(Continued from Part 1)
What it comes down to is that in many ways, society ascribes value to women based on how attractive they are to men. (This is only exacerbated by women’s idolatrous tendency to base their identity on who they are in relationship with others, rather than on who they are in Christ. But that’s a different post for a different day.) Whether it’s the young intern getting the job the middle-aged mom really should have landed, or the father demanding extra cows in payment for his beautiful daughter’s bride price, this sort of discrimination is widespread. We tsk-tsk over the cost to the women left out in the cold by this silliness, the women who are passed over for the promotions or livestock-laden proposals. But driving past those strip clubs, I couldn’t help but wonder if it’s the women who live into those unrealistic expectations who suffer the most. What happens to a woman’s heart when she embraces (and perhaps monetizes) society’s shallow view of her value?
But it doesn’t just happen in seedy strip clubs, on a Parisian catwalk or under the bright lights of Hollywood. It happens in our churches. The intersection between Christian patriarchy, pop culture, and pornography goes deep. All three rest on the foundational assumption that women exist for men, that their value and purpose lies in what they have to offer males.
In our churches, this usually comes from a misunderstanding of women’s creation as an ezer kenegdo, a “helper suitable” or “helpmeet.” Instead of being the strong ally, the powerful rescuer the word ezer implies (in the Bible, ezer usually refers to Israel’s military allies, or to God himself–it’s hardly a term of weakness or subservience), some seem to see women as more like the “comfort girls” that used to be (and in some places still are) provided to military men—beautiful, subservient creatures whose job it is to keep the men placated and comfortable while they carry out their important mission. One prominent pastor (who shall remain nameless) quipped that the pastor’s wife had the most important job in the church—having sex with the pastor. There is so much wrong with that, I don’t even know where to begin.
But Jesus never treated women like that. He respected them as persons, and welcomed them as his disciples, co-laborers, benefactors, and friends—a radical, counter-cultural practice that often scandalized even his closest followers.
I’ve often wondered what the “sinful women” described in the gospels thought of Jesus. What was going through their heads as they interacted with this incredibly unusual man? Did they expect the rabbi to condemn them? Did they wonder if he would seek them out after nightfall, like so many other “good” men did? Desperate for attention, for someone to love and affirm them, did they hope that he would take notice of their feminine charms? Were they befuddled when he didn’t? What was it like for them to be accepted not because of their sexuality, but in spite of it?
No wonder they loved him so lavishly, watering his dusty feet with hard-gained perfume and well-earned tears.
The world tells women that they get their value from how useful or attractive or desirable they are to men, that their purpose is to please men. Jesus treats women with the intrinsic dignity due people created in the image of God, and reminds them that their purpose is not to please men, but to please God.
How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news!