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Look @ Me, Look @ You

mhaJ5KgNoemi Vega is a dear friend and ministry partner. Truly, my life is richer because of Noemi’s influence. Recently, I noticed Noemi deploying the “@” symbol in (to me) a novel way, using the term “Latin@” when referring to a mixed gender group of Latinos and Latinas. I haven’t done much with male privilege and ethnicity on the blog, so I’m glad to have Noemi’s thinking in this space today. Noemi’s a blogger too, and you can find her here

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.

Who is this Jesus?

mg1UmvUSo I had a run-in with Tertullian this week.

There I was, reading author and pastor John Ortberg’s recent book Who is this Man?, and I came across this quote, from Tertullian, describing how early Christians became known for their love and compassion:

“It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents.”

Pretty good right? I mean, may it be so today!

Don’t get me wrong. I wish Tertullian had applied the thought to the women in his day, that his vision for the “brand” was not gender specific. But as a stand alone quote, it’s pretty solid.

And it’s certainly true of Jesus.

In chapter 4, Ortberg puts Jesus’ treatment of women under the microscope. As he does, it’s clear that Jesus not only treats women with compassion, but also with dignity, respect and trust. In many ways, Jesus turns the prevailing culture regarding women on its head.

For instance, here’s Ortberg’s take on how Jesus empowered women to serve alongside men in his ministry, from Luke 8:1-3:

“Jesus offered women a new community.

‘After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women…: Mary (called Magdalene)…; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.’

We can overlook how shocking this arrangement would have been in the ancient world. Women did not travel with men. They often were encouraged to simply remain indoors…

Jesus had women and men travel and study and learn and do ministry together. Imagine what kind of rumors flew around.”

Indeed.

As I’ve begun engaging issues of male privilege in particular and gender equality and partnership more broadly, sometimes I find myself primarily speaking the language of sociology. After all, there’s culture to critique, social interactions to reconsider and language to challenge.

So, now and then, it’s important to remember that this is all about Jesus.

Fully engaged as the incarnate God.

Free with power.

Friend to women.

Jesus.

Why Mary?

1530406_10152130355195396_132925901_nIn a lot of ways, from a human perspective, the hero of the Christmas story is a woman.

There’s Mary. Unwed mother-to-be, at the very center of the messy drama of the Incarnation. I love Mary’s faithfulness. Don’t get me started on her beautiful worship hymn (here). Come to think of it, perhaps Mary is the first in a long line of gifted women worship leaders?!? Or, with a nod to Miriam, maybe Mary is one more link in a glorious chain that extends to today.

But as with much of the Christmas story, Mary is a strange choice as the protagonist. After all, shouldn’t the Messiah come through a couple–through a woman–blessed with power and means?!?

Like perhaps a Roman big wig? Luke mentions Tiberius the emperor and Pilate the governor. What about them? Wouldn’t it be wise to have the savior born as a citizen of the occupying nation? Heck, wouldn’t it be better just from a PR standpoint? I mean, really, shouldn’t the Messiah be born in a palace instead of a manger?

Or how about Herod, King of Judah? Surely, having Jesus born into the Judean king’s household makes far more sense. He’d be safe. He’d have resources. And, ultimately, he’d have a platform from which to influence, for as we know from Mathew’s Gospel (here), Herod’s son Archelaus succeeded his father to the throne.

Or the Jewish high priests would be sensible candidates. Luke identifies these men as Annas and Caiaphas (here). Most scholars think that Caiaphas was Annas’ son-in-law. What if that was Jesus instead?!? To rule the Temple was to have spiritual, judicial, economic and cultural influence. Surely having the baby Jesus born into the Temple elite would communicate the right message about his messianic mission?

Or, come to think of it, even Mary’s cousin makes more sense than Mary herself, married as she was to the priest Zechariah. What if Jesus had been born in place of John, with access to the religious establishment through his father?

Sensible? Wise? Strategic?

No way.

Instead, we have the manger, marginalization…..and Mary.

On Christmas, heaven was made manifest in the nitty gritty. And in choosing to have Jesus born unto a poor, unwed mother, the message of Christmas seems to be that:

Privilege is powerless in the economy of the incarnate God.

On Christmas Eve, our pastor quoted Luke 2:19, an interesting verse right in the middle of Jesus’ birth narrative:

“Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.”

I wonder if one of the things Mary pondered was why her, and what did that tell her about her God?!?

Taking My Cue from Jesus

mfXl3AKI don’t know about you, but Jesus indicts me. As in, he challenges me to be more than I am. He raises the bar. I mean, I get him figured out only to learn there’s so much more.

Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve been thinking about Jesus and how he treated women in his day. Jesus was/is a gamechanger. He really saw women, he trusted them, he taught them as disciples, he respected them, he valued their stories and he mourned with them.

And here’s the kicker…he did it all publicly.

What I mean is that there was a public dimension to each of the stories. It’s not like Jesus was going around empowering women behind locked doors; he was engaging with women on the streets, in house meetings and surrounded by crowds.

This blog has been up and running for about 5 months now. And of course it’s public. In fact, I like to think that in some way, writing this content in this type of setting is me following Jesus. To go one step further, it’s me publicly surrendering privilege in pursuit of Jesus.

So if you’ll indulge me today, I want to offer a couple of reflections on what it’s felt like to be challenging Tertullian:

First, it’s been wildly encouraging. Because the vast majority of comments, on the blog, on facebook, in my inbox and in person have gone something like this: “thank you so much for taking these issues on and for encouraging me to wrestle with them.” When it’s Wednesday night and I’m not sure I’ll make my Thursday morning deadline, these comments push me onward.

Next, it’s been personally enriching. If I’m honest, there’s a sense in which if no one else ever read this, it would still be worth the effort. Because the process of writing gives me life. And the process of writing about male privilege teaches me. I’m being shaped as I write. And, believe me, I’ve got blog fodder for years to come. So get ready Mr. Tertullian.

Finally, it’s been horribly intimidating. After all, the more I write the less I feel like I know. This is learn by doing stuff for sure. In addition, public equals vulnerable for me and so putting my thoughts out there has been a sobering experience. I’m someone who is allergic to self promotion, so the trick is to remember that it’s the ideas that are being promoted. It’s the cause. Ultimately, it’s Jesus.

At any rate, let me offer a hearty “thank you” for journeying with me in this process. I’m grateful.

On Really Mourning with Someone

nOOTVw6Note: this is the seventh post in a series exploring how Jesus related with women in his day. Find the introductory post here, and the previous posts here, here, here and here, here and here.

If you spent any time in Sunday School when you were younger, you probably know the answer to this question:

What’s the shortest verse in the Bible?

Got it? Yep. John 11:35. “Jesus wept.” When I was younger, and snottier, I would boast about how I had memorized Scripture, only to trot out this verse when challenged.

The context surrounding John 11:35 is fascinating. Lazarus has died. The text tells us that he had been in the tomb for 4 days by the time Jesus arrives. Previously, Jesus had promised that Lazarus would be alright. In verse 4 he says, ““This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” So, by the time we get to verse 17, here’s the issue: Jesus said Lazarus would be fine, but clearly he’s not.

Because of this, Lazarus’ sisters Martha and Mary (remember them?!?) have two problems. First, their brother is dead, and that of course is cause for mourning in and of itself. But, perhaps worse, their convictions about Jesus are on the line. In other words, their grief at their brother’s passing is accentuated or deepened by their feeling that Jesus had not delivered on his promise.

In the midst of this, what is Jesus’ initial response to the women’s grief?

To weep.

He weeps. Sure, later in the passage Jesus will do the miraculous and the women will indeed see a resurrection. He’ll make good on his promise. But, make no mistake about it, Jesus’ first step is to mourn alongside them.

And in doing that, he validates their grief.

I’m not a huge fan of generalizations. You know, statements like “all Californians know how to surf.” It’s because often I feel like the generalization doesn’t apply to me. On the other hand, generalizations can provide helpful ways to talk about bigger issues, and so here’s a gender generalization for you this morning:

In our culture, men are action-oriented problem-solvers.

That is, by nature and/or nurture, men are conditioned to jump in, take action, and solve a problem. In our minds, as men, we’re all Bruce Willis in DieHard.

And, heck, whether or not this is generally true, it’s specifically true for me. Have a question? I’ll answer it or find the answer. Need help? I’m your guy. Struggling? Find me and I’ll make it better. Broken? I’ll fix it. Honestly, I can’t wait to solve your problems!

This “jump in and solve it ” masculine drive gets me a lot of advantage. It reinforces my privilege. After all, the world needs leaders who take action and solve problems.

And right here is where Jesus really challenges me.

Was Jesus an action guy? Yes. But was he also reflective? Yes again. See Mark 1:35-36. And, more to the point, Jesus was willing to first meet Martha and Mary in their grief.

Sometimes people don’t need a problem solved; they need someone to share their mourning.

Friends, my male identity compels me to act, and I get privilege because of it. Surrendering that privilege to Jesus can mean that I sit first and act later.

Because, sometimes, the right response is to just weep.

What about you? How have you seen this generalization be true or not true in the men around you?

On Really Valuing Someone’s Story

Grandma and Grandpa Wedding PictureNote: this is the sixth post in a series exploring how Jesus related with women in his day. Find the introductory post here, and the previous posts here, here, here and here.

Danish author Isak Dinesen (Babette’s Feast, Out of Africa) once said this:

“To be a person is to have a story to tell.”

She’s right of course. Everyone does have a story. But here’s the thing: while it’s true that everybody’s got a story, it’s also true that not everyone’s story is allowed to be told.

That’s how it was in Jesus’ day. Why? Because a woman was considered to be property. Like a dining room table or your favorite pair of shoes. No personhood, no story.

This makes Jesus’ determined and persistent use of women’s stories in his teaching extraordinarily counter-cultural. Consider the widow and her single gold coin from Luke 21:1-4:

“As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Or how about the woman who anoints Jesus’ head for burial in Mark 14:1-11. Remember what Jesus says about the value of her story at the end of the passage?

“Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

What an honor.

I think one of the ways that a guy like me can surrender his privilege is to remember, understand, learn from and celebrate women’s stories.

My maternal grandmother died in January 2008. But if she was alive today, our family would be preparing to celebrate her centennial birthday on February 19th. I wrote my version of her story after she passed and I offer it below.

Be blessed by it. As I am. As Jesus is.

Don’t get me wrong, my Grandma had some quick wit. A couple years ago I was teaching on 2 Timothy and there’s this part where Paul reminds Timothy of his faith heritage, which came in part through his grandmother Lois. As I was telling the students about how I resonate with that text, I happened to mention that my almost 95 year old Grandma had once briefly dated Moses. Later, when I told her that story, she paused for a moment and said, “Mercy. Well, you know, Rob, that Moses, he was a wild man.”

So she had some quick wit, but the three things I will remember most about my Grandma were her gentleness, her faith and her toughness.

Gentleness is a lost art. Who’s gentle anymore anyway?!? The closest my Grandma ever came to swearing was an emphatic “mercy.” Getting cut off by a bad driver on Foothill Blvd would solicit a robust “oh my.” And a shanked tee shot from my Grandfather over the fence and onto the 210 at Verdugo Hills would warrant an aghast “my stars, Ford.” Gentleness. My Grandma had a kind word for everyone, she was a great listener and, even when I was dominating her in a game of Aggravation, it was clear that she was crazy in love with me.

Second, faith oozed out of my Grandma. It was authentic, real and simple. There was this one time when she and my Grandpa led their pool cleaner to Jesus. They prayed together right there in her living room and then he went out to pour in the chlorine! Amazing. I remember so clearly being challenged by her faith. When she led the pool guy to Jesus I was working hard in my dorm to love my non-believing friends, and all of a sudden I was losing to Grandma 1-0! Honestly, the thing that feels the hardest to me in losing my Grandma is knowing that I lose, though only in an earthly sense, the consistent and faith-filled prayers that she would offer to Jesus on our behalf.

Lastly, my Grandma was tough. I mean tough. The kind of tough that could grow up on a farm in Missouri, that could wrangle three wild boys into godly grown men, and that could survive a kidney operation while her wacky husband was kayaking the freakin’ Alaskan Yukon. She wanted to live to be 100 and came up just short. Toughness comes from the core of who you are, and in that sense Grandma was great to her core.

A couple days ago, Grandma told a nurse “I’m just ready to go see Jesus.” Amen, Grandma. This morning you got your lifelong wish. Enjoy your rewards in heaven and hear the voice of Jesus say “well done, good and faithful servant!” Say hi to Grandpa for us. We love you.

On Really Respecting Someone

2djtcacNote: this is the fifth post in a series exploring how Jesus related with women in his day. Find the introductory post here, and the previous posts here, here and here.

In case you missed it, and I’m not sure how you could have, yesterday was the Super Bowl. Every year the Super Bowl is a lot of things: championship football game, excuse to throw a big party, must-see commercial watching, a great time to shop in normally busy stores, etc.

Unfortunately, the Super Bowl also represents an annual crescendo in our culture’s habitual exploitation of women.

The folks behind the A21 Campaign are dedicated to abolishing sex trafficking and human slavery in the 21st century, and according to their website, the Super Bowl is “the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” Indeed, according to this Christian Post article, the 2010 Super Bowl saw an estimated 10,000 sex workers brought into Miami ahead of Super Bowl XLIV.

Sadly, in this the Super Bowl is not alone. I recently saw this report that describes how prostitutes in Brazil are taking English classes ahead of the 2014 soccer World Cup, in order to be able to service the clientele arriving for the tournament.

Clearly, we have a problem when the world’s greatest sporting events are linked with the exploitation of women though prostitution and sex trafficking.

But it’s not just prostitution that makes the Super Bowl so tragic in this regard. It’s also those famous commercials. You know, the ones where the women dress in skimpy frocks to essentially serve as the object of male desire. Yesterday, the people behind the Miss Representation film encouraged twitter users to call out sexism in the media by slapping the twitter hashtag #notbuyingit on on Super Bowl ads that they found to be offensive.

For instance:

Silly me, I thought women could be sexy and smart. Oh wait, they can! @GoDaddy, change all your ads to respect women or I’m #notbuyingit

Really disappointed with your Super Bowl ad, @CarlsJr. Please try to sell your burgers without selling out women and girls. #notbuyingit

Whether it’s through pornography, prostitution or the more subtle influence of advertising, the objectification of women is endemic in our culture, and it’s a key way that male privilege is propagated. Heck, while I’m at it, how these ads depict men isn’t so great either!

In John 8, Jesus faced a situation where a woman was being exploited.  And I mean really exploited. The kind of exploitation that involves having her sexual sin publicly exposed in order to serve as a pawn in someone’s personal vendetta. Here’s the story:

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman,where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Don’t you just love how Jesus turns this situation on its head?

The accusers become indicted. The accused becomes pardoned. The objectified becomes free.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? When we talk about how Jesus treated women in his day, we have to talk about how he respected them, how he resisted allowing them to become objects, and how he defended their honor and removed their shame.

May it be so with us.

What about you? What did you think about the Super Bowl commercials?

On Really Teaching Someone

mgDyCZuNote: this is the fourth post in a series exploring how Jesus related with women in his day. Find the introductory post here, and the previous posts here and here.

Yesterday I had the joy of spending the morning in our daughter Grace’s first grade classroom. We did math. We corrected sentences. Maybe my favorite part was playing a game called “whole-number domino war.” It was terrific. Gracie loves to learn and it was profound for me to see her enjoying being in school.

Unfortunately, in our world not every 6 year old girl can have Gracie’s experience.

This is true around the globe, but let’s just look at Africa, and one part of Africa at that. Last Fall, I partnered with an organization called Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education, in a fundraising campaign. According to Camfed, there are right now 24 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa whose families cannot afford to send them to school. More to the point, because of their impoverished condition, these families are forced to choose to send either their boys or their girls to class. Convinced that boys have a better chance of getting a paid job after graduation, it’s the girls who get left behind.

Whether the barriers are economic, cultural or physical, unequal access to education is a global crisis.

The world Jesus was born into was sadly similar. Girls and women were denied access to education as a matter of course. According to The Dictionary of New Testament Background, “…girls were afforded limited opportunities for education. They were schooled by their mothers in the household arts and in those parts of the law that dealt with purity issues and the responsibilities of women.”

In other words, for women in Jesus’ day, their schoolhouse was in their own kitchen.

So this morning, let’s set the record straight. In contrast to the culture of his day, Jesus embraced women as learners. As disciples. As people who were deserving of receiving instruction.

And there’s no better place to see this than in Luke’s Gospel, in 10:38-42:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 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!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Friends, I need to tell you that this passage is seriously scandalous. It’s nothing less than social revolution. Because the fact of the matter is that Mary should be in the kitchen with Martha. Put it another way, everything in the culture would push against Jesus choosing to allow Mary to stay where she is.

In the first century, sitting at the feet of another was the position of learning. It was where a disciple sat. And so in allowing Mary to remain where she was, in defending her right to sit there, and in going a gigantic step further by actually rebuking Martha for not joining her sister, Jesus was saying for all to hear that:

Women are worthy to be taught.

So this morning I’m thankful for Jesus, that he welcomes women to sit at his feet and learn from him. That he’s counter-cultural. That he’s pro-women. I’m grateful again for Jesus the gender revolutionary.

On Really Trusting Someone

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANote: this is the third post in a series exploring how Jesus related with women in his day. Find the introductory post here, and the previous post here.

Turns out we have a little candy thief in our house. I won’t identify this person, but her name may or may not rhyme with “juicy.”

At any rate, time and again we’ll catch our little sneak with a mouth full of Starburst, or with hands full of Snickers wrappers.

And what follows is the trust conversation. You know, the one that says “mommy and daddy want to be able to trust you, and when we catch you sneaking candy like this, it makes it difficult for us.” And then what follows that are a few tears accompanied by heart-felt promises of that it won’t happen again. Until the next time. All of this illustrates something important:

Trust is at once vital and fragile.

After all, what’s more important that trust? And yet what’s more tender? You and I know the joy of being entrusted with something important, and we also know the pain of trust trampled and broken.

Jesus was born into a world where women were not trusted with much. In fact, outside the narrow confines of their domestic roles, women basically weren’t entrusted with anything. In particular, in Jesus’ day, women were not allowed to be witnesses in the court. Why? You couldn’t trust their testimony. Here’s how commentator and theologian Craig Keener puts it:

“Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries held little esteem for the testimony of women; this reflects the broader Mediterranean culture’s limited trust of women’s testimony, a mistrust enshrined in Roman law.”

With this in mind, we have no choice but to describe Jesus’ decision to entrust two women with the first news of his miraculous resurrection as utterly, spectacularly:

Revolutionary.

In Matthew 28:8-10, Gospel writer Matthew records the story this way:

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Let’s be clear on this: in a culture where women weren’t entrusted with anything outside the home, much less serving as witnesses in a court of law, Jesus entrusted the first message of the resurrection to two women.

Yep, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the first humans to bear witness to the most pivotal event in human history.

It’s revolutionary, but it’s also a pattern. Just ask the woman at the well in John 4, entrusted not only with the Messiah’s revealed identity but with bringing the good news to her town. Just ask Susanna, Mary and Joanna the wife of Chuza, entrusted  in Luke 8 with bearing the financial burden of supporting Jesus’ work. Or just ask the unnamed woman from Mark 14, entrusted with the task of anointing Jesus’ body for burial.

One of the effects of male privilege is that as a culture we are slow to place our trust in women. Need a plane flown right? Get a man to do it. Need an important decision made? Find a man. Need a sermon preached right? Hopefully there’s a male pastor nearby.

Our bias is to trust men more than women.

This morning I’m thankful (and challenged) that Jesus had a different bias.

What about you? How you are hard-wired to trust men over women?

On Really Seeing Someone

envelopesAs 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:

Dignity.

And what could be more important than that?

What about you? How can you really see another person today?