A few weeks ago we had gift of hearing Rob Bell speak in our hometown on his BIBLE BELT TOUR (how fantastic is that tour name and how am I, a New Englander, a resident of the Bible belt?). Although some find him polarizing or even worth protesting (at least in our city, sigh), we find him a poetic, Big Mitten-y bundle of Divine joy and disarming authenticity. He said so many SOO GOOD things about the Bible that night but one reference he made to the book of Luke brought to mind a post I had written last year and given the circumstances of the past month, it's something of which I needed to be reminded. Rob, in his talk What Is The Bible?, told the crowd that in case missed it in Luke 8, Jesus had a girl named Joanna traveling with him paying his bills. How come no one ever hears about Joanna?! Rob said...
"Do you belong to a church that says women cannot be priests or pastors?
Any church that does so betrays the example of Jesus, who treated women as equals. Women in Jesus' times couldn't even testify as witnesses in court.
Yet all the gospels have women as the first witnesses to Jesus' resurrection."
There were some cheers from the audience, in our section for sure.
I don't know if you go to church, or used to go to church, or like me, have been working for or in the church. I have now for over half my life (I won't say the number because that makes me feel older than the sight of myself up close, pre-coffee in the morning). And for so many of those years I felt like I was there to set the table but not really sit at it, you know? Like sit with the important people. The people who did the vital stuff, mostly the male people. But Rob's recalling of this passage in Luke 8 was sort of one of those "hey let me just put my arms around ALL of you and pull you in just a little bit closer because you ALL have a seat at the table and you ALL matter" was just the thing I needed to hear. Because just that very week I told my husband, who also happens to pastor our church, quite dejectedly that I'm not sure I can do this church thing a day longer. I've reached the pinnacle (although I thought I had in the past but little did I know) of feeling kicked in the gut and I just couldn't set that table once more.
But then Rob. And of course, Jesus.
It didn't hurt that the theater we were in that night was filled with so many people for our church community (where women are pastors and are in leadership, thankfully, btw). We cheered and sighed and yes'd together.
So here it is. Re-encapsulated a bit.
In the book of Luke after Jesus had shared what is referred to as the Beatitudes or The Sermon On The Mount (“blessed are the poor”, etc.) with a large crowd who had gathered to hear Him and be healed he headed to another town called Nain. After what I can only imagine was an exahusting day for Jesus he noticed, at the town gate, a Widow weeping as her dead only son was being carried out and the passage says:
When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”. The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country. Luke 7
So what was the news? That Jesus can bring people back to life at their funerals? Or that, as the passage says, God has come to help.
Next Jesus is having dinner at a Pharisee’s house and a woman considered slutty by her fellow citizens hears that Jesus is there and shows up in the middle of the meal with a jar of her best and most expensive perfume. She proceeds to wash his feet at the dinner table with her tears mingled with a jar of her most precious perfume and kisses his feet and dries them with her hair. She’s touching him, and crying on Him and covering him in a womanly scent and when the host objects, again Jesus reminds those at the table that none of them have showed him this kind of uninhibited, beautiful, unadulterated love. You can imagine the collective gasp.
As Jesus continues on in his travels, most likely reeking like a jar full of women’s perfume, and as the good news of GOD HAS COME TO HELP spreads, his wingmen have a bit of a new look…
The Twelve (His disciples) were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. Luke 8:1-3
Jesus had a woman posse traveling city to city with him and the news was spreading like wildfire. And not just any women: formerly possessed women, important women, formerly sick women, women named Susanna, women who knew how to pay bills and comfort the sick and God-knows-what-else everyday kind of women.
Make some room, Simon Peter... Joanna IN THE HOUSE.
The passage says a man named Jairus who knew about this good news begged Jesus to come to his house and bring that good news of healing to his daughter who was on her deathbed, but the crowds were so large they almost crushed Jesus on the way.
Yet, Jesus stops in the middle of all the commotion and notices that someone had touched Him (I’m sure lots of people had touched him in the crushing crowd). But this touch was the kind that Jesus said caused power to go out from Him. And who had done it?
Crawling on the ground because she had been sick so many years that she couldn’t walk.
Someone who had been bleeding for 12 years, yet no one had been able to help her.
TWELVE YEARS OF NOT BEING HELPED.
TWELVE, as in twelve disciples who were the men noted for helping Jesus carry the good news... but they weren’t the only ones. There were other people around that table even if the Last Supper painting cropped them out.
She couldn’t just stand and ask for Jesus’ help like the man Jairus had done so she writhed and wriggled her way to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment because SHE had heard of this good news.
God has come to help.
Help the single mom losing her only child.
Help the slutty perfumed foot washer.
Help the formerly possessed, diseased and checkbook balancing rag-tag female Jesus posse.
SHE knew if she could just get close, close enough to the good news that God has come to help and CARES ABOUT WOMEN AND HOW THEY SUFFER, then maybe healing could be hers as well.
Maybe she was important enough to be a stop on Jesus’ tour.
She needed some Good News.
And when Jesus sees that she is trembling on the ground, not only does He heal her, he calls her “DAUGHTER.”
Then, yes, he headed onto Jairus’ house and was too late, but it didn’t matter, He brought that daughter back to life as well.
SO LET ME JUST REMIND YOU...
So my friends, my lady comrades, let me tell you something that the church might have failed to let you know: God isn’t into boys’ clubs.
The GOOD NEWS is so much more than heaven and hell talk, which sadly might be what you were told.
THE GOOD NEWS isn’t a black, red, white, blue, green and yellow bead bracelet like you made in Sunday School. They forgot the pink beads (and a lot of other colors, might I add).
THE GOOD NEWS has less to do with repeat this prayer after me and steeples and much more to do with Jesus doused in perfume, lacking judgment, hitting the road with a rag tag group of lady folk and being God-coming-to-help in human form.
THE GOOD NEWS, in case you missed it or no one told you, is that the very eyes of God see you in your mourning or your singleness or loss or brokenness or situation and the very heart of God is WITH AND FOR YOU. In your awkwardness at the table where everyone sits and rolls their eyes. In your despair when you're carrying your only son in your arms. In your being ignored and barely able to crawl another inch.
Stretchmarks and cellulite, single and married, young and old. L, G, B, T and Q.
WITH AND FOR YOU.
You have a seat at that table no matter how many people gasp.
You are heard, you are known, you are valued and you are as much a part of His posse as your male counterparts.
Made equally in the image of God.
You're made to sit at the table not just set it.
That’s the GOOD NEWS.
Thanks for reminding me, Rob.
And if, like me, you find yourself a hem holder in this season, we'll heal. I know it.
A prayer I prayed over the women in our Watershed community. May it remind you, too.