Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Women and the Male Jesus

"......This important set of contemporary questions comes from women.  Can Jesus, a male, be a savior for females? Is the Christ figure a valid symbol for women, fostering in them a healthy integration of personality and acting as their chief help in experiences of God? Or has Christianity so identified the maleness of the historical Jesus with normative humanity that femaleness automatically falls to second-class citizenship in the community of God, a status we have seen historically translated as barring women from priestly office and power? Have women, by virtue of their sex alone been excluded from full representation in Christ's ministry, a sex that is somehow less important than the male in creation and redemption? Is Jesus' maleness so precisely identified with the divine Logos that femaleness is excluded from divine status and participation?

     These sorts of questions express concrete issues individual women and women in groups have experienced burningly.  They cannot be dismissed.....Women's questions here are more than questions. They are efforts to feel God's touch in the concrete existence of all sorts of people in  our society: God in relation to persons of different races, in relation to persons of different economic classes, in relation to persons of different political beliefs and different political powers, in relation to persons of different countries around the world, in relation to persons of different sexual attitudes and experiences. We live in a time when collectively and individually we see the God we touch and who touches us in all the places we live.....Our current ego-status--whether individually or in groups--can usurp first place for us, ahead of, before God. The question to the Jesus figure changes from Who are you? to Who are you for me? For us? The ego-reality of persons, with its demanding need to be secure, to achieve, to make a grand mark, can so dominate us that soon our address to God is not to God but to what we need God to be. The utilitarian attitude that inevitably accompanies the rise of contents to ego-consciousness can become our sole focus, so that our whole congress with the divine fastens around the way God might empower us or our group. Have we not seen such a preoccupation in recent definitions of God according to sex, color. political, or sexual orientation?

     When this danger captures us.....the symbol of the Christ who unites what we know with what we do not know collapses into a symbolic equation of the Christ figure with whatever our group norm is.  We take to ourselves the decision whether or not the symbol of Jesus Christ is a valid one anymore......

     In this way our concrete world and its important values elevates itself to cult-and-idol status. Sin creeps in, establishing itself in the citadel of our most cherished values. We look to the Christ figure with a new demand, that he conform to our concrete reality and values, instead of listening to his concrete word in text, in prayer, in parable, and presence.

     It is the very concreteness of Jesus, ironically, that will rescue us from this idolatry. Women, again with their questions, represent the shock we all feel in the face of this astonishing figure, specific, concrete, particular, who stands over against every definition and every abstraction we thrust upon him. The scandal of Jesus' particularity for women is that he is male. That is his offense. Further, this Jesus who is a man is manly--virile, not limp, related not brutish, commanding not patronizing, suffering not detached.  Nowhere in the texts of Scripture do we findJesus treating women in degrading ways.  Not once.  Indeed we find the opposite. To the Samaritan woman he announces that he is life-giving water. To Martha, he is the coming resurrection. To the Magdalene, he is risen.  He speaks theology with women, as well as summoning them, judging them, comforting them, using them to represent God in parables.  He shares his intimacy with women, praises them, forgives them, knows them. He really knew women's lives, really spoke to them, called them out to follow him.

     The concreteness of this person stands boldly against the ways we try to cover him, make use of him for cause, party, or platform as we abstract his particularity to illustrate our values. Looking at who Jesus is in Scripture is to liberate him from false abstraction.  He is the one who emptied himself to take on our humanity and bring a new humanity. What women face here so strongly is the journey of faith facing all of us. The question is, how to bring our concreteness to God, to look at and to hear who it is God sent to us.

     What, in fact, does Jesus show us concretely? He shows us the depths of the Christ who opens onto the infinity of God, the Christ in whom there is no male or female, the Christ who presides over all maleness and femaleness.  Responding to the concrete concerns of feminism, Jesus liberates us from the caricatures of patriarchy, revealing a living God who breaks through and transcends the divisions of sex among us, where being male does not equal excluding female. Here is an all-inclusive love and power that makes us one out of our distinct opposite parts. Thus we can grasp the experience of the saints who found in Jesus breasts, mothering, birthing--Bernard of Clairvaux, Julian of Norwich, Gherardesca of Pisa, Umilita and Margarita of Faenza, Aldobrandesca of Siena, to name just a few......"

--From The Christ and the Bodhisattva; Edited by Donald S. Lopez, Jr. and Steven C. Rockefeller; Chapter 4: The God You Touch, Ann Belford Ulanov; Sri Satguru Publications, Cc State University of New York, 1987; first published in Delhi, 1992.

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