I continue to ask myself, is Christianity good for women as I recollect some of the negative instances that I’ve had in my faith but also as I hear about other women’s degrading experiences. For example, a friend recently told me that her pastor said, from the pulpit, that whenever he sees a strong female role in a show (like Supergirl), it makes him want to vomit. Dear Lord! How does this guy treat the women in his life if he can’t even handle a leading woman in a tv show? I wish I was joking but I am not. This pastor’s perspective comes from an understanding that men and women have very distinct gender roles and whenever anyone, especially women, stray outside of these distinctions, they should be called into question. But these differences only cause women to feel less on account of their gender. And where does this type of thinking originate from? It comes from a certain reading of the Bible. Therefore, I think a great place for me to start in seeking answers to my question, “is Christianity good for women,” can be found in this old book.
I have been reading the Gospel according to Matthew slowly with this question in mind. Women play a minor role in the narrative and very few are mentioned by name. There are glimpses that they are present but hidden in the background, on the peripheral, indicating their status in society. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Why not at least give some of these women names? I know that the author had to have known a few of them personally, like Peter’s mother-in-law. So why leave them nameless? Seems very inconsiderate to me.
I continued to be disconcerted until I got to chapter 25 starting with verse 31. Up to this point, Jesus has been telling several stories and parables to his disciples but there is a high possibility that others are also present. Maybe even women and children. With the above question in mind, I read these passages in a new light. The passage begins with Jesus telling yet another story starting with “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” The people who are considered blessed will be separated from those who are the cursed. But how does one know who is blessed or cursed? The story indicates that those who are blessed are the ones who did the unexpected:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
For the first time, I realized that what’s being described here is hospitality. And who in society is expected to perform these services the most? Women. This is pretty damn affirming for any woman who heard this in Jesus’ day. I wonder how the male disciples received this news? You don’t come across many stories of them serving people in this way unless Jesus is commanding them too, like for instance, with the feeding of the five thousand (which they didn’t seem too excited about by the way).
Another thing to consider in these passages is the lack of specifics to explain who these blessed people are. There is no mention of gender, social status, age or even religious affiliation. Doesn’t it seem like this passage could be describing anyone? I have heard many interpretations of this story but the focus has been on who to serve, not on the people who are providing service. This story leaves a lot of mystery about who is considered “in” and who is considered “out” for those who are designated as blessed were ignorant of it:
…when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?
The story continues with, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” But even this explanation is not helpful. Who are the “least of these”? We are left with the unknown and maybe that is the point. It could be referring to anyone.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that shortly after this passage, Jesus is anointed by an unnamed woman. She seems to have a better grasp on what Jesus had been saying in reference to his upcoming death compared to those who were supposedly closest to him. She prepares his body for burial and Jesus commends her actions before all of his disciples, “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” Umm…but why is she remembered without a name? How different would Christianity be today if we had known who this woman was? How much better for women would it be if she had been given more recognition? Maybe the author intentionally left her name out as a way to suppress her potiential influence as a woman close to Jesus. I can’t help but wonder how many other women were intentionally left out of the gospels to forever remain hidden in the background. It makes sense that the majority of Christian women today continue to be treated in a similar fashion in the church and the academy. They are overlooked, pushed aside and told to be content in the background for that is their place. They are to follow the examples given of women in the Bible. How convenient for they are few and far between…Well, I say screw that.