Jesus and the Sinful Woman

“…So I tell you this. Her many sins have been forgiven. She has shown that she understands this by her great acts of love. But whoever has been forgiven only a little loves only a little.” Luke 7:47

Her story inspires imagination. The woman described in Luke 7. Who was she? What is her story? What was her childhood like? Did she have parents who treated her with kindness and respect? Had she been hurt or abused somehow in her young life that resulted in poor life choices, either her own, or others choices for her? Did she feel used? Did she feel trapped?

If I was writing a fiction story about her, those would be the questions I would answer. We must ask ourselves these questions, I think, when we come to scripture like this. It is so easy to judge. So easy to think ourselves above her, or find ourselves immersed in “chronological snobbery” as C.S. Lewis would say. When we put ourselves in her place, imagine walking in her shoes, if only for a moment, that is when grace begins to infiltrate our dreary souls. We are all desperate for that infiltration. We are desperate for that Grace.

The Bible leaves out the details about who she is. We don’t even know her name! We know only that there was a woman, well known for being ‘sinful’. Most of us have assumed or been taught that she was a prostitute. The Bible does not label her that way, but the rest of us have. Whatever her sins were, she has clearly been defined by them. Everyone knew she was a sinner. Herself included. Seeking grace and forgiveness from the people around her had clearly not panned out. She carries the labels people have placed on her wherever she goes.

This woman’s very foundation is shaken when she meets Jesus. She finds out where Jesus will be dining, and she decides to go to Him. It does not matter to her that He will be at the home of a highly educated and religious man. A man who could have been the one who gave her the labels in the first place. It doesn’t matter that she was uninvited and would be breaking every social rule. She is drawn towards Jesus. She is drawn towards His goodness. The grace and truth that He is. She longs for it.

Walking into that home, uninvited and unwelcome must have taken a great deal of strength and courage for her. She knows that she must walk through that crowd of people with their opinions and judgements, in order to get to her savior. Bravery begins to build in her soul as she gets closer to Him. The weight of her own sin, the weight of the judgements against her begin to lift. She feels the love, the acceptance, the grace from Jesus as she gets closer. By the time she reaches Him, she can no longer hold it together. She is overcome. She throws herself down at His feet and weeps.  She anoints His feet with her tears; sorrow and joy overflowing. The tears mingle with the expensive perfume she pours, and together they slowly wash away the dust and grime from his sandaled feet, and create an offering that she, and she alone can give. She lets down her hair in gratitude and freedom and wipes away her tears of sorrow.

Interestingly, the more freedom she feels in this moment, the more shocked the people around her were. A woman’s hair in that day was considered to be her crowning glory, sensual. No one was meant to see a woman’s hair except for her husband. For this woman to have such a public display of emotion towards a man who was not her husband, is scandalous. Even worse, taking down her hair in front of the group of religious men, goes against everything that would have been considered proper.

The Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this. He said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him. He would know what kind of woman she is. She is a sinner!”

How many times have I myself seen someone feel free in Jesus to do a particular thing and judged them in my own heart, for thinking that they dared have the “perceived” freedom to do that thing! And how many times have I myself felt judged by others, when I was feeling free in Jesus to do a thing. I am both the sinful woman and the pharisee, Jesus help me!

We must wonder to ourselves at this point in the story, why Jesus’ feet were still dirty. We take for granted here our paved roads and close-toed shoes, but at this time, there were only dirt roads and open-toed shoes. Culturally speaking, when guests entered into someone’s home, a good host would have a servant ready to wash the dust off of the guests feet. If they didn’t have a servant, the host would offer to do it, or have it available for them to do it themselves. To invite someone to your home and not offer this, was poor hospitality and a slap in the face to your guest.

When our friend enters the room and begins to cry at Jesus’ feet, she sees that His feet have not been cleaned. This host has not treated Jesus with the respect that He deserves. He invited Him in, but did not care for Him. This emotional woman weeping at His feet, gives Jesus the honor that He did not receive from His well educated, religious host, who certainly knew better. This is what we should be shocked about. The other men sitting with Jesus are shocked by this woman. They are shocked at her actions, her freedom. They are shocked that Jesus does not send her away.

How many of us are shocked at the wrong things? The things that offend our own sense of “rightness”, rather than be shocked at the things that offend Jesus.

Jesus’ response to the woman at His feet is beautiful and breathtaking. He is not shocked. He does not treat her as “just a woman”. He does not rub her sin in her face. He does not tell her to leave, or indicate that her presence is unwelcome. He does not tell her that her emotional response to Him is wrong or inappropriate. Jesus takes a moment to look at her. He sees her for who she is. He sees her sin and her emotion and her repentant heart and He honors her. In front of the arrogant, religious men, He esteems this woman for doing what they did not do, and being what they were not.

Then he turned toward the woman. He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?

Do you see this woman? Do you see her? Do I see her?

Look. Look at her. Look in her eyes. Don’t look at her sin, look at her soul.

Her sin after all, is not the point.

Jesus knew who she was. He knew what she had done. He acknowledged that this woman was a sinner, EVERYONE knew, especially her! But Jesus affirmed this woman, accepted her, SAW her in the midst of her sin and forgave her. Jesus loved her.

This is the Kingdom of God breaking through to earth. This is the Kingdom of God come to walk among us. This is the God who sees. This is the God who knows. This is the God who looks deep into your eyes and says, “I see you. Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

This unnamed woman gives us such a beautiful picture of faith, courage and love. She walks through the labels and oppression in order to throw herself at the feet of her savior, and in doing so is received with grace, love and acceptance. She faces her fear in order to learn that He is safe.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.. Hebrews 12:1

 

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That Time Kanye West Taught Me About Jesus

The other day in my car, Kanye West taught me a little bit about Jesus. I’m not even kidding. Now, I am not one of those people for whom celebrity news holds much appeal. In fact, celebrity news holds about as much appeal for me as politics, which equals approximately less than zero. So when the song started playing through my car stereo, I had no idea who was singing it. Initially I liked it, because I like pretty much any music that makes me feel like I want to dance. As I started paying attention to the words, however, my mind changed very quickly. Let’s just allow the lyrics to speak for themselves. Please excuse the language:

“Stronger”

Na-na-na that that don’t kill me

Can only make me stronger

I need you to hurry up now

‘Cause I can’t wait much longer

I know I got to be right now

‘Cause I can’t get much wronger

Man I’ve been waitin’ all night now

That’s how long I’ve been on you

 

I need you right now

I need you right now

 

Let’s get lost tonight

You could be my black Kate Moss tonight

Play secretary, I’m the boss tonight

And you don’t give a f*#k what they all say right?

Awesome, the Christian and Christian Dior

Damn, they don’t make ’em like this anymore

I ask ’cause I’m not sure

Do anybody make real s@$t anymore?

Bow in the presence of greatness

’cause right now thou hast forsaken us

You should be honored by my lateness

That I would even show up to this fake s#&t

So go ahead go nuts go ape s*&t

Especially in my pastel on my bape s#*t

Act like you can’t tell who made this

New gospel homie, take six, and take this, haters

 

[Chorus]

 

I need you right now

I need you right now

 

Me likey

 

I don’t know if you got a man or not,

If you made plans or not

If God put me in your plans or not

I’m trippin’ this drink got me sayin’ a lot

But I know that God put you in front of me

 

So how the hell could you front on me?

There’s a thousand you’s, there’s only one of me

I’m trippin’, I’m caught up in the moment right?

Cause it’s Louis Vuitton Don night

So we gon’ do everything that Kan like

Heard they’d do anything for a Klondike

Well, I’d do anything for a blonde-dike

And she’ll do anything for the limelight

And we’ll do anything when the time’s right

Ugh, baby, you’re makin’ it (harder, better, faster, stronger)

Charming, isn’t it?

One does not have to dig too far to understand the ‘deep’ meaning of Kanye’s song. It is clear. Kanye is the king. And as the king, Kanye gets have anything he wants, whenever he wants it and has the ‘right’ to treat women (or whomever) any way he damn well pleases. Because he is the king.

Let me just be clear. Kanye- God has nothing to do with any of this. Kindly leave Him out of your lyrics.

There’s something about this that is deeply disturbing to me. It’s not that Kanye has this attitude, because let’s be honest.. We ALL have this attitude about some things, sometimes. And I bet most of us would act on it more often if given the opportunity. Kanye’s language is not disturbing to me either. They’re just words after all. What is disturbing to me is this; Kanye (I presume) is a pretty popular, well-known guy. His songs are (I presume) pretty popular and well-known as well. It disturbs me greatly that this is the message that our young men are getting about how they should behave as “men”. And equally, or perhaps even MORE disturbing, is the fact that women are submitting to this nonsense.

We live in a strange society. On one hand, we and the women coming before us have fought hard to have equal rights to vote, to own property, for equal pay and treatment in the workplace, etc. In a lot of ways, women are more “liberated” than we have ever been in the past.

On the other hand, songs like this are wildly popular. And not only are the songs and lyrics popular, but the performers of these songs are worshipped like gods. This song belittles, objectifies and devalues women, and yet, HOW MANY WOMEN WISH THEY WERE THIS GIRL? How many women would give their right arm to sleep with the man who wrote this song?

There is something DREADFULLY wrong with this.

My own heart both rages against this and understands it. A strange dichotomy. I truly understand that desire. To be beautiful. To be important. To be valued, and honored, and cherished. Those are good desires. And I understand how easy it is to long for someone to show me and tell me that they think these things about me. I get it. I’ve been there. I will probably be there again. I understand. But listen..

THIS IS SLAVERY

Beauty, importance, value and honor are already yours through Jesus. We no longer have to be a slave to the opinions, the words or the attitudes of others; men or women. We no longer have to fight for it. We no longer have to feel self-righteous when we ‘earn’ it. We no longer have to feel crushed when we do not. We are no longer slaves.

We have been set free.

Galations 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Christ has set us free. Stand firm. Do not submit to slavery.

Let us be FREE.

Thank you for the reminder, Kanye.

 

Confessions of a ‘Dirty’ Feminist

Why am I here? What am I doing on this blog? I want you guys to know my heart, so I’d like to share some things with you. The name of my blog is Redeeming Freedom. The tagline under the name is, “A fresh look at faith, food and biblical feminism.” The decision to use the word “feminism” was one I wrestled with. I decided to go for it, even though it is a ‘dirty’ word in Christian circles. I like to live on the edge. I’d like to explain why.

The church has been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was young, I attended AWANA. Through the years I participated in church on Sundays, church events and youth group. My husband and I continue to participate in church, through small groups, serving and leadership in various ways. We’ve brought our children to church and encouraged them to serve as well as they’ve gotten older. I have labeled myself as a ‘good, Christian girl”.

When you hit your thirties, God starts doing crazy things. Life altering, pendulum swinging, foundation crumbling, paradigm shifting sort of things. I’ve watched it happen to others, and I am no exception. A pattern of freedom and redemption has emerged in my life due to God’s work in the last few years. (Redeeming Freedom. Get it?). He needed to set me free from sin- others’ sin against me and my own. Much of this sin has come in the form of religion.

That may sound funny to you, the idea of needing to be set free from religion. It would have to me a few years ago. Religion in this context can be defined by the legalistic rules that we add to the Bible that HINDER us from having a genuine relationship with Jesus. As Jesus works, I am finding myself more free to be in relationship with Him. I am less hindered by all the things I think I have to do. Or even worse, the way I have to BE. A particular area where God is continuing to free me is in the area of men and women.

A year or so ago, God told me to start studying the women of the Bible. Who were they? Why are their stories in the Bible? What did they do? What are we to learn from them and their stories? How does God feel about them? As I have studied these women, God has opened my eyes. He has shown me the incongruency between His view of women and my own.

Years ago, a friend said to me, “Kristi, if you weren’t such a Godly woman, you would be a raging feminist.” I’ve thought about that comment over the years and I’ve thought a lot about the idea of feminism. You may not believe this, but as my heart aligns more with scripture and with Jesus, I’ve actually become MORE of what you might call a feminist.

Secular feminism, or feminism without Jesus leads to dark and ungodly places. Man shaming/hating, abortions under the guise of sexual equality, and damaging generations by pushing an agenda of “equality means sameness” by not affirming that God created men and women to be DIFFERENT, to name a few. It is no wonder that feminism is a dirty word in the Christian culture. These things are NOT the heart of God, but without Jesus, this is probably where I would be.

The thing is, I LONG for value and worth. Not in spite of being a woman, but BECAUSE I am a woman. I LONG to know and believe that there is not anything lesser about who I am because I am a woman and not a man. Without Jesus, I certainly would be fighting for that on my own and stomping on anyone who stood in my quest for it.

What I’ve come to learn is that my longing for worth is good and it is right, and it a God-given desire. Jesus longs to fill that desire for me. All I needed to do was ask, but for so long I didn’t know! I believed my desires for value and worth were contrary to God’s word. My fear was that if asked Jesus about it, He would tell me my desires were sinful, or worse, that He really did think women were less valuable than men!

Oh, how I was wrong! In Genesis, Eve was given instructions to rule with her husband. Women were named as rulers and queens and prophets in the Old Testament. In the New Testament women traveled with Jesus and learned from Him just like any man. Jesus dignified them, and freed them to work alongside of Him and His ministry. And this was counter cultural! Jewish leaders at the time believed women to be little more than property and not worthy to teach. Paul also worked side by side with women to spread the gospel. He honored their work and sacrifice, and named them as leaders. (Romans 16)

If we define the word ‘feminist’ as the dictionary does, (Adj: advocating social, political, legal, and economic rights for women equal to those of men. N: an advocate of such rights.)  then it’s pretty clear that Jesus Himself was a counter cultural feminist! Let that sink in for a moment! Jesus affirmed the worth, value and dignity of women in the face of religious men.(Luke 7:36-50) Jesus did NOT have to stomp on the value of men to show the value of women, and nor should we. Jesus stood firm in the truth of the original creation story. Equal value for both men and women. Partnership. Ruling and subduing the earth, side by side.

This is why I chose the word ‘feminist’ for my blog. Jesus was a feminist, and He shocked people with it. I want to be like Jesus. Jesus came to set captives free. Male and female both. He called both men and women to ‘pick up their cross and follow him’. He called both men and women to be leaders. And He called both men and women to be warriors.

I now know that I am free to be fierce. I am free to be a warrior. I am free to fight. I am free to be a feminist. I am free. Jesus has set me free.

 

Mary, Jesus’ Mother

The story of Jesus’ mother Mary is both over-told and under-told. Or perhaps it is just not told in the correct way. On one hand, we have an entire religion that has raised her up to the level of God-like worship; prayers are sent up to her in heaven, and she is treated as worthy of our devotion and praise for her role in the coming savior of the world. On the other hand, other religions, while wanting to dispel the notion that Mary should be worshipped as God, have gone through the trouble of dismissing her and her example of faith.

Both tracks are wrong, and both lose sight of the larger story that Jesus tells with the details of his life and the people who surround it. When we elevate Mary to the level of God, we lose sight of her example of great faith and the courageous spirit that we are all given through the power of the Holy Spirit. If she was, in fact, God-like it is easy then to lower the standards of faith and obedience for ourselves. But when, in hopes of dispelling the idea of her divinity, we gloss over her story, we miss an important and relevant part of what God is telling us about the honor and glory he bestows on women, the importance of women in the spreading of the Gospel story and the picture of the Kingdom of God he gives us in the story of this seemingly insignificant woman.

Mary was a young, virgin girl, who lived in a small and insignificant town. Because of the culture at the time, it is easy to assume that, like most young women in her town, she was looked upon as an afterthought. Marrying, bearing children and keeping house was her lot in life, the highest honor given to any common woman. According to society, there wasn’t anything particularly special about Mary. Nothing that made her stand out. Nothing praiseworthy about her. A quiet and dutiful girl, she seemed ready to accept her role in society, as it was laid out before her.

Mary’s parents are not spoken of. Some have speculated that she may have been an orphan, but no one knows for sure. It is possible, and even likely that she was descended from King David, but since her parents are not mentioned, we can’t know for sure. The only thing we know about her is that she was a virgin, living in Bethlehem and betrothed to Joseph.

The story in Luke about Mary is interesting in the fact that her story follows immediately after the story of Zechariah the priest, a faithful man of God, who was told his wife would become pregnant with a prophet who would proclaim the coming of the Lord. Zechariah didn’t believe it could happen in their old age, and because of their inability to have children, and the angel rebuked him and rendered him speechless because of his unbelief. The story of Mary follows the story of Zechariah, and Mary’s faith is intended to show a stark contrast to Zechariah’s faithlessness.

When the angel comes to Mary to tell her that she will become pregnant as a virgin and give birth to the savior, she is utterly amazed, but fully submits herself to the will of the Lord. This was a bold and brave move for Mary. A young girl’s virginity was a value held higher than a young girl’s life. It would have been an easier thing for her to give up her life for her savior, but she is asked to give up her virginity- or at least her reputation.

Giving up her reputation in this way, could have lost Mary literally everything. She could have lost her fiance, any hope for a marriage in the future and thus her entire value in society. Not only that, but she could have literally lost her life- it was common to stone women to death who had engaged in unlawful sexual behavior. Mary indisputably puts everything on the line when she submits to the will of God. What a beautiful example and display of courage and faith.

One of the things we need to see in this story of Mary is the way in which Jesus’ life is heaven invading earth and bringing to us, the Kingdom of God. Not just on a large scale, where the savior comes for all of us, but in the details of the individual life of Mary. On earth, in her society, Mary was of little value, worth, and was marginally acceptable as a young woman. But when Jesus came, it was clear that this was not how God saw Mary. God sees Mary as precious, honored, worthy, brave, and He knew that she contained a vibrant faith and a warrior-like heart. No one else esteemed Mary like God did. And what a beautiful picture of how God feels about all of his daughters.

When you spend your whole life, as Mary did, hearing that you are lesser-than, that your value and worth is small, that you will never measure up, that you, because of who you are, will never amount to anything important, even if you begin to believe it because that is the message you have always heard, there is still something deep down inside of you that yearns to believe the truth. The truth that you are valuable and worthy and loved.

Perhaps this is why Mary reacted to the news the angel brought her in the way that she did. Maybe there was a longing in her heart to be valuable and to do big things for God. Maybe she was desperate to believe that she was worthy and loved. Maybe she clung to this news with all her might because it was the first time she had ever been told these things and she did not want to let it go. Maybe this is part of what she pondered to herself in her heart.

I think this is why Mary was so brave. She had heard the truth, maybe for the first time, that she was valuable to the Kingdom of God, and she was told, maybe for the first time that she was loved unconditionally and she responds with passion, gratefulness and bravery. Can’t you just feel it? Have you ever felt that way? 2 Timothy tells us that the Spirit of God does not make us fearful, but gives us power, love and self control. Mary understood that and was filled with a love and a power that made her brave.

Even after the birth of Jesus, Mary’s story is not over. She is not simply chosen as a holy birth canal, but she is also chosen to be the mother of the savior of the world, and with that role comes authority to which Jesus willingly submitted himself to during his growing up years. Jesus even performed his first public miracle because his mother told him to!

Mary’s life WAS significant. Not because she was ever a leader within her society, but because God raised her up and allowed her to teach and influence Jesus and the rest of the world as a result. Not only that, but Mary also contributed to the writing of the book of Luke!  The Gospel of Luke is the only gospel not written by a personal eyewitness to Jesus’ life and ministry- Luke spent years of travel and writing and research, interviewing eyewitnesses of Jesus in order to put together his gospel, in order to get a more complete picture of Jesus’ life, who he was and what he was about. One of those eyewitnesses was Mary, which is why Luke is the book where we see the most detail of Jesus’ birth and childhood.

Interestingly, Luke is the Gospel that speaks the most about the poor, the needy and the marginalized of society, and how Jesus comes, not just to care for them, but to save them, rescue them and give them value and worth in the Kingdom of God. It shows Jesus in the most compassionate light. It tells the highest number of stories about Jesus and women in general. This must be because Luke (and Paul as well, as they did a lot of ministry together) understood the importance of women to the story of Jesus and allowed them a place to tell their stories. He knew they were important and that they would tell us something about Jesus that we didn’t already know. I pray that, like Luke and Paul, we can all be moved towards that same understanding.

With his dying breath on the cross, some of Jesus’ last words are making sure that his mother is cared for after his death. He esteems her with his last breath. In the end, we see that Mary’s story is a beautiful picture of the Kingdom of God coming to earth, not just in a general way, but in a way that is deep and personal for each one of us, particularly the daughters of God who long to be treated with value and worth, and often aren’t. It is a story about how, regardless of society, God raises women up and puts them on the front lines of the spiritual battle, because that is where he always intended them to be.