(Message given at Newberg Friends Church on Oct. 13, 2013)
Last week we looked at Tamar and Judah in Genesis 38, drawing out the way Judah refused to see Tamar as a whole person with value and deserving of respect.
But we all, women and men, we all ARE deserving of respect.
We, as men and women, “are fearfully and wonderfully made”, says Psalm 139. We, as women and men, are made “in the image of God”, says Genesis 1:27. We, as human beings, are “made alive with Christ” because “God, who is rich in mercy” has great love for us, says Ephesians 2.
In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus gives us a positive example of what it looks like to treat another as a whole person, worthy of relationship and respect.
Friends, we need this example! We need men and women to follow the example of Jesus and not the example of the Pharisees. We need to do the hard work of fighting our programming and bringing change in our relationships and our culture, to relate with each other with respect and honor.
To do this takes risk. We must risk judgment from others. We must risk speaking the truth to those who don’t want to hear it. This kind of risk takes courage, courage that I believe comes in finding our true identity as one loved by God, accepted by God!
The first courageous risk taker in Luke 7 is the woman. She is labeled unacceptable, likely a prostitute. She doesn’t belong in this crowd. She doesn’t have value in their world.
And yet…she enters the home where she knows she will be scorned. She has courage. She is strong. Somehow, some way, she believes that she will be seen by Jesus. She wants to be around that. She wants acceptance, love, forgiveness and transformation. And she believes she can honor him!
The washing of Jesus’ feet is an intimate picture.
Yes, it’s an offering of a normal social courtesy in that time and culture, but it is so much more. It’s an offering of repentance by the tears. It’s an offering of love with the kiss. It’s an offering of honor with the perfume.
And Jesus accepts the intimacy.
Jesus accepts a non-sexual, intimate relationship from a woman known to the community only as a sexual pariah. What a profound and powerful picture of everything we have been talking about for these last few weeks! Jesus sees everyone as a valuable and lovable person, with a value that our actions cannot erase. I’ve spoken before from this passage about the power of God’s love and grace and acceptance for all of us, and it is true.
But this is also a picture and a model of human relationships. Jesus is a fully human male. Which means, doesn’t it, that he had sexual desires. Yet he demonstrates to us that even in a culture where men and women were not supposed to have contact, he can not only accept being in the presence of a woman; he can accept from her an intimate offering of repentance, love, and honor.
Simon the Pharisee does not miss the “scandal” of touch here.
He sees and condemns Jesus for not separating himself from her. He speaks for the Pharisees, speaks for the culture: sin, and especially sexual sin, is a stain that must be kept separate. It infects people, who then must be avoided and labeled and tossed aside.
Simon is so convinced this is how one deals with sexual sin, that it causes him to reject Jesus as a prophet. “If this man were a prophet…” he says, with the clear meaning that this proves he is not. “If he were, he would know she was a sinner touching him and he would do what he is supposed to: have nothing to do with her.”
For a moment, hang in the very real tension here.
Simon is giving Jesus what would still be considered by many today as the prudent advice. “Come on, Jesus. Yes, you can see her as a person. But don’t let it be so intimate. Don’t let there be touch. There is only danger that way. Do what we do and keep her at arm’s length.”
We are so conditioned to “knowing” that the Pharisees are wrong that we can forget how often their position is the one that still fits as “common wisdom” in the church today. We forget how often Jesus pushes us into uncomfortable territory.
Jesus is willing to accept this woman; even willing to receive a gift from her in an intimate way, without taking advantage of her sexually.
What does Jesus’ example mean for us today? What can it look like?
Or, to put it in the language that I’ve been using, how do we see each other as whole people and not only sexual beings?
I read a wonderful piece of writing by Nate Pyle. He wrote about the things he hopes to one day say to his son, when he sees his son noticing an attractive woman. I like as well that in a later post, he gave credit and linked to women from whom he had learned the very things he wants to say to his son. Let me read some of his words, because I think they do a beautiful job of bringing Jesus’ example in Luke 7 into our present world:
“A lot of people will try and tell you that a woman should watch how she dresses so she doesn’t tempt you to look at her wrongly. Here is what I will tell you. It is a woman’s responsibility to dress herself in the morning. It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing. You will feel the temptation to blame her for your wandering eyes because of what she is wearing – or not wearing. But don’t. Don’t play the victim. You are not a helpless victim when it comes to your eyes. You have full control over them. Exercise that control. Train them to look her in the eyes. Discipline yourself to see her, not her clothes or her body.”
“It is your responsibility to look at her like a human being regardless of what she is wearing.”
It is our responsibility to do this for each other! How we look at another person, where we look, what we are hoping to gain when we look…these are things for which we must exercise and practice control. With Jesus as an example-Jesus who could see a woman as a person, not a pariah to be blamed-with Jesus as an example, we can and must choose to see the full humanity of each other person. Pyle goes on:
“A woman’s body is beautiful and wonderful and mysterious. Respect it by respecting her as an individual with hopes and dreams and experiences and emotions and longings. Let her be confident. Encourage her confidence. I’m not telling you to not look at women. Just the opposite. I’m telling you to see women. Really see them. Not just with your eyes, but with your heart. Don’t look to see something that tickles your senses, but see a human being.”
See people. See a human being. Sarah Kelley makes it clear what is at stake:
“Objectification is at the very least tinged with danger for women, because you never know if or when thinking of women as sexual objects first is going to morph into USING us as sexual objects, with or without our consent.”
“It is important here to make a distinction between attraction and lust. Attraction is a natural biological response to beauty; lust obsesses on that attraction until it grows into a sense of ownership, a drive to conquer and claim. When Jesus warns that “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he uses the same word found in the Ten Commandments to refer to a person who “covets” his neighbor’s property. Lust takes attraction and turns it into the coveting of a woman’s body as though it were property. And men are responsible for their own thoughts and actions when this happens; they don’t get to blame it on what a woman is wearing…The truth is, a man can choose to objectify a woman whether she’s wearing a bikini or a burqa. We don’t stop lust by covering up the female form; we stop lust by teaching men to treat women as human beings worthy of respect.”
This is truth that has taken me awhile to realize.
If I transport myself back in time more than 25 years, to the time when I was first admitting to myself and others that I did struggle with lust and was not seeing women as whole people…I remember the struggle and fear I faced every day. I had habits and patterns…I had an addiction that made me feel powerless. Because I had failed so many times to control my eyes, I saw lots of things as threats.
Going to the grocery store was a threat, because of magazine covers showing women’s bodies. Watching certain movies, with the camera lingering provocatively on parts of women’s bodies, was a threat to my new commitment to seeing women as whole people rather than sexual objects.
I made a lot of what I would call “boundary” choices as I tried to learn new patterns, to learn that women are always human beings worthy of respect. I didn’t watch certain movies. In the check out line, I intentionally looked at the candy and the gum instead of the magazines…which later in my twenties caused other problems. 🙂 I understand the fear that comes, the fear of what I might see and how I might fail.
It’s appropriate at times for me to draw boundaries for myself. It gets dangerous to draw those boundaries for other people. And it is never ok to take the person or thing I’m putting a temporary boundary around, and blame them for my failure to see them as the person they are.
This week I read a blog called “Tell me why the world is weird”.
The woman writing it chooses to remain anonymous. She is a Christ follower, one who wants to live in obedience to Jesus and in sensitivity to Christian men in her life. Her writing is so good at helping us see how crazy making it is when we do not take responsibility for our own wrong thoughts and instead speak only of others being prudent and modest.
She recounts reading a survey of teenage boys, and their opinions about what was modest and what wasn’t, and how impossible it was as a woman to ever get it right. Even if she wanted to, the survey showed the attitudes of these teenage boys saw almost any type of dress as potentially immodest and “causing them to stumble.” Here are her pointed words directing us to take responsibility for ourselves:
Is there no room to say, “Sorry, but you’re wrong. When you saw me bend over and pick something up, you thought I was doing it to show off my butt, but you’re wrong. You’re wrong.” No, instead “modesty culture” teaches that if men have misconceptions about whether I’m dressing to “flaunt my body” then I’d better change how I dress so they don’t assume that.
She does have some words directed to women:
“Don’t try to “dress to get attention from guys” ON PURPOSE. Don’t. But that’s not the same thing as feeling awesome about yourself. Yes, I think feeling good because you look cute is somewhat related to being attractive to guys. But don’t kill yourself trying to tease out and analyze your motives. You’re fine.
“…Basically this is my stance on modesty: If you’re not TRYING to manipulate boys by wearing revealing stuff, then I’m sure you’re fine. Please, just don’t worry about it. It’s not fair for women to have that burden.”
Men and women together must bear the burden of treating others as whole people, worthy of respect.
I asked several women from our church to help me think about these issues. One woman from our church who wanted to remain anonymous wrote this:
It is wrong for me to see another person as “a means to my end”- in any way. What about when I long for companionship, or affirmation, and hope another person will bring me those things? I hope deeply for a life someday as a wife and a mother. It is a strong temptation to desire to meet someone so that I can have the kind of life I want.
No person on this earth was created for ME to have the life I want. Every man I meet is made by God, known and loved by Him perfectly, and was created with a unique purpose. They are each the image of God and deserve to be seen, respected, and cared for as such- not as a way I might possibly get the companionship, affirmation… or babies and white picket fence I hope for 🙂
Rachelle Staley also gave input: “We expect men to not want a [woman with a] movie star body, but many women want the movie star boyfriend.” Melanie Mock adds this:
[Sometimes we are] “trying to idealize and romanticize who a man should be, making men conform to unrealistic expectations. I find television and movies harmful in this regard, but also things like Christian romance novels, which set up false expectations for what a “godly man” will be, an ideal that no man can reach in real life.”
Real people are not airbrushed. Real people don’t have writers to help them act and speak romantically all the time. I mean “Hey girl,” even Ryan Gosling can’t live up to Ryan Gosling. We are all real, imperfect people. Real, imperfect people are still worthy of respect. Respect honors who the other person is, and does not expect them to be something they are not.
Respect also doesn’t manipulate the actions of another.
Men and women both can be guilty of using our words or our bodies to get something from another person. We think of men “using love to get sex” which is wrong. Rachelle also wrote this:
Many college age girls have talked to me about their addictions to pornography and sexting. They feel powerful when sending naked picture of themselves to others and receiving graphic pictures in exchange. I think we need to say “people struggle with porn” rather than “men struggle with porn.”
Whether it’s holding up false ideals of what’s romantic or beautiful, or whether it’s reducing someone to just something for my sexual enjoyment or possession or manipulation…we all can move away from that objectification and toward something else.
I asked several women what helps them to feel seen as a whole person.
When a man in my presence lovingly and boldly asks someone to stop making comments or jokes that degrade women. Even if the person doesn’t stop hearing someone else say something is so helpful.
On something like Serve Day, when men and women are together doing physical labor, I feel like a whole person when it’s not immediately assumed that I will want to do what is typically considered “women’s work.” There have been years when I was at a site, and when it was time to delegate chores, the women were immediately sent inside to the kitchen/cleaning/etc. In a year when the male leader didn’t make that assumption, and allowed me and several other women to use the power tools, I wanted to raise my fist in salute. He got it.
Elizabeth Sherwood wrote:
Here is a simple theory: a low esteem of a woman’s spiritual value = high objectification of women. If one does not honor women to their fullest extent of their being (and in my mind that means their spirituality) then are they more likely to objectify women? I think so. Maybe how we honor and respect the deepest part of who we are in our inner beings is then reflected in how we respond to the skin wrappings we come in.
Jesus points us to a radically different, beautiful possibility!
He had a pattern of real and whole relationships with others, including women. There’s the beautiful case of Mary Magdalene, healed from spiritual oppression by Jesus, but labelled by history and the church as a prostitute, without evidence in the bible. She is in the garden looking for Jesus’ body, not realizing she is talking to the resurrected Jesus. Recognition comes when Jesus calls her by name.
That just moves me. Being known by name is an example of being known for who I am. With Jesus, she isn’t “the possessed woman” or “the prostitute”. She is Mary. She is a person. She is seen and known in full and by name, and being called by name is what opens her eyes to the great joy of Jesus being alive. And as a whole person she is given the task of being the first one to speak as a witness of the fact that Jesus is alive. She, Mary, friend of Jesus, is the first to tell the world that he is alive!
We were made for relationships.
Made to feel whole and accepted. Everyone of us can put ourselves in Mary Magdalene or the Luke 7 woman’s position. We know what it is to be wounded, scorned, rejected; to make mistakes, to do things wrong, yet wish we had something to offer, wish we could be accepted for who we are, longing for true intimacy with another. Jesus shows that we can.
Everyone of us can put ourselves in Jesus’ position: someone with a chance to accept or blame, to respect or shame. Someone with the power to speak words that offer hope, make someone feel whole, be given a purpose. Jesus shows us we can.
This is why it is worth it to train ourselves to see others as whole people, not just sexual beings. This is why it’s worth taking risks in relationships, to open our eyes to the lies in our culture. There’s a better way of relating to each other. With God’s help, let’s walk into it.