A word about healing, worthiness & women’s bodies

by susan on May 15, 2018

This is the message shared on mother’s day, Sunday, May 13th during our community gathering. It is part of our “Embody: practicing resurrection through our bodies” series & is based on Luke 13:10-17.

Last Thursday,19-year-old Noura Huseein was sentenced to death.

Noura grew up in Sudan, where it’s legal for a girl to be married at only 10 years of age and where rape within marriage is not considered a crime. A woman, even if she is not a teenager yet, has no authority over her own body.

Noura was told she would marry at age 15 against her wishes. Soon after her engagement, she ran away & was gone for 3 years, until her own family tricked her into coming home and forced her to marry.

Unwilling to consummate their marriage, her husband’s family held Noura down while he forced himself into her. A day later, when he tried to rape her again,
she stabbed him to death and she has now been sentenced to death.

This kind of sexual violence is still too common so many places around the world. We know this from our work with women refugees in Uganda, and this repulses us, doesn’t it?

This level of sexual trauma,
the idea that a woman would not be able to choose when & whom to marry,
that she would not be able to control when and who has access to her body,
that she would be treated like a piece of property…this repulses us,
but it’s an idea as old as scripture itself.

In scripture, we find story after story that describes a world in which women are “taken” by men. Think about the story of David and Bathsheba. He saw her bathing on a roof and summoned her to lie with him. This was not an affair. She had no choice in the matter.

In scripture, we find story after story of women were bartered & used as a means to benefit their family’s economic status. Think about the story of Leah and Rachel, two sisters who were Jacob’s reward for his labor to their father, Laban.

And in scripture, we find story after story of women who knew their worth depended on their ability to bear children. Think about Sarah who pleaded with God for children even in her old age, Hannah who was so desperate to bear a child that she promised to give her son back to God in service & even Mary, the mother of Jesus saw her untimely pregnancy as God’s favor on her.  These women knew their worth was measured by their ability to bear children.

Throughout scripture, in one way or another, a woman’s worth has always been connected to her body.

That’s what makes this encounter Jesus has with a bent over woman so powerful.

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath when he notices her. He had a habit of noticing broken bodies, didn’t he?

She’s been bent over like this for 18 years.

She’s unable to stand up straight,
not able to see eye to eye,
only ever able to look down at the ground.

Considering the way sickness & disability were viewed in the ancient world, she was probably not expecting anything good to come from this encounter – perhaps another public shaming or another lecture about how her sin caused her suffering (“she just needed to get right with God.”).

Not this time. Not with Jesus.

When Jesus calls her over, he immediately heals her of whatever spirit has been keeping her body bound. He literally raises her up to new life. He sets her free.

And instead of throwing a party to celebrate her new life, the religious leaders had a problem with it. Apparently, this was not the right time. There were laws that must be kept on the Sabbath & keeping the law was worth more than healing this woman’s broken body. Maintaining the status quo was more important than mending this weary woman’s life.

They use the law to justify prolonging this woman’s painful position.

There is a better way to relate to the law according to Jesus. Jesus was committed to observing the Sabbath. He was not throwing it out altogether, but what he was holding onto was the spirit and the intention of sabbath. See the Sabbath was intended to be a day to refrain from certain types of work so that Jews could remember their freedom from slavery. Freedom was at the heart of the laws about sabbath.

In Jesus’ mind, what better way to practice freedom than to set a woman, a daughter of Abraham, a human being created in the image of God & worthy of healing, to set her free from what has been holding her captive all these years.

Her healing could not wait until the Sabbath was over.

Jesus heals her & now it’s the men who are looking down at the ground. They are the ones unable to see that Jesus has come to set them & all of us free from every way of seeing that make one group of people any less worthy than any other. They could not yet imagine what Paul would later declare: that there will no longer be “Jew or Greek…slave or free…male and female; for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28).

Scripture is still used to keep women bound, but it’s not just scripture, it’s also our culture that keeps women bent over.

I want to share a few ways we are being kept bent over & then invite women to add to this list:

Women’s bodies are bent over …

By the heaviness of too many messages telling us it’s our bodies that make us worthy. We see & hear it in films, in music, in marketing & even from one another (both women and men tell us this).

By the grief of not being able to or the shame of choosing not to bear children.

By the fear of sexual violence. Do you know that 1 out of every 6 women is a victim of an attempted or completed rape? (https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence)

By the lack of safe spaces to even talk about sexual abuse or mistreatment or bodily changes or sex.

By the weight of expectations to look like, to measure up to & to perform as well as women pictured in pornography. According to a recent episode of The Liturgist podcast, women are now taking pornographic screenshots to their plastic surgeons & asking for help to look more like these images.

By the fear of the bodily changes that aging will bring that may cause us to lose our youthful sex appeal.

Women, from your personal experience or what you have witnessed, what would you add to this list? [our community added many examples to the list!]

***

While men certainly have their own issues with body image, by and large, women have borne the brunt of the struggle. There is so much healing work to be done and it must begin with us.

We must begin by confronting scripture. The Bible tells us the truth about who we are & sometimes the truth about us is not good & instead of being imitated, it must be confronted.

Friends, we are misusing scripture every time we use the story of Adam and Eve to teach that women are deceptive temptresses who are to blame for man’s fall. We are misusing scripture every time that we take stories that describe households in ancient Israel & made them templates for us nearly 2,000 years later. So often we take scriptures meant to be descriptive & make them prescriptive.  We must confront this harmful tendency.

We must understand the world in which our scriptures were written. For example, there were reasons a woman’s childbearing ability was seen as a sign of favor. The household was the center of survival, lifespan was short & childbearing dangerous (only ½ of the children conceived were born!) so successfully having a child really was a miracle. We’ve turned it into a requirement. We must confront the wrong views of women in scripture & the way we misuse our Bibles to diminish a woman’s worth.

We must also challenge culture.  We must make more safe space to talk about the abuse, mistreatment & the violence towards women’s bodies. It’s starting to happen & it must happen more. We must confront the way women’s bodies are portrayed in speech & media & pornography. These words & images are so detrimental to our daughters, granddaughters, spouses & sisters.  They are a danger to you, too, men. What’s breaking women’s bodies is impacting you, too, and we need your help in advocating for a better, more just & whole view of women.

Finally, we must redefine worth. Women’s bodies are sacred & like men’s, they are created in the image of God. A woman’s value reaches far beyond her sex appeal or her child-bearing ability. Women are valuable because they have intrinsic worth. Period. We must learn to stop there. And as a community, as followers of Jesus we must make it clear that our standards for worth & value are different here! We do not measure or rate or hold to higher esteem women who have children over those who do not; we do not value younger bodies over older ones (just like we do not value straight or white bodies more). Our standards of worth & value must be different here – we are citizens of the kingdom of God, where all are loved & included & worthy of belonging.

The healing of this bent over woman was a sign of what was already happening through Jesus & a sign of what was to come. Today is Ascension Sunday in the church, the day we remember how after being resurrected & appearing to his disciples, Jesus was lifted up once again, this time to go & be with the Father.

It is a good day to think about the need for women all over the world to be lifted up. It’s a good day for all of us to be raised to new ways of seeing & defining women’s worthiness.

As those who profess to believe in resurrection, what would it look like for us to practice resurrection in this way?

**

If you were moved by Noura’s story, you can advocate for her life here.

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