Today’s readings expose us to the most vulnerable in society and challenge us to respond. We find two women; both have suffered the loss of their child, and two men, Elijah and Jesus, are confronted with these losses and are challenged to respond.
In the first case Elijah sought hospitality with a woman outside of the land of Israel and while he is in the woman’s home, her child dies. She assumes that Elijah is somehow responsible.
In the Gospel reading; we encounter Jesus entering a town as a funeral procession is leaving—a widow has lost her only son. The Scriptures tell us that Jesus responded with pity toward the woman. We can assume that Elijah was experiencing that same emotion when the provider of his hospitality lost her child as well. In fact we see a real intimacy in his care for the child—the Scripture making note of the fact that he “laid the child on his own bed.”
We always have to remember the cultural situation out of which both these stories come. Both these women were doubly disadvantaged—first, as women; they had no rights, no voice. In their culture, men were responsible for the welfare of all in their households. Secondly, the two women were both widows, so had no one to protect them.
We don’t know the gender of the child at Zarephath, the town where Elijah was staying, but the child at Nain in the Gospel story, was male—a son. By the amount of upset that the woman in the story with Elijah seemed to be experiencing; we can assume that her child was male too. Beyond the sadness of losing a child, losing a male child in this culture, someone who eventually would hold some power within the community, becoming a source of support, was doubly distressing.
Both interceptors in these grief stories, Elijah and Jesus, model the behavior that must be ours—responding to others in need with pity, with love—seeing beyond the immediate predicament to all that it truly means. Seeing the injustice in a society where all are not equal. Where half the population, men, have the power and the voice and the other half, women and children, which in truth is more than half, suffer, if not connected to a man. Where the population is taught that all of this inequality is God’s will.
It’s curious isn’t it that the teachers of such a “truth” are the very ones who have the most to gain by it—the men! We could cut these men a break given the fact that this was more than 2,000 years ago and perhaps they didn’t know any better, but the same situation exists today, so as thinking, compassionate people who should and do know better; we have to ask, why we allow our Church to continue teaching such untruths. Because you see, when we support untruth by our compliance; we give power to the lie. A case in point: If you haven’t seen the film, Spotlight, documenting the child sexual abuse by clergy in Boston that came to light finally in 2002, extending the light across the country and around the world; do see it. A quote from the film, “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.”
This past week, women from Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP), and the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, (ARCWP) demonstrated in Rome, at the Vatican, during a Jubilee Time that Pope Francis hosted for priests. We women priests thought that included us too, even though we weren’t invited. The women successfully met with a cleric there and presented a groundswell petition signed by a great many women and men requesting that Francis reconsider his stance on ordaining women to the priesthood. The women were told that the petition will be given to the pope on Wednesday.
Jesus was one of us, a man of God, who came to turn all this injustice on its head. He did this by refusing to live as the men around him lived—he challenged the powers in place and called the lie to such behavior. It has been said that the plight for women in this world would be better had God initially came as a woman. Elizabeth Johnson, theologian par excellence, criticized by Rome, primarily because she is a woman, for questioning and speaking her truth, has said that Jesus needed to be a man in his society giving the example primarily to men, of servant-leadership—the women already knew how and were living servant-hood. And such prophecy doesn’t go unrecognized, as we know—they killed Jesus for this affrontery.
So what of our society? What has changed? The plight for single women today is not much different. There is still injustice, inequality all around—people still live on the streets while others have two houses. We still fight wars instead of educating and feeding our children. Religious so-called leaders still try to control the consciences of people, while they themselves live arrogant, immoral, and dishonest lives. These same so-called leaders uphold God’s call to men to serve at our altars while diminishing God’s call to women, stating from their positions of power that nothing can be done—God has willed it so! Is this the same God who lived so wonderfully in Jesus of Nazareth—who loved so perfectly and turned his society on its head, boldly stating through his life and actions that, “No, this is not God’s intention!” Is it any wonder that in his wake, the people proclaimed, “God has truly visited us!”
Fear makes us want to keep our silence when we witness power that strips members of our communities such as women advocating for ordination, of their status, and even attempts to sever them from the life of the community through excommunication because they do not follow the man-made laws. We must not give in to the fear. We must be willing to speak up to this power which is not of God, not of the Gospel, not of Jesus. Anglican bishop, John Shelby Spong has said, “Christianity, at its origins was intended to be radical, transforming—a boundary-breaking religious system built on a Gospel message identified with Jesus. Spong continues, Jesus does not let us get away with merely, “keeping the law and not caring for the needy in our midst—Jesus called attention to the prejudice of the day, the Samaritans,” –those considered “less than” by the Torah-touting Jews, because of their different views and practices.
Who are the “Samaritans” in our day?—those we don’t have time for, don’t want to be seen with, are comfortable to let others care for, or not? It must always be remembered that Jesus’ mission among us was all about love—he didn’t come out of God’s “need” for atonement for our sins, which we all learned in our catechisms. The trouble with such theology is that it takes our focus away from the love. Spong says it well: “Love is manifested in the human willingness to venture beyond the boundaries of safety…love calls us into being.” Really it calls us into being our best selves, what we were created for!
The recent revelations displayed once again in the daily news and across the air waves of impropriety and cover-up within the Catholic church here in Winona cause us all to feel sad, angry and more. And as painful as it is to realize once again that our so-called leaders can’t be trusted to tell us the truth, it is even more painful for the victims of the abuse perpetrated to have to relive the abuse all over again. But friends, the truth must be told and deep sorrow and regret must be expressed by these so-called leaders if we are ever to become the community of believers that Jesus intended.
Being a follower of Jesus calls each of us to courage, to faith, to trust and to the realization that the answers are within us and complacency is not one of them. Let us pray together my friends for the strength to speak our truth and to demand the change that we all need—we have great power if we but use it. Amen? Amen!