Readings: Is. 43:16-21; Responsorial Psalm Ps 126:1-2.2-.4-5.6(3); Phil. 3:8-14 & Gospel Luke 8:1-11.
Theme: Filling the Gender Gap!
The first reading narrates how God delivered the people of Israel from their ordeal in Egypt. In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Philippians that he has accepted the loss of everything for the sake of Christ. The Gospel recalls how the Scribes and Pharisees brought in a woman whom they allegedly caught in the act of adultery. Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you. Go away and sin no more.” During this Lenten Season, we are charged to rise up to the occasion to condemn in totality, the discrimination and marginalization of women and girls.
Since the time of the Civil Rights Movement (mid-1950s) in the United States of America (USA) sparked off by the refusal of a black seamstress, Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama, public bus in 1955, the likes of Martin Luther King Jr and other feminists have risen to the occasion to condemn in totality, the discrimination and marginalization of women. Today, the consistency with which biblical principles are used to either argue for or against the discrimination of women is baffling. The good news is that in today’s gospel, Jesus addresses the issue (of discrimination of women) squarely.
Background & Summary of the Readings
The first reading (Is. 43:16-21) narrates how God delivered the people of Israel from their ordeal in Egypt. It equally tells how he urged the people not to brood over past events. On the contrary, he promised to do something new namely creating a road in the desert and rivers in wastelands. What is more, he notes that the wild animals would honour him for bestowing water in the land as well as the wastelands to the drinking pleasure of the chosen people. As a consequence, the reading states that, the elect would sing the praises of the Lord for his kindness.
In the second reading (Phil. 3:8-14), St. Paul tells the Philippians that he has accepted the loss of everything for the sake of Christ. He charges that if only he can find Christ, every other thing is filth. He maintained that he has gained uprightness not form the Law but from Christ based on faith and the power of the resurrection as he partakes in the passion. He noted that he is still struggling to win the prize for which Christ has called him. He emphasized that what is at stake is forgetting what is behind him in order to forge ahead to the finishing point to win the prize of God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.
The Gospel (Luke 8:1-11) recalls how the Scribes and Pharisees brought in a woman whom they allegedly caught in the act of adultery while Jesus was teaching in the Temple. They wanted to know his position concerning the crime because in the Law of Moses, women like these were stoned to death. They asked the question to put him to test. Jesus wrote on the ground and asked the first person without sin to cast the stone. They disappeared. And Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you. Go away and sin no more.” Since the woman did not commit adultery alone but was the only one condemned, this brings us to the issue of discrimination of women.
Biblical Examples of Discrimination of Women
- Susanna: In Daniel Chapter 13, Susanna, a fair Hebrew woman was falsely accused by two elders for sleeping with a young man. As she was bathing in her husband’s garden, she sent her attendants away. Just then, two lustful men secretly entered the garden and wanted to sleep with her but she resisted them. She shouted and they falsely accused her that of committing adultery with a young man. They claimed that the young man was too strong for them that is why he escaped. It took the Spirit of God in Daniel to rescue the daughter of Abraham from their claws.
- Mary Magdalene: Mary Magdalene, the prostitute who was exorcised of seven demons, suffered discrimination too. When the Pharisee who asked Jesus to come to his house saw her washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and rubbing them with perfume, he thought to himself: “If Jesus were a prophet, he would know that the woman touching him is a sinner” (Cf. Luke 7:36-50). No doubt, the Pharisee’s statement was condemnatory!
- The Woman of Samaria: The encounter between Jesus and the woman of Samaria (John 4:4-42) at Jacob’s well is one that relates to the discrimination of women. Little wonder the disciples wondered why Jesus was talking to a woman in public.
- Feeding of the Crowd: In the stories of the feeding of the four (Cf. Matthew 15:29-39) and five thousand (Cf. Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14) respectively, based on the Jewish culture, women and children were not counted – they didn’t matter. Yet, surprisingly, they would be more than men since women are naturally more religious than men.
Factors Responsible for Discrimination of Women
- Cultural, Religious and Societal Norms: In Africa, Asia, the Middle East and other parts of the world, cultural, religious and social norms are often advanced as reasons for not giving women equal opportunities like their male counterparts. We must no mistake roles for rights. However, what often plays out is that while women labour a lot in terms of child-bearing, caring and providing for their families plus doing domestic chores, they are the ones who suffer the most in terms of sexual and domestic violence, educational backwardness and other such abuses. The excuse that is often given is, according to our culture, “women are to be seen and not heard.”
- Male Chauvinism: The patriarchal nature of society has given men advantage over women. It is regrettable that in some cultures, women are denied basic rights to education or eating certain foods (egg and gizzard). In most cases, women cannot inherit property or even speak at family meetings. While they work like donkeys, their male counterparts are out there enjoying themselves. Men are presented as more superior to women. In fact, the woman is the property of the man. This fuels polygamy!
- Lack of Will-Power: While everyone is apparently not in support of the subjugation of women, there is lack of will-power by leaders and stakeholders to speak in favour of women rights. How many leaders and stakeholders have come out to speak about the release of Leah Sharibu, Alice Loksha and others who are still in the custody of Boko Haram? It is sad that the Affirmative Action Bill which sought 35 percent political participation for women in governance was rejected.
- Trust the Lord: The Lord who bestowed water in the wastelands for the drinking pleasure of his chosen people is able to restore the lost dignity of everyone especially abused-women if we trust in him.
- Offer Thanksgiving: Just as the first reading states that the elect would sing the praises of the Lord for his kindness, those whose dignity has been restored are challenged to offer thanksgiving to God.
- Give Up Everything: Like St. Paul in the second reading, we are urged to accept the loss of everything for the sake of Christ even as we keep struggling to win the prize of eternal glory for which he has called us.
- Resist Naming and Shamming: As Christians, we are warned to desist from “naming and shaming” or public-profiling of vulnerable groups as demonstrated by the Scribes and Pharisees who made the adulterous woman stand in the middle of the crowd to shame and disgrace her.
- Treat Women with Respect: Christians ought to understand that Jesus consistently treated women with respect that was why he refused to follow the discriminatory traditions and regulations which were held by the Scribes and Pharisees.
- The first reading narrates how God delivered the people of Israel from their ordeal in Egypt.
- In the second reading, St. Paul tells the Philippians that he has accepted the loss of everything for the sake of Christ.
- He charges that if only he can find Christ, every other thing is filth.
- The Gospel recalls how the Scribes and Pharisees brought in a woman whom they allegedly caught in the act of adultery.
- Jesus said: “Neither do I condemn you. Go away and sin no more.”
In conclusion, in a society where the girl-child is often discriminated upon, we urge parents and guardians, educationists and those who make our laws and apply them to always remember that male and female have equal value in the eyes of God. This was what Jesus preached and lived in his life. Amidst violent attack and abuses on women, we are urged to use the message of the adulterous woman to address the gender question in our communities.
We need more women activists in the mould of Rosa Parks like Oby Ezekwesili, Aisha Wakil, Maryam Uwais et al. Mind you, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit fell on both men and women (Cf. Acts 2:1-4, 17, 18). Since Christ the author and the finisher of our faith (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) did not condemn the adulterous women but charged her to go and repent, we are called upon to spread the message of love and forgiveness as we continue our annual Lenten observances. Have a blessed week!