Friday, July 24, 2015

The undeferrable inclusion of women in the Church

By Consuelo Vélez (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Fe y Vida: Blog de Consuelo Vélez
July 7, 2015

One of the important tasks that has been done at the feminist hermeneutics level has been recovering the presence of women in the Bible, delving deeper into the role they played in the biblical story and helping those figures be more familiar to us so that we value the legacy they have left us. However, one still notes the confusion that exists about some of them and ignorance of the importance they had. Let's look at two examples.

First, the figure of Mary Magdalene. Although there have been many writings about her already, it isn't too much to dwell on this character because freeing people from the images we draw over them isn't easy, and Mary Magdalene is a very telling example. It seems that most people think that Mary Magdalene was a sinner -- and not just any sin, but she is labeled a prostitute, and therefore a "great" sinner, sexual sins being considered more serious than others when, in fact, one ought to denounce as forcefully or more, social injustice and many other aspects that steal the life of the weakest, with whom Jesus (Mt 25:40,45) identified.

Well, Mary Magdalene isn't that character. What happened was that tradition confused her with the repentant sinner who entered the house of Simon and fell at the feet of Jesus, washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with oil (according to the text of Luke 7:37-38), which is different from the anointing at Bethany (Mt 26:6-7) in which a woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus' head. And when Simon thinks that Jesus doesn't know she's a sinner because if he had known, he wouldn't have let his feet be washed, the answer he gets is the logic of forgiveness and love -- "because she has been forgiven much, she loves much." Thus Jesus challenges Simon because he might think himself as faithfully fulfilling the law but perhaps he doesn't have the experience of love that comes from receiving forgiveness. But again, this passage refers to that woman (who isn't named in the story) and not to Mary Magdalene.

The texts that really refer to Mary Magdalene are different ones. On the one hand, in Luke 8:2 which talks about the women accompanying Jesus, Mary Magdalene "from whom seven demons had gone out" is named (this is also told in Mark 16:9). The demons mean a very serious disease and the number seven symbolizes the whole, that is, Mary Magdalene had been fully cured. This is very different from believing her to be a prostitute. And, on the other hand, the other texts refer to her following of Jesus at moments during the Passion -- in those texts she appears with other women -- and most importantly and significantly, when she goes to the tomb and Jesus appears to her, making her the first witness of the resurrection of the Lord (Jn 20:11-18).

The second example relates to Martha, the sister of Lazarus, who makes a confession of faith equal to that of Peter. When Jesus asks her if she believes that he is the resurrection and that "whoever believes in him, even if he dies, will live," she replies, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world." (Jn 11:27). In turn, when Jesus asks his disciples, "And who do you say I am?," Peter replies, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Mt 16:15-16) Most readers, surely, knew Peter's response but hadn't noticed Martha's confession of faith.

In these times when the full participation of women in church life is becoming undeferrable, to remember the witness of these women is to continue working, as Paul says in his letter to the Romans, for the renewal of our mind, that we "may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." (Rom. 12:2). A truly inclusive church, with the effective participation of all its members, can not but be good, pleasing, and perfect, according to the will of God for man and woman, created in God's image and likeness. (Gen 1:27)

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