Let’s just say this:
Too many women go unnamed in the Bible.
You know what I mean? While it’s true that some men are not identified (the paralytic in Mark 2:1-12 comes to mind), it seems like more women suffer the indignity of have their name go unrecorded. I’m thinking of women such as the hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5:24-34), the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and the Caananite woman (Matthew 15:21-28).
To compound the problem, instead of getting named, often women in the Bible get identified according to the men in their life. This makes sense in an overwhelmingly patriarchal culture, but it’s still tragic. So you have Lot’s daughters (Genesis 19:30-38), Peter’s mother-in-law (Matthew 8:14-15), and Philip’s prophetic daughters (Acts 21:9), among others.
You also have Pilate’s wife, from Matthew 27:19.
This past weekend, as I listened to our pastor preach a wonderful Easter sermon, that verse about Pilate’s wife captured my attention. I mean, I’m sure I’ve read, or heard, that verse before, but it had failed to stand out until last Sunday.
For context, Pontius Pilate is about to decide who to release, the innocent Jesus or the criminal Barabbas. It’s clear who the crowd wants, and Pilate, more interested in the keeping the peace than establishing justice, is clearly leaning toward releasing Barabbas.
In the midst of his deliberation, however, a message arrives from Pilate’s wife. Here’s verse 19:
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
Interesting, right? Have you ever really thought about this verse?
This week I did some research, and, for the most part, the commentators don’t have much to say about Pilate’s wife. For most, the significance of verse 19 is in the ironic contrast between the message of Pilate’s wife and the clear preference of the gathered Jews.
For instance, the New Bible Commentary notes:
Nothing else is known of Pilate’s wife. This Gentile woman’s conviction of Jesus’ innocence is in contrast to the prejudice of the Jewish crowd.
OK. Still, I’m left with some questions. Was that just a random dream, or was that a vision from the Lord? If it was a divine vision, what’s the significance? And, how had she heard about Jesus? Had she met him? Is it even possible that she was a believer?!?
In the end, I’m not sure we can answer many of these questions. There’s just not enough data. She’s unnamed, and largely forgotten to history.*
But, maybe, Pilate’s wife should take her place among her sisters.
Because the story of Easter is a story marked the presence of women. Most famously, there’s Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the first people to bear witness to the resurrection (I’ve blogged about the Marys before, here). I watched a documentary on CNN during Easter week, and one commentator said something like, “for about an hour, Mary Magdalene, and Mary alone, was the church.”
But maybe not isolated. Perhaps it’s time to add another woman to our list of Easter heroines, an unnamed woman, the governor’s prophetic wife. Because, from that one verse, here’s what we do know about Pilate’s wife:
She was convinced that Jesus’ death was unjust, and she acted on her belief.
Sounds like someone worth remembering to me.
* One interesting theory, articulated by Herbert Lockyer in his book All the Women of the Bible, is that Pilate’s wife was named Claudia Procula, daughter of Emperor Augustus. Citing her appearance in the apocryphal text The Gospel of Nicodemus, Lockyer posits that this is the same Claudia mentioned by Paul (2 Timothy 4:21) and canonized by both the Greeks and Abyssinians, a woman lauded for her faith and devotion to Jesus.
Because I routinely spend my Urbanas squirreled away in the conference office, I almost never hear the plenary sessions, and certainly not in full. I mean, it’s been years since I sat through a full talk at Urbana.
So, for me, the week or two after Urbana generally involves watching the sessions to see what I missed.
The other day, I got a chance to watch Dr. Christena Cleveland‘s talk from one of Urbana’s morning sessions.
What a powerful word about us vs. them.
Dr. Cleveland talked about what she called the “power of us;” that is, the group we choose to become a part of goes a long way to forming our perceptions, and the ways in which we see the world.
And this has plenty of implications. On the plus side, as a part of an “us,” we experience deep belonging, and a strong sense of relational affirmation. Indeed, being in an “us” is a fundamental part of what it means to be made in the image of God, as our trinitarian God exists a perpetual, loving relationship between Father, Son and Spirit.
On the other hand, being in an “us” can spark division, because the second you opt into an “us,” you tend to create a “them.” And as soon as someone is a “them,” you can put them in a box and draw conclusions about them. These us vs. them. divisions can therefore dishonor the image of God.
The hopeful news?
According to Dr. Cleveland, bias can be overridden. We can change the way we perceive others. And, with effort and intentionality, a person can recategorize who fits into their internal definition of “us.”
In this we take our cues from Jesus, in Matthew 12:46-50, who radically redefines the definition of family, in the process abolishing the wall between “us” and “them:”
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”
He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
And though her primary context was race, Dr. Cleveland’s words likewise speak to the context of gender divisions. Because of course Tertullian and his ilk have led us to believe that there is an “us” and a “them” when it comes to gender and our faith communities.
The “us” are men, and, well, membership has its privileges. As a member of “us,” we can expect to receive respect, deference and our choice of leadership roles.
By contrast, for centuries women have been relegated to “them” status, pushed to the margins of church live with limits put on how they are permitted to express their God-given gifts and passions.
As with race, Jesus is our way forward. Jesus will break down the walls.
In closing this post, I was going to work on a paraphrase of Matthew 12, in light of gender divisions in the church. I was going to try to work the text to demonstrate Jesus’ commitment to ushering women from “them” to “us.”
But then I realized that Luke has already done the work for me, in telling Mary’s story from Luke 10:38-42:
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Thanks be to God that we follow a Lord whose habit it was to welcome women from traditional roles into the position of disciples, from the kitchen into the community…
…in the process inviting women to move from “them” into “us.”
Want to join me in watching Dr. Cleveland’s full message? Here.
Reflecting on the influence of the Urbana Student Missions Conference, Billy Graham once remarked that fully half of all American vocational missionaries could trace their sovereign call to an Urbana conference.
In other words, when it comes to missions, Urbana is no joke.
This year’s Urbana, which starts this coming Saturday, will be my 8th Urbana and 7th on staff with InterVarsity. As with the last several Urbanas, I’ll do my part to make the conference go by directing the conference office. That means 18 hour (or more) days, serving anyone and everyone that comes through our doors (virtual and actual), and, oh yeah, driving the golf cart all over the Edward Jones Dome.
I can’t wait!
This year, in addition to all of that, I’ll also be leading a seminar. It’s called “Women in World Missions: The Untold Story,” and I have three goals for the seminar:
First, I want to tell stories of some amazing female missionaries from the last 2,000 years. And so I’ll be introducing the crowd to heroines such as Mary Magdalene, Lydia, Junia, Donata, Blandina, Lioba, Brigitta, Ann Judson, Mother Mary and more. The goal is to have students leaving with a new set of heroines they can admire.
Second, I’ll be calling out the villain. After all, I have to explain why these stories have been untold for so long, and that means I’ll need to exposit the tragic history of patriarchy in the church. So I’ll be talking about mis-translated Scriptures, misogynistic quotes from otherwise revered theologians, and the systematic usurpation of women in missions by male-dominated individuals and structures.
Third, I’m going to talk implications. Specifically, I’ll call students to check their hearts for bias, to level the gender playing fields in their contexts, and to recover and remember the stories of valiant women who have advanced the Gospel over the generations.
All of that in about 40 minutes, give or take. And then there’s time for Q&A.
If you’re the praying type, hook me up at 2pm (central) on Monday the 28th. And if you’d like to pray for Urbana as a whole, sign up for daily prayer requests here.
It’s interesting to see CNN’s take on Jesus, as they seek to determine what to make of him. They have 3 options: “faith, fact, forgery.”
The other day, I saw a section about the women that surrounded Jesus’ ministry, and for more information I googled a supporting article at cnn.com. Specifically, the article asks the question about where the funds for Jesus’ work came from. The answer?
From the piece:
The Gospel of Luke gives us a glimpse of how Jesus’ ministry functioned on a practical level:
“Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.”
So, according to Luke, women whom Jesus had healed in turn provided for him out of their “resources,” with Mary Magdalene and Joanna capturing our attention — one by virtue of her husband, and the other, by her stature in the story of Jesus.
I’ve known this for awhile, but haven’t spent a lot of time reflecting on it. And yet it’s an interesting detail in the Jesus story.
To me it speaks in part to Jesus’ appeal to the marginalized. If you were on the outskirts of the culture, you had an ally in Jesus. You were seen. You were empowered. And apparently, as a result, you were devoted.
And perhaps that’s for the better. In an interesting juxtaposition, I noticed this article the other day. The headline: “For Business, More Women in Charge Means Bigger Profits.”
There’s a lot in the article, but here’s the part that caught my eye:
In a survey last year of 366 companies, consultancy McKinsey & Co. found that those whose leadership roles were most balanced between men and women were more likely to report financial returns above their national industry median.
Companies with more balanced leadership do a better job recruiting and retaining talented workers, reducing the costs associated with replacing top executives, McKinsey found. They also have stronger customer relations because management better reflects the diversity of society, and they tend to make better business decisions because a wider array of viewpoints is considered.
I think there are plenty of reasons to seek a level gender playing field. Some are theological, others are sociological and let’s not forget the whole idea of justice.
And then there’s economics. Over and over, the evidence is that an equal gender corporate culture is good for business.
But, then again, it seems like Jesus already knew that.
This weekend I attended a conference for Latin@ students, and the “@” is very much on purpose. In fact, the conference leadership had boldly (I thought) chosen to use the “@” on the program cover. It reminded me of the following insightful post from my dear friend Noemi. Thank God for small but important steps toward gender reconciliation in the church!
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is his encounter with a woman who suffered from continuous bleeding (Mk 5:21-34). Mark’s careful attention to the fact that Jesus allowed this woman to tell her whole truth highlights for me two qualities of Jesus that I admire.
First, he stops and sees. Jesus stopped to see this woman. She could have gone unnoticed after receiving her physical healing, but Jesus wanted one more healing for her – relational healing, so he stopped in order to engage this woman.
Second, Jesus models for us what it truly looks like to see somebody. When we sincerely look into the eyes of the person we are speaking with, we are sincerely confirming her/his worth, beauty, and identity as a sacred image bearer of our sacred God. Jesus models the significance of listening to and looking @ one another.
Jesus sees the worth of a person and he challenges us to do likewise. You may imagine my great delight when I felt “seen” for the first time in the male-dominated language of my heart – Spanish. I remember the exact place and time I saw the @ symbol after the word Latin.
In 2011 I was on a service trip to one of Mexico’s garbage villages and our Mexican student leader was writing on an easel board some Latin@ demographics. For five minutes after first encountering the @ symbol my mind wandered to new questions and possibilities: Why am I barely seeing this for the first time?!? How wonderful to have a written symbol to include all of the people in the room! Can I bring this back to my community? Would they understand?
As I pursue my Masters in Theology I have witnessed how far we in the Christian community still have to go to see one another. My heart is breaking for gender reconciliation. Querido (dear) Spanish is my first language, my heart language. Yet, it is a male privileged language . We do not have a neutral word for speaking to a gathering of men and women, so we default to the male form of the word. The word Latino can be used to speak of a man as well as a group of people. Latina can only be used to speak of women.
So when I saw that @ symbol after Latin, I felt seen.
Since then, I have cautiously introduced the @ symbol in my own use of the word Latin@. It often sparks confusion and conversation, but it’s a conversation worth having – how can we better include and seeone another in language?
When I use the @ symbol, it is a declaration that I am trying to truly see the entire room – men and women who bear the image of our Creator.
In a word, it’s breathtaking.
I’m talking about the Getty Museum, in Los Angeles. Even though I live relatively near there, I’d never before visited the Getty until yesterday. It’s phenomenal, and I wish I had had more time.
I went into the Getty praying for God to speak to me through the art. And, given that I was going to spend a good chunk of the day working on and thinking about my DMiss, I was asking God for a word about inter-gender partnerships in mission
Here’s one thing I found:
It’s a piece, by Valentin de Boulogne, called “Christ and the Adultress.” It dates back to the 1620s and it exposits, in a visual way, the events of John 8:2-11. To stand in front of the painting is to be overwhelmed by its drama.
Allow me a couple of reflections.
First, the darkness. Honestly, my camera makes it too bright. Its darker than that. It’s as if the artist is representing the depravity of the moment. Of the attempt to entrap Jesus. Of the indignity being perpetrated upon the woman. It’s a grim scene.
Next, the guards. The John 8 text talks about the religious leaders present; namely, the scribes and the Pharisees. It makes no mention of armed guards. Their presence in the painting serves to underscore the threat to the woman. Her life weighs in the balance.
Third, the woman. Scantily clad, under duress, possibly (the darkness of the piece makes it difficult to tell) bound at the wrists. For me a word to describe the woman is “vulnerable.” Dragged from having been caught in the act of adultery, she’s utterly out of control. Or maybe “exposed” is better. Perhaps the fact that she is the brightest, most visible part of the scene underscores her vulnerability before her captors.
Finally, Jesus. Though he is writing in the sand, he is the only one not looking down in the entire canvas. Instead, he looks at the woman. Yesterday I spent a lot of time trying to read Jesus’ expression. Here’s a close-up. What do you see?
What I want to read is compassion. Or mercy. Or tender care. But I don’t really read those things.
Instead, I read something different. I can’t express it in a word, but I think it’s a look that says something like, “I’m taking you seriously.”
Jesus takes the woman seriously as a victim. After all, she’s a pawn in someone else’s evil game. And that matters to Jesus. She matters to him. And he’s going to free her from her plight, by turning the situation around and indicting her accusers. Off they will go, oldest to youngest.
But it’s not just that. Because Jesus also takes her seriously as a sinner. As someone in need of the forgiveness he alone can provide. And as someone who deserves and can handle the concluding admonition to go and sin no further.
When we take someone seriously, we respect them. We communicate worth. When we engage with them–the good, the bad, their situation, their future, and more–in an intentional way, we communicate their fundamental human value.
Yesterday, as I reluctantly turned away to leave the gallery, I wondered if, for this woman, Jesus was the first person to do these things, the first person to take her seriously.
It was breathtaking.
He is breathtaking.
Awhile back, before I got subsumed into this powerful DMiss book eddy, I read Jimmy Carter’s latest book, entitled A Call to Action. It’s a book about the too-often-violent nexus of religion, power and the plight of women in the world. I’ve previously featured quotes from Carter here, here and, most recently, here.
As a follow-up to last Thursday’s post, I thought I would share another compelling and insightful quote:
“Violence against women remains one of the greatest ills of our time. It is shameful that for many women and girls walking in the streets, relaxing in parks, going to work, or even staying at home can become a brutal experience. When women and girls feel unsafe, half of humanity is unsafe. Violence against women and girls is perpetuated by centuries of male dominance and gender-based discrimination. But the roles that have traditionally been assigned to men and women in society are a human construct–there is nothing divine about them. Religious leaders have a responsibility to address these historic injustices. Respect for human dignity should not be dependent on whether one is a male or a female.”
In the spirit of Carter’s words, I want to share the following video. Thanks to a friend for sending it my way. May it be so that, increasingly, the religious among us take the lead in protecting, honoring and empowering women around the world.