Jesus was surrounded by strong, courageous, generous, faithful women who were eager to learn about and serve the coming Kingdom. It could be said that without them there would have been no mission.
The Christian Tradition has a mixed history when it comes to recognizing and celebrating the role of women in the faith and in the world generally. In Jesus’ day women were generally prevented from owning property and from holding leadership positions either in society or in the religious community. Women were more likely to be found guilty of sexual impropriety in an illicit affair or even in an abusive situation. And Jesus did not directly challenge these cultural norms through his teaching. He did not make public statements about the fair and equal treatment of women as we might wish he had.
Even so, Jesus demonstrated in his personal and ministry a very high regard for women, to the point of risking his own reputation and safety on their behalf. Jesus followed his mother’s stubborn guidance at the Cana wedding, even though he initially resisted her point of view. Jesus welcomed Mary (and Martha too) as equal students with the men sitting at his feet. Jesus stood with the woman caught in adultery and turned the judgement back on her accusers. Jesus spoke with women he shouldn’t, welcomed those he ought to reject, and accepted challenge from them when his compassion seemed to waver. Jesus honored his mother by ensuring she was cared for after his death.
And the women themselves demonstrate courageous faith. They follow him also, which was likely a disturbance to their cultural norms. They provided for Jesus and the apostles “from their substance.” They repeatedly welcomed Jesus and his followers into their homes, despite the fact that it was personally disruptive, socially awkward and potentially dangerous to do so.
Of course, it was the women who were steadfast watching the crucifixion and death of Jesus. It was the women who first went to the tomb on Sunday morning, to grieve and to finish their sacred task of preparing his body for burial. The fact that this was their cultural role in no way diminishes the faithfulness they exhibited in going to a tomb guarded by Roman centurions. To associate themselves publicly with Jesus who was executed as a traitor was a great act of courage. True, Jesus’ mother and sisters at least once tried to rein him in. Perhaps they were protecting him, or the family generally, or both. Even this was an act of concern, of maternal nurturing care.
How might we better celebrate the gifts and graces and presence of women in every area of community and congregational life as Jesus seemed to do? Where might we follow his lead?
Arising from conversations around yesterday’s sermon, here are some additional thoughts on forgiveness…
Forgiveness is a refusal to be defined and controlled by past pain and suffering. We can still be shaped and informed by it, still have scars, without being determined or constrained. Forgiveness is a way of saying yes to life, to hope, to the future, which also honors the goodness of life that preceded the breach or violation being forgiven.
Some people are afraid, I think, to forgive an egregious offense because they believe it might signal that they do not take the breach seriously, that they have forgotten, that they no longer grieve deeply. This may even be a subconscious or unconscious reflection, unknown and unarticulated.
It is important to recognize that the very act of forgiveness is a demonstration of how seriously the offense is taken. If it’s “OK” then there is no need of forgiveness. Forgiving is an acknowledgement that it is not OK.
Forgiveness also does not erase grief. In fact, the process of forgiving enables the grieving to continue in a healthy manner. Thoughts or feelings of anger, resentment and desire for vengeance hinder grief because they distort our healthy emotional attachment to the memories of who or what has been lost.
It matters whether you are the direct victim of the offense, or adjacent to it. For instance, if you are the victim of an assault, you will process the experience differently than if you were the loved one (spouse/partner, child, parent, sibling). If you are the victim, then it is yours to forgive. But when you are adjacent and close, then forgiveness may feel like a betrayal of your loved one, like you don’t take the offense seriously. While it may feel this way, forgiveness is not a betrayal and is not an indication of concession or dismissal of the seriousness of the violation.
“What if I’m not ready to forgive?” While forgiveness is the goal, it is a process - the first step of which is to acknowledge it as a possibility, and then as an aspiration. But if because of the above or other hindrances we are simply “not there yet” then we might borrow from the 12 Step community the idea of “a desire chip.” In AA people will often come to a meeting not just hung over but possibly even still smelling of alcohol. They come not to celebrate their sobriety but to declare their dim but existent hope for it. And in response they may receive and carry a desire chip. This chip is a totem, a symbol the can empower future progress toward the goal. And it is a concrete step. The thought process might go something like this:
“I’m so hurt and angry that I don’t even want to forgive. Even wishing to do that would feel like giving up, like a betrayal or concession…."
But I do recognize that ultimately holding this pain is hurting me and others and preventing my healing, so perhaps I can say that I want to want to forgive. Could that be enough for now?” The answer is an emphatic, “YES!” Take the step you can take. Make the progress that you see is available to you. In the end, that in itself will provide momentum and release for further progress.
If you or someone you know is struggling to forgive, whether you’re the victim or a close bystander or simply a concerned observer, telling your story is an incredibly important part of your healing. We are here to listen if you would like to speak. Please feel welcome to reach out and tell us your story. And wherever you go, may you be received with grace and love as you seek to move toward wholeness.
Despite his love for Jesus, Peter had failed the test of faithful discipleship. He had denied and abandoned Jesus. Thus it was Peter’s own self-loathing rather than God’s judgement holding him back.
In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus teaches us to petition the Father – “forgive us as we have forgiven others”. (Luke 11:4) This “as we have” means in the same way or to the same degree. “The measure you give is the measure you get” (Luke 6:38)
Forgiveness is difficult and complex. It has many layers and many directions of relationship. We may need to forgive our parents for not being all we think we needed from them, and ourselves for not being all they hoped we would be. We may need to forgive our friends or neighbors for the way their choices negatively impacted our lives. And ourselves for how our own choices have harmed others or needlessly limited our possibilities. We may need to forgive God for not being who and what we thought, for not living up to what we’d been taught, for not fixing or healing or protecting as we’d expected. And ourselves for not living up to all that we know God hopes and dreams for our lives.
There is plenty of forgiveness to go around, and it is all interconnected. Failure to forgive in one area limits our ability to experience forgiveness in the others.
Forgive doesn’t mean to forget either, or excuse or say, “Oh, that’s ok.” Forgiving isn’t saying its ok. It is just the opposite. If it were ok, then forgiveness wouldn’t be needed. Forgiveness means saying, “That was wrong. AND I/we will not allow the past to define and limit the future. I CHOOSE to be free and to offer freedom INSPITE of the wrongs done.”
Forgiveness allows the pain to be redeemed and transformed, not erased as though the breach never occurred. Forgiveness honors the pain and brokenness far more than resentment, regret or revenge. Forgiveness proclaims that the good preceded and outshone the bad. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.” (John 1) Forgiveness may also need to be repeated. We often need to return more than once to these issues of our own forgiving and being forgiven. The healing may not be complete the first time.
Forgiveness needs to be enacted, embodied, incarnate. The risen Christ declares the forgiveness of God for humanity who rejected and killed Jesus. Jesus’ invitation to Peter, and Peter’s opportunity to act through loving and feeding Jesus’ followers, are manifestations of God’s forgiveness for Peter. Peter needed to participate and act out the forgiveness in thoughts, words and future behaviors. How might you enact forgiving and being forgiven in your life?