Posts Tagged ‘Gender Justice’
Being the Good Samaritan Isn't Enough
By Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div.
A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?” He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This Sunday at my church, the Rev. Dr. Luke Powery, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, preached for our Martin Luther King, Jr. Sunday. His words were prophetic and courageous, I quickly took notes and there is one part of his sermon that struck a nerve with me. He talked about the Good Samaritan, that it was a good first action, but not the last step in seeking justice. Powery brought up that we needed to know why the road was so violent, what was the systemic reasons behind this. How come the others didn’t stop, why did the Samaritan have to pay so much out of pocket to heal the man? He opened up the parable for me and as I sat down to write about the ACA and how it affects women’s reproductive health, I can’t get it out of my head.
Last week we learned that 91% of the 115th Congress identifies as Christian thanks to the Pew Research Center. The religion of the prolific healer, Jesus Christ who healed those who needed him. Yet, in the same week in the dead of the night last week, the U.S. Senate begun its work dismantling the Affordable Healthcare Act and taking us backwards from the Gospel. In a space of Christian majority, the Gospel did not flourish.
We also know now, there are ten senators who identify as United Methodists and eight of them voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act: Jeff Sessions, Tom Cotton, Johnny Isakson, David Perdue, Pat Roberts, John Kennedy, Richard Burr, and Rob Portman. (It is worth noting, two United Methodist senators voted against: Elizabeth Warren and Debbie Stabenow.)
Some of our United Methodist siblings voted against our neighbor. Those we are in communion with, who verbally join in our baptismal covenant, yet do the opposite. What are we to do? Our neighbors who are about to lose their healthcare are hurting at the hands of our siblings.
The stories have flooded our news feeds of people who will be directly affected by the repeal of the Affordable Healthcare Act. They grow by the day. You may even have your personal story. As I listen, it’s hard not to lose hope. The ACA was not perfect, it was a first step like the Good Samaritan caring for the man on the side of the road to Jericho. Repealing the ACA is walking by one of God’s beloved children in pain and not doing a damn thing.
Instead of repealing it, we should be addressing it and the systemic issues regarding health care. Why profit comes before people. Why a group of overwhelmingly Christians are ignoring Jesus’ words and actions. A group who knows that the most vulnerable is disproportionately affected by these changes.
I think another part of the parable’s lesson for me is that we also need to call to task the priest and the Levite who walked past the injured man on the road to Jericho. We need to hold those in our communion, who join our baptismal covenant to our Wesleyan heritage of radical love, grace, and justice.
As we move forward into the fight to maintain the ACA, instead of strengthening it, I will leave you with The Social Principles section on Right to Health Care:
Health is a condition of physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. John 10:10b says, “I came so that they could have life—indeed, so that they could live life to the fullest.” Stewardship of health is the responsibility of each person to whom health has been entrusted. Creating the personal, environmental, and social conditions in which health can thrive is a joint responsibility—public and private. We encourage individuals to pursue a healthy lifestyle and affirm the importance of preventive health care, health education, environmental and occupational safety, good nutrition, and secure housing in achieving health. Health care is a basic human right.
Providing the care needed to maintain health, prevent disease, and restore health after injury or illness is a responsibility each person owes others and government owes to all, a responsibility government ignores at its peril. In Ezekiel 34:4a, God points out the failures of the leadership of Israel to care for the weak: “You don’t strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, or seek out the lost.” As a result all suffer. Like police and fire protection, health care is best funded through the government’s ability to tax each person equitably and directly fund the provider entities. Countries facing a public health crisis such as HIV/AIDS must have access to generic medicines and to patented medicines. We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. The right to health care includes care for persons with brain diseases, neurological conditions, or physical disabilities, who must be afforded the same access to health care as all other persons in our communities. It is unjust to construct or perpetuate barriers to physical or mental wholeness or full participation in community.
We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care.
We encourage hospitals, physicians, and medical clinics to provide access to primary health care to all people regardless of their health-care coverage or ability to pay for treatment.
Being the Good Samaritan isn’t enough, moving backwards from the Gospel is also not acceptable. As people of faith, we must protect our siblings who are on the precipice of losing their healthcare. All hands are needed on the road to Jericho. It’s time to stand up and act.
Call the United Methodist Senators who are actively trying to repeal the ACA today!
Senator Jeff Sessions: (202) 224-4124
Senator Tom Cotton: (202) 224-2353
Senator Johnny Isakson: (202) 224-3643
Senator David Perdue: (202) 224-3521
Senator Pat Roberts: (202) 224-4774
Senator John Kennedy: (202) 224-4623
Senator Richard Burr: (202) 224-3154
Senator Rob Portman: (202) 224-3353
Irene R. DeMaris, M.Div. is a feminist, lifelong member of The United Methodist Church, and former MFSA intern who advocates for women’s health through a faith-based lens.
A sermon delivered to the First United Methodist Church of Schenectady, NY
December 11, 2016
Rev. Sara E. Baron
It has been said about Mary, “No woman in scripture is more honored, blessed as she was ‘above all women’ (Luke 1:42), and she holds an iconic status shared by no other woman in Christianity. Through the accounts of Jesus’ birth in Matthew and Luke, Mary is one of the first biblical characters many children encounter. Along with Eve, Mary is integral to shaping how Christians understand the nature of womanhood and motherhood.”1 What is said is true. Mary, along with Eve, has both shaped how women are understood in Christianity AND the inverse: perceptions of Mary (and Eve) are indicators of how Christianity is understanding women. How Mary is seen is a bell-weather for how women are seen. Cary Gibson, the author of the opening quote, also says, “Mary is a container into which we pour ideas of what it means to be a woman. In turn we then draw from her image ideas about our own womanhood.”2
Most commonly, Mary is said to be meek and mild. Usually, it is her subservience that sets her up as the ideal woman. The pedestal of womanhood that Mary most frequently occupies as the ideal woman is the pedestal of the selfless mother, the one who exists simply so her son can exist. She’s faithful, sweet, and biddable. There is, however, one issue with this common perception Mary: it completely ignores the words of Mary found in the Gospel of Luke.
Now, I’m not saying that I really think some literate scribe was following Mary around during her pregnancy to record her insights for posterity. However, I am saying we have a rather long monologue attributed to Mary that defies the way she is most commonly defined. The meek and mild ideal does not match the actual Gospel. The myths around her are more about what Christian women have been told to be than they are about the actual stories about and words of Mary.
Therefore, it seems worth exploring the words attributed to Mary. Whether the words are what Mary said, or something Mary could have said, or simply what it made sense to someone that the Mother of Jesus WOULD have said, they are attributed to her. Since the general perception of Mary is based on 20 centenaries of trying to put women in their place, and I’d prefer to get to know Mary as presented in the Gospel. It may be that we can take a look at Mary-the-ideal-woman and get a different answer about what it means to be an ideal woman.
For starters, these words are not meek, nor mild. In fact, Cary Gibson says Mary, “voiced a defiant and righteous hope in the face of violence and injustice.”3 It is true. These words express a HARDCORE faith and a great ideal for women to seek to live up to. Men too. This is the sort of faith we can all aspire to!
First of all, Mary’s song is deeply rooted in her faith tradition. It echoes Hannah’s song of celebration after Hannah fulfilled her promise and brought her son Samuel to Eli to serve him as a priest. It also echoes with phrases from the Psalms. The version of this song that we have is a work of theological and scriptural brilliance and sophistication. Hannah’s song is powerful, but reflects a less mature faith. Hannah yearns for God to smash the powerful, deride her enemies, and break the mighty. In her mind the powerless are lifted up BY making the powerful small. There is violence in her imagery, even as there is celebration of the goodness of God and of her sense of becoming more significant in the world.
Mary’s song, though, is not vengeful. She also speaks of lifting up the poor and lonely. Like Hannah she speaks about God’s power, but she also adds God’s mercy. Mary speaks of lowering the mighty, but the lowering isn’t violent or dangerous for them: the proud are “scattered in the thoughts of their hearts” which sounds like a way to be more humble; the powerful step down from their thrones (but she doesn’t suggest they’re harmed afterward); the rich are sent away empty – as if they don’t need any more. Hannah had the the formerly “full” “hire themselves out for bread.” Mary is interested in lifting up the lowly and removing their oppression, not in oppressing the oppressors. She is a actually meeker and milder than Hannah, Hannah’s is pretty rough. Mary is simply less violent!
Hannah speaks of her victory, Mary speaks of being treated with God’s favor. While both are grateful for the child they are able to nurture, and while both express incredible gratitude to God and deep theological reflections, they have different energies. The insertion of material from the Psalms into Hannah’s original poem changes it into a more gracious piece. One scholar found that in addition to the source material of Hannah’s poem, the song of Mary includes 7 pieces of different Psalms, as well as a quote each from Deuteronomy, Job, Micah, and Isaiah. By that scholar’s reckoning all of the words of Mary’s song are attributable to Hebrew Bible quotations.4
Mary’s song starts in the specific. She is grateful to be useful to God, humbly aware of her status as a poor woman in her society, and attentive to the change of her status because of God’s favor. She attributes her life change to God’s greatness, and she praises God. She expresses who God is: merciful, consistent, strong, and powerful. She talks about a God who cares about the lowly, and feeds the hungry with GOOD food. Her song makes another journey outward, celebrating God’s care for all of the Jews and then attributing God’s care to God’s merciful nature and God’s promises. She moves from celebrating God’s work for her, to celebrating God’s work for the vulnerable, to celebrating God’s work for all her people. It is as if she is expanding her gratitude in increasingly wide circles.
While it is unlikely to be factual, this text suggests that Mary knew her scriptures well enough to combine them creatively into a truly beautiful and majestic song celebrating God WITHOUT demeaning anyone else. It suggests that her humility was real, but it wasn’t a form of self-deprecation. It says she was genuinely honored to be able to serve God and be useful in forming the world in God’s kindom of shalom. She was delighted and amazed to be chosen. She recognized the depth of the blessing she received, seemingly without thinking that it made her more important than others. She said she was blessed, and was amazed that people would remember her as blessed. That indicates she didn’t think she’d done anything right or worthy, it was God’s choice not her worthiness that mattered. Her gratitude was expansive and celebratory and still focused on lifting up the lowly and attentive to the hungry. She kept her head!
The Mary of this song is wise, strong, compassionate, creative, humble, and grateful. She knows and celebrates a God who is a fierce advocate of justice. John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, in their book “The First Christmas” point out that each of the Gospels start with a “Gospel in miniature” (with the possible exception of Mark which starts at a gallop and just keeps going!). Luke 1 and 2, which likely do NOT represent authentic memories of things that really happened, DO represent themes of the Gospel, understanding of Jesus, foreshadowing of things to come, and ways to see how God is known in the Gospel. Luke pays particular attention to women – as we can see here where Mary gets a prolonged monologue – as well as to the poor and vulnerable. We can also see that here in the words Mary speaks. The writer of Luke, and/or the Christian tradition, and/or the editors who came later attribute these words to Mary largely to help those of us who came later to understand her son.
Now, I don’t want anyone to think that I’m disparaging Hannah’s song. Her song is FIERCE and profound, and reflects an era one whole millennia before Mary’s. Hannah, as well, sought justice. She sought it for herself and she sought it for all of God’s people. She understood God to be one who cares about the poor, the hungry, the feeble, the barren, the low, and the needy. That is a reflection of the unique tradition of Judaism, from a pretty early time. Other ancient peoples believed in god and goddesses. The Israelites were unique, however, in believing in a God who cared about how they treated each other, and in a God who cared about the people who had the least power and influence. There is a constant tension in the Bible between this belief – in a God who cares for the poor and lowly – and the human tendency to prefer the rich and powerful. Hannah reflects the God who cares for the poor and lowly without being pulled toward the rich and powerful at all. Then Mary manages to take it a step further and acknowledge a God who cares for everyone. They sought justice, and believed in a God who wanted justice. This is our radical tradition. This is the wonder of worshiping a God of compassion.
Those sons of those women took their justice-seeking natures and their understandings of the God of Compassion, and changed the world. We mostly know about the mothers because of the sons. Samuel anointed kings. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, ate with sinners, and told parables that still confound us today. Both sons changed the world. Both mothers are presented as sources of wisdom for their sons. Their stories are preludes to their sons stories, and yet I am so grateful that the Bible gives them voices and songs and stories! They are not ONLY vessels through which their sons come to be, they are interesting in their own right.
I do wish for all of us to be able to be a bit like these justice seeking mothers. And if we are going to hold up Mary as the ideal, then I hope it takes the form of being moved to sing our gratitude to God and celebrating the wonder of God’s good work in the world. I hope we can become so steeped in our faith tradition that we can use it in creative ways that bring more caring, compassion, and justice to our tradition. I hope that we can see and name the goodness of our lives without taking ourselves too seriously. And I do hope that when push comes to shove we are more like Mary than like Hannah, and that we can hope for the transformation of oppressors – not the oppression of them. I hope we too can always remember the people of God who are struggling the most, and find ways to help lift them up. I hope we can be part of our tradition that remembers God as a God of compassion for the least, the last, the lost and the lonely.
If Mary is the ideal, and she seems to be well set up to be the ideal, then let’s seek to be like her: fierce, grateful, and brilliant. Amen.
Dear Justice Seekers,
For 109 years, MFSA has been a prophetic voice for justice-seeking people of faith in The United Methodist Church, in our nation and the world. We will continue to be that voice. We are a voice for peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. We are a voice working against racism and white privilege. We are a voice for reproductive health and justice. We are a voice for a healthy planet. We are a voice against colonialism, militarism, and misuse of power. We are a voice of inclusion for all God’s children, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. We are a voice that welcomes our migrant neighbor. But most importantly, we are a voice at the crossroads where these concerns for justice intersect.
We believe the recent decisions made by President-elect Trump with respect to leadership in his administration speak against the very foundation of our justice seeking faith. We are alarmed. We believe these individuals have not shown the necessary skills for leadership and whose past words and actions have not represented the values of civilized society. As justice-seeking people of faith, we stand opposed to not only one individual, but the emerging pattern that President-elect Trump is building a cabinet founded on white supremacy, fear, and bigotry.
MFSA calls our church to expand its understanding of the radical call of the Gospel to be an inclusive, justice-seeking, risk-taking Body of Christ. We live out our belief that to be faithful witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be involved in the transformation of the social order. Therefore, we call The United Methodist Church, the Council of Bishops, congregations, and its members to join us in taking active steps to publicly “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
Experiences of injustice do not happen in a vacuum, and therefore it is imperative to: develop the most effective strategies to create space for understanding privilege; organize in an intersectional framework led by marginalized communities; and build effective systems of resistance and cooperation to take action for justice. We invite you to join us in this work.
We invite United Methodist leadership including our bishops, clergy, and lay leaders to join us in signing the “Faith Leaders Call on Republican officials to reject Mr. Trump’s Cabinet of Bigotry” letter distributed by Faith in Public Life. You can find the link here: https://goo.gl/J9zXSx
We call on all Justice-Seeking People of Faith to join us by:
- Contacting your legislators to express as a justice seeking person of faith your concern that the leadership of our nation must reflect justice for all people.
- Speaking and working against the narrative that privileged communities are being oppressed when they are asked to acknowledge the ways their privilege perpetuates bias and injustice.
- Committing to create opportunities for education and advocacy to publicly and actively resist white supremacy, white privilege, and implicit bias in your communities.
Seeking Justice Together,
The Staff and Board of Directors, Methodist Federation for Social Action