. Seeing beget compassion. Compassion beget action. Action resulted in miracle.
Think about all that Jesus gave this woman. He gave her her only son back. He gave her a reason to rejoice. In a real way, he gave her her life back. But perhaps most significantly, in really seeing her, Jesus gave her:
And what could be more important than that?
What about you? How can you really see another person today?
Great blog entry. Rob…what is your thoughts on the idea is woman taking on their husbands last name and not maintaining their birth name. It is a common thing that woman in English speaking countries do. But doesn’t happen to women who are generally from man-dominated societies (Muslim counties and most Asian counties).
Good question James. You need to tell me more sometime about what happens with this in Korean culture.
Basically I think little things perpetuate the rule of male privilege, and I feel like I’m on the lookout for what they are. Addressing letters using that form is one example. Using gender exclusive language, such as the use of the word “man” in place of “human” is another. The convention about the wife taking the husband’s last name is another.
James, is it true that in some of these countries/culture where the woman does not take the man’s name when married that it is a way to keep the woman in her place? Isn’t it a way to remind her that she is not from his family; she is not a blood relative? In the US, a woman who keeps her birth name when married is seen as a sign of liberation or uppity-ness or feminism (or something negative).
Seeing someone really takes time, and concentration, and energy….which we tend to horde for ourselves!
I was out helping with the homeless census today, and “saw” the anxiety and fear on a man’s face when he was advised to seek help for substance abuse at the rescue mission. It was real fear of the “system”.
Agreed Caroline. Today I’m recovering from a full ministry week and, wow, is it difficult to summon the energy to see my kids!
I just found your blog through a mutual friend’s FB share. Very interested to see this series on Jesus and women. He did “buck the system” on so many levels: speaking with women in public (some Pharisees were called the ‘bruised and bleeding’ because they closed their eyes to avoid even eye-contact with women in public, which caused them to walk into walls!), inviting them into theological discussion (Mary, Samaritan woman), teaching in open places where women could hear, and allowing women to travel with his disciples (Luke 8). His first miracle, the introduction into the public eye at the Wedding of Cana, had a woman (Mary) as a main character. And the first witnesses to the resurrection were women. Mary Magdalene had the privilege of being the first to see him alive.
Jesus did value women. My book, just released, is all about that. When I wrote it, as I researched his actions toward and conversations with women, I fell in love with the Savior.
I’m glad you are doing this series. Christianity gets a bad name when it comes to treatment of women, but it’s the followers who are at fault, not the One we follow. He did everything right.
Thanks Julie! What’s your book?!?