Sermon Pentecost 22 October 16, 2016
Genesis 32:22-31 Psalm 121 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5 Luke 18:1-8
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
The parable of the Unjust Judge speaks to us today on a number of levels. For one why does Jesus tell the story about a woman, why not a man begging with the judge ? Well the case for women was not that good in Jesus’ time; women had no individual standing in court, in Judaism that wasn’t erased until 1951. There are religious systems today where such imbalance still exists. So it would seem that the ‘opponent’ or adversary referred to might also be a woman, if it was a man, the judge would have thrown the case out of court. The ‘opponent’ who has no voice in the parable seems to have given up, not expecting justice either. So the judge is free to just ignore both plaintiff and defendant that was the sad consequence of the judge’s intransigence.
The status of women in the western world has come a long way since that shameful period. It took persistence for women to be acknowledged as legal ‘persons’ here in Canada giving women equal status before the Law, that occurred in 1929. That recognition took two thousand years from the time Jesus spoke this parable, that’s almost unbelievable ! After persistent action women got the vote although that took from 1916 until 1940 in the various jurisdictions in Canada for it to be put into effect. The irony is of course that indigenous women always had an equal vote in their and our system of justice, but when Canada become a country one hundred and fifty years ago they lost that right – they were disenfranchised. Confederation then can bring little joy to them, their vote was not restored until 1960. Asian men and women had to wait until 1948 to vote. All these exclusions biblical and secular were done deliberately.
The Church is not innocent in this discrimination either but I think we can seek some redemption in that Huron broke the mould. Huron ordained the first female deacon in Canada in 1969 and the first female priest in Canada in 1976 both in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. We will celebrate that occasion there this November 30th.
The imbalance between the sexes spreads across many spheres. Statistics are trotted-out all the time about the imbalance of female CEOs, female MPs and MPPs, police and firefighters, about wage disparities, about the number of female students in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and the preponderance of women in Arts programmes, in nursing, retail and service jobs and over all this looms what is called the ‘glass ceiling’ the societal limitation on women’s aspirations.
Add to this the cases of violence against women. We hear a lot and rightly so about missing and murdered aboriginal women, but it happens widely in ‘white’ society too. Women of all races experience sexual violence, and that is epitomised right now in the United Sates’ presidential election campaign, where pathetic and abhorrent language from one of the candidates declares an imbalance of power, the objectification of women and the acceptability of sexual violence, which is symptomatic of a core problem, worldwide.
Much of my upbringing was in a period before Germaine Greer wrote “The Female Eunuch” and before the feminist movement became more vocal. A time when I think it was the generally accepted principle that “the hand that rocked the cradle ruled the world”. That by the way is still true ! The power of a mother is never to be underestimated. In my own case, how many times have I quoted my mother’s words and actions to you and you rejoined with yours ? But it is never enough to have proxy power, to have to act or be controlled through a son or a husband or a brother as many non-westernised women are required to be. So what’s the fix ?
Well we need all societies to be based on Christian principles. The Unjust Judge epitomises everything that can be wrong with a society. If we look at the judge we see a person not fit to judge but it does not come down to just one person. We are all responsible for our government, our laws, our system of justice, our social values and our society as a whole. We want a society that follows Christian principles. I admit that the Church has often been wrong about those principles in the past but what are they ? Well wisdom, meekness, modesty, belief in God, the love of truth, the love of people, having a good name, and hating corruption and greed.
Jesus epitomised all of those principles, and significantly so in the status of the women of His time. In a world where men and women did not speak to each other except in a wife/husband or mother/son relationship (and then it was always only a few words) Jesus spoke to women, even Gentile women, which was even more of a sin. Men and women did not touch each other, this in a culture where sexual relations were considered “unclean”. So when the woman anointed Jesus and wept tears on Him and dried His feet with her hair (hair – a real symbol of sexuality) it was seen as an absolute outrage ! We think of that occasion as being a beautiful moment of kindness and redemption, in contrast the Pharisee must have been climbing the wall ! Women were not to be taught the Biblical Scriptures but Jesus commended Mary for listening to His teaching. I can only wonder at her amazement to hear His words perhaps for the first time. Jesus cited women in His parables as examples to men, a real comment on the status of women that must have stung male society. Jesus had women as companions on the road along with His male followers. What a band of libertines they must have been seen to be. Jesus was a feminist. Yet it has taken centuries for liberty for women to wash down to us. Women’s Liberation, if it should be called such, is a Human Right but it is first a Christian Right for every woman. Now our society has to look beyond and overcome other prejudices that abound in race, creed, nationality, gender issues, indigenous issues and social status. Will Jesus find us faithful to Him in these ? We have lots of work to do friends ! Amen.