Archive for the ‘Women of the Bible’ Category.
When a woman who had led a “sinful life” heard that Jesus was having dinner in town, she crashed the party. Bold as she was, she did not approach him face-to-face. Instead, she stood behind him as he reclined at the table, tears streaming down her face. Then, forgetting what all the well-to-do people thought, she fell to her knees, kissing his feet, drenching them with her tears and wiping them with her tangled hair. As she took her alabaster jar of costly perfume and anointed the very skin of Christ, I can imagine her thinking:
What a mess I’ve made of the life you gave me . . . what a mess I am! All I can give you now is this little bit of beauty I’ve got left: my broken shame-filled heart. I don’t care what they think! All I care is what you think, Jesus . . . You. It’s me and you here now. Will you wash me? Will you wash off all the dirt and grime and polish me with the oil of you? Will you make me new?
The courage to get real with Jesus is breathtakinginly beautiful. You cannot create this kind of beauty with makeup and stylish clothes. This is the kind that can not be fabricated; it is so authentic, so raw that it makes us uncomfortable . . . it scares us.
Our other main character in this scene, Simon, is absolutely revolted by this woman’s poor behavior at his dinner party. He is a Pharisee, who is categorically more interested in having the perfect image than the perfect heart. If Jesus were really a prophet, he thinks, He would know that this woman is a sinner!
Jesus had just finished explaining to these “experts” of religious law that he did not come to save the healthy, but the sick. He didn’t come for the perfect! He came for imperfect; he came for her.
If they were such “experts,” they should have known 1 Samuel 16:7, which says man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. In Matthew 23, Jesus rants and raves against their hypocrisy, calling them “white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead-man’s bones.” They wore a perfect mask, hiding ugliness underneath it all. And Jesus could see right through them.
So does he reject her for her brazen behavior? Her past? Her sexual sin? No. He does not look at the outward appearance. He sees her heart — broken, messy, real, and it is beautiful to him.
Instead of explaining this to Simon outright, he tells him a story about two people with canceled debts, saying that the one with the bigger debt is more grateful than the one with the smaller. This woman had a big debt; she had a lot to be forgiven; she had a large burden, and a lot to be grateful for, like me. But she was real, and the rawness of her love endeared her to him.
The perfect image never did it for Jesus. The image he loved was the one that was crumbling, the one that was humble enough to say, I have not led a perfect life, but I want a perfect forgiveness, a perfect love, and I know that comes from you.
So why are we so afraid to say, “I’m crumbling?” Because everyone will know the perfect image we put off isn’t real, and we’ve identified our worth with the image. But the image is only that — a replication, an imitation of what’s real. The real thing is what you want more than anything to pour out at the feet of Jesus. That’s what real is. And He loves real. Fake, he can’t do anything with. The truth is, he hates fake.
But messy, crumbling, slobbering, mascara running, hair out of place, “I’ve made a mess of my life and I need you”: that’s what really pulls at his heart. In a world obsessed with how things look on the outside, he’s searching for hearts that aren’t afraid to break open and bleed a little … or a lot.
Do you want the perfect image? Then imitate her. Don’t imitate the images of our culture. They are illusions. What is real is everything we see in the woman who led the sinful life: a willingness to say, this is what is underneath the veneer . . . and I’m not afraid to let other people know that. I’m not afraid to pour out my heart, because I know he loves me like this.
“Your sins are forgiven,” he said to her, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
In a vacant hostel set amidst the snow-laden Black Forest, I read the Good News Bible for the first time in my life. I have not eaten anything for days, but the thin, tattered pages of this book have become my communion bread, my nourishment.
I am fascinated by these stories of men and women rejected by people and embraced by this guy Jesus. When man disappoints, scorns, judges, rejects; Jesus touches, has compassion on, heals, forgives, loves. There are people the world seems ready to dispose of, who Jesus treats with utmost respect. Their past doesn’t bother him; the opinions of people in their community don’t phase him; he sees them through purely loving eyes. And his love frees them to walk in dignity and respect for themselves, no matter where they’ve been.
When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, he broke every chain that bound her. Jesus went to the well because he was tired and thirsty from a long journey – the very same reason why I finally went to the well.
The Samaritan woman walks up to get some water – not in the morning or in the evening, when it was customary, but in the middle of the day – probably to avoid running into people who knew her reputation.
Jesus asks her for a cup of water.
Stunned that he would even speak to her – Jews and Samaritans hated each other – she questions him, “How can you even ask me for a drink?”
Jesus answers, “If you only knew who it is who asks you for a drink, you would ask me and I would give you living water.”
Then she tries to argue that he doesn’t even have a cup!
But Jesus isn’t moved. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,” He says, “But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.”
Then it all comes out in the open – she’s been with many men and the man she is with now isn’t her husband.
Why does Jesus tell her about the living water? Why doesn’t he tell this to the demon-possessed man? To the blind, poor, sick, lame? Why her?
Because he knows this woman’s thirst. He knows her hunger. And he knows that he is the only source that can fill it.
He was the source from which she was made, and he is the source from which she needs to drink to get “full.” But she has been going from man to man to man to man, looking for fulfillment. And Jesus is saying to her, “Sweetheart, what you need is me. What you need is a well that doesn’t run dry, a love that doesn’t run out, a water that will satisfy.”
She leaves her water jar at the well, goes back to the town and says to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!”
Why does she leave her water jar? Because she realizes that she has found the source of her thirst. A man who knows everything she ever did and does not judge her? Does not ask anything of her? He only offers free fulfillment? She has found what she has been looking for her entire life.
My knees are pressed hard to rocky soil. My head is in my hands. I am weeping. The tears come from the center of that little girl inside of me who had gone into the world searching for love. She is in a heap on the ground, with not a soul in sight.
“Help me,” I cry through broken sobs. “In the name of Jesus Christ, help me God . . . .”
In the snowy, frozen winter of the lightless forest, I feel a growing warmth on the back of my head, and then heat on my hair and neck. I look up. The dark, ominous clouds shift, and the sun beams through an open space.
I have come to the right place. I have come to the well, after a long and tiring journey. And it is a well that doesn’t run dry.
Hungry? Thirsty? Unsatisfied? Empty? At bottom? Restless? Disappointed? On rocky ground?
He’s got what will fill you. You just need to ask. If you do not ask, he can not and will not force it down your throat – he loves you too much for that. He is too patient for that. He’s just offering: I am the living water. I am the well that won’t run dry. I can fill you.
And I can wash you clean. Only I can do that, my dear child. Only I can do that.
There was this woman with a big “A” on her chest. No, not Hester Prynne from the Scarlet Letter, but her predecessor. Her name in the Bible is simply “a woman caught in adultery.” Maybe she is nameless because that’s how she felt the day the teachers of the law and Pharisees brought her to the center of town and made her stand in front of everyone so they could stone her, or at least jeer at her. Maybe that day she felt nameless … until Jesus stepped in.
As the story goes, the religious leaders tried to trick him into condemning this woman along with them, but Jesus refused. Instead he bent down silently, writing something in the sand with his finger (perhaps a list of their sins?). They kept questioning him, so finally he straightened up and said, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” At this, they all walked away.
“Woman, where are they?” he asked her. “Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she replied.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
The men had gathered to throw some stones that day. To point the finger and expose her shame. And Jesus certainly could have done the same. But he didn’t. He didn’t rebuke, criticize, judge, scorn, lecture or remind her of all the bad things she had done. Instead, he exposed their judgement: their shame. And he treated the woman with love and compassion.
Jesus had this compassion for people that is tough to find on earth, even in churches. As humans we feel compassion for children suffering disease, the poor and lame, those who experience a tragic loss. Compassion comes easily for the innocent.
But the guilty? Those who have clearly done wrong? Clearly forsaken their loved ones? Compassion simply is not the natural human response.
We all know people who we wish would change. We wish they would see the consequences of their poor choices. We wish they would see their sin, their shortcomings, their character flaws and fall at God’s feet saying, “I’ll change!” But this does not happen, so we argue, cry, plead, beg, criticize, scorn, remind them of their shortcomings … to no avail. Why doesn’t this approach work? Because judgment and shame do not bring about lasting change, which can only begin in the heart — the place where God and man meet one-on-one.
I have been called judgmental before — and I say that to my own shame. I see people who I love still trapped in the ways that I lived before Christ came into my life and became all that I needed . . . and I feel so helpless to get them out of that slavery to drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever it is that has them in that empty, repetitive cycle. And sometimes I may not throw a stone, but I might shake my head. I don’t think I’m better than them; I just feel so frustrated that they do not hand these things over to the only One who can truly turn their lives inside out.
But this is what God is teaching me: Jen, do not judge. It will never bring change. Only love will. Look at the world through my eyes. See the woman with the “A” branded on her chest as I do: as my child, lost and hurting. Hold out your hand to help her up, and if she does not take it, pray for her. Do not lift your hand to throw a stone — for you too were lost and alone; you too are in need of a Savior.
Who in your life might need less criticism from you and more compassion? Who do you wish would change? Try Jesus’ approach: faith that if they only knew how deeply you love them, how much you sympathize with whatever they are facing, they would change … for good.
Mary. The mother of God. The Sinless one. The Holy one. The Blessed Virgin. History has painted Mary as perfect. Having a Queen in Heaven who advocates on our behalf has been remarkably helpful for countless women. Since I was not brought up with religion, however, I have only the Scriptures to define what the mother of Jesus was like. Regardless of how history has framed her, the perfect Word reveals she is more like us than we might imagine.
According to Luke, she was a girl from Nazareth and a virgin engaged to be married to a carpenter. Reading her famous Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) reveals that the history of her people and her God were seared on Mary’s heart. Many have claimed that she was blessed with being the mother of the Messiah because of her purity, reverence and holiness. Certainly she was “highly favored with God,” in the words of the angel Gabriel. But let’s read what Elizabeth, her dear friend, exclaimed upon hearing Mary was pregnant with the Christ: “Blessed is she who …. Remains a virgin forever? Never sins? Never questions God? Memorizes Scripture?” No, Elizabeth cried out some of the most profound words women claim in all of Scripture: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” Blessed is she who has believed.
When the angel Gabriel first approached her, Mary was “greatly troubled.” And when he told her that she would be the mother of the Son of God, she definitely questioned it. “How could this be, for I am a virgin?” She asked.
“Nothing is impossible with God,” the angel told Mary.
Mary answered with the words God must long to hear from all of us: “I am the Lord’s servant,” she responded, “May it be to me as you have said.” And as any woman would do, she hurried to tell a friend. She and Elizabeth excitedly exchanged news, and Mary broke out in her song of praise, “the Magnificat”: “From now on all generations will call me blessed ….”
Unfortunately women over time have felt disconnected from Mary. She has seemed too perfect. We cannot relate to someone who never sinned and whose son never sinned. History’s framing of her as an eternal virgin is just too unrelatable. And yet, the Scriptures reveal that not only did she bear more children, but that she also needed a Savior: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” she said. She was as human and as in need of God as the rest of us. What is different about her, in the angel’s words, is that she was highly favored with God. This is the part that draws me to her, because I – like most of us – want blessing and favor with God.
Like Abraham, Mary’s faith was credited to her as righteousness. It wasn’t that she did everything right – in fact at the wedding at Cana she got on Jesus’ nerves a bit as she attempted to nudge him into public ministry. Later, while the crowds pushed against him, she sent someone in to get him, but he disregarded her call, remaining with the people who needed to hear his teaching most. Nevertheless, she was there outside the door –confused and afraid most likely – but ever faithful.
At Jesus’ baby dedication at the temple, the prophet Simeon turned to Mary and said that Jesus’ life would cause the rise and fall of many, and a sword would pierce her own soul too. At the cross, these words became an ominous foretelling of their fate: before her eyes her son was beaten and crucified by the very people he came to save. The child who had been born in her arms had grown into a man spat upon and despised by so many. Knowing he was God’s one and only Son must have caused her immeasurable sorrow. But when nearly all his disciples had run away in terror, faithful Mary remained at the foot of the cross until he gasped his last breath. Even after Jesus had returned to the Father, she gathered with all the believers in prayer.
The fact that she believed does not mean that she didn’t question, didn’t doubt, didn’t grieve and worry. But the fact that she believed was the source of her blessedness. The good news for us is that Scriptures show no evidence of her perfection, only her faith. 1 Peter 3:5 says the women of the past used to make themselves beautiful by putting their hope in God. To me, this is what makes Mary so beautiful: her hope.
Sometimes I want so badly to do something great. I see the suffering in the world and I want to solve it. But then I remember Mary. She simply opened herself as a vessel of His Spirit. Despite all questions, she believed. She allowed Christ to come inside of her, dwell and grow within her – literally. And from that faith was born the hope of the world.
What are you questioning God about right now? What makes you doubt? What makes you worry? Remember Mary. Open your heart as she opened her womb. Allow God’s plans to grow within you. Trust Him. From your faith great things can come. For it is only in the growth of His Spirit within us that real miracles are born. And through us, yes, God can touch suffering – and heal it.
Blessed is she who has believed.