“Trees Planted by Streams of Water”

Proverbs 31, Mark 9:30-37: True Discipleship #LikeAGirl (Sermon)

Introduction

You either love her or hate her; but all of you are opinionated about her. She’s either revered as the ultimate example of womanhood or she is despised as nothing but oppressive idealism unattainable by human standards. In academic circles she’s rarely if ever the topic of conversation: she’s relegated to an inferior position; that’s just about woman’s work.

Personally, I’m fascinated by her, ever since becoming a Christian I’ve marveled over her. At multiple points in my life, I’ve tried to be her only to fail. I’ve meditated on and prayed through the poem multiple times. It is no surprise to hear that I wrote a 100 page thesis on her. My question leading up to writing my MDiv thesis was: Why? Why is she here?

In and through my intellectual digging, I discovered an answer I wasn’t expecting. Rather than being a checklist for the proper execution of womanhood and wifery or some abstract communication about the people of God, the Church, she is, from head to toe, the manifestation of hope. And not just hope in general, but hope specific. She is the hope of restoration: restoration of woman to God and the restoration of the relationship between men and women. And even more than those two things, she is the manifestation of hope for humanity: what it means to be a good disciple.

It is my contention that she is an expression of the hope for the reversal of the curse of Genesis 3. She is hope for the longed for reversal that is to be completed in the coming Messiah—the Messiah to whom all of the Old Testament points. It is my belief that she is the signpost on the way to through the metanarrative of scripture that points to what comes in Christ. She is the embodiment of the hope embedded in the protoevangelium (the first gospel promise) uttered way back when in Gen 3:15 when God cursed the snake: “I will put enmity between you and the woman,/and between your offspring and hers;/he will strike your head,/and you will strike his heel.”

She doesn’t just point to Genesis 3 when everything goes bad; but to Genesis 1 and 2 when everything was very good. The poem draws us back to the cool air of the garden, when woman walked alongside man and they communed together in the presence of God, as co-vice-regents of the earth. The Proverbs 31 Woman is fighting a battle, not just keeping house. The warfare imagery throughout the poem leads us, the reader, to see a woman, to see a person who is fighting against the chaos established by the fall. The Proverbs 31 Woman is pointing back to Eve and Adam, and at the same time pointing forward—through the chaos of the fall—to Christ—who is the very image of God his Father in his divine substance (God of very God) and of Mary his Mother in his humanity. When God walked the earth he carried her face into the world. The woman was not forgotten when God became man. To over emphasize the masculinity of Jesus the Christ at the expense of the femininity of the one whom he looked like, is to devolve into a very bad Christology and a malnourished and weak God-talk (theology). Let us talk rightly, for ourselves and because the children are listening.

V.10: “An excellent wife who can find?/She is far more precious than jewels.” The way this question is phrased in the original language expects a negative answer. Who can find this excellent wife? No one. She is so “rare” that jewels do not compare to her. Even if you could “find” her, you couldn’t afford her anyway! VV.11-12: “The heart of her husband trusts in her,/and he will have no lack of gain./12 She does him good, and not harm,/all the days of her life.” She is mature in age and in spirit. Their relationship has weathered the trials of the passing years; she is not young nor is she a newly wed. She operates in love towards her husband, just as in the New Testament those who are in Christ are encouraged to operate in love towards one another.[1] He knows that she loves him; there is no doubt, no worry, no wonder; he is confident in her love toward her. And in that he knows she loves him, his heart trusts in her. Much like a child trusts his mother.

V.13: “She seeks wool and flax,/and works with willing hands.” She can use a broad spectrum of materials to create things—she is capable, creative and astute. There is nothing wasteful about her handling of materials; everything is put to use in some way or another (v.13). V.14: “She is like the ships of the merchant;/she brings her food from afar.” She provides for her family. She’s not just making meals, she’s enjoying the bounty created by God and deemed enjoyable by Him.[2] She takes pleasure in the world just as God did and does; just as humanity did and should. V.15: “She rises while it is yet night/and provides food for her household/and portions for her maidens.” She is not given to too much sleep; she is not lazy. However, though she is diligent throughout her days, her work is not her lord (work is its proper place, under her dominion). She does not neglect her household—those who depend on her—for her own pleasures. Both men and women are to be active and care for others and not act like disinterested selfish slugabeds.[3] Oh, and by the way, she’s wealthy: she has servant girls! Even if this was about “works,” She does NOT bare that responsibility alone.

V.16: “She considers a field and buys it;/with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.” She has investment-like foresight. She re-invests; she does not earn gain for gain’s sake. Her very fruitfulness (prosperity) is evidence that she is sowing righteous seed in righteous soil and continually replants the fruits of her hand.[4] V.17: “She dresses herself with strength/and makes her arms strong.” Strength is one of her foremost qualities. Her arms are strong for the task…she is able to get things done, especially in ‘planting’ a vineyard. She is not afraid of hard work or of labor. [5] Meek and mild? Think again! Think: Princess Xena. Think: Wonder Woman: Think: Amazon. Think: Frontier Woman. Weaker sex, eh?

V.18: “She perceives that her merchandise is profitable./Her lamp does not go out at night.” This is not about having a home-based business. This is creational language reminiscent of Genesis, “And God saw that it was good.”[6] She is a creature that was gifted to use her mind and her hands to make. And she uses this ability to purchase the oil for her lamp and keep a store of oil so that her lamp will not go out. She is, essentially, prepared with enough oil to provide light for a long time; she’s one of the wise virgins with a trimmed wick waiting for the Lord to return.[7] V.19: “She puts her hands to the distaff,/and her hands hold the spindle.” There’s more to the imagery here than sewing. What is the distaff and spindle imagery depicting? A valid definition for the Hebrew word translated as spindle is “district”.[8] She puts her hands to the district; she extends her hands and subdues the earth as the manifestation of one of the commands of God in the Garden (reversal of 3:16ff). [9]

V.20: “She opens her hand to the poor/and reaches out her hands to the needy.” She is caring for the poor and afflicted by “extending her hands” as was required by every Israelite (Deut. 15:11). She is the godly person for whom Micah seeks as he walks around the streets, for her hands stretch out and do “good” (7:1-7). She represents what it means to be truly human: caring for the disenfranchised; she is being used as what it means to love your neighbor as yourself;.[10] V.21-22: “She is not afraid of snow for her household,/for all her household are clothed in scarlet./She makes bed coverings for herself;/her clothing is fine linen and purple.” The poem covers many seasons, winter being one of them. The poem does not just cover this woman’s day, but this woman’s entire life. The reference to her household being clothed in scarlet is synonymous with her wealth; she is a wealthy woman and has clothed her household in good, warm clothing.

V.23: “Her husband is known in the gates/when he sits among the elders of the land.” Her husband sits among the elders so he is older, thus she is, too. Notice that there have been 12 verses since her husband has been mentioned. This woman is not defined by him and her service to him, but by her own qualities, V.24: “She makes linen garments and sells them;/she delivers sashes to the merchant.” She is aware that her deeds are worthy and, thus, she does not hesitate to capitalize on them. She is wise and can bring in her own income, which she uses to the benefit of her household.[11] V.25: “Strength and dignity are her clothing,/and she laughs at the time to come.” It is through her relationship with God, it is in her fear of the Lord (v.30) where these characteristics of strength and dignity are sourced. These characteristics are evident to everyone who meets her. V.26: “She opens her mouth with wisdom,/and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” And her words back this up; they are described as wise. Her outward appearance and inward manner are one in the same; she is not a white-washed tomb. The state and orientation of her heart is righteous for what flows out of her is righteous. In Mark 7, Jesus explains it is what comes out of and not what goes into that defiles a person; our Proverbs 31 woman speaks wisdom and thus is wise and you can only be wise if you know God (according to the Hebrew and our own tradition). She knows Torah (rare); she knows and is known by God.

V.27: “She looks well to the ways of her household/and does not eat the bread of idleness.” V.28-29: “Her children rise up and call her blessed;/her husband also, and he praises her:/“Many women have done excellently,/but you surpass them all.” “This one at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” is akin to the statement of the husband in the poem in Proverbs 31, “Many women have done well, But you surpass them all.”[12] V.30-31: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,/but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised./Give her of the fruit of her hands,/and let her works praise her in the gates.” This is the key to the whole poem! It is her inner-beauty, her fear of the Lord that has been the eye-catching aspect of this woman from v.11 to v.30. Her strength and dignity come from her relationship with God; her wisdom, too, is of God (Prov. 1:7).

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,

nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3)

The proverbs 31 woman is a glimpse of a restored Eve and a restored relationship of Eve to God; thus, a glimpse of the restoration of the relationship of woman to man.[13] But it’s not only about that. If we take the creation myth of Genesis 2 seriously, and see it primarily as a story about the creation of (thus the necessity of) community in likeness and difference (which is the extinguishing of loneliness), then what we see here, too, is the restoration of Humanity. The Proverbs 31 woman is clearly the embodiment of the ideal humanity yanked out of the chaos and myths of the world–a world broken by oppressive and deleterious systems of abuse in manifold forms–and placed into the Reign of God. Located in the reign of God in the event-encounter with God by faith in Christ alone. And this Reign of God is marked by love and kindness, by mercy and divine justice in restoration and reconciliation, in freedom for all or freedom for none, in the solidarity in suffering and pain and grief and sorrow, in the equality and mutuality in community that lives the very thing believed: that the dividing wall has been torn down, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male and female (Gal 3:28). To be truly human, to be the faithful disciple in the world, is to act as the Reign of God is; to act like the Proverbs 31 woman.

The remarkable thing about our readings today is not just the fact that we read the Proverbs 31 poem and that you happen to have in your midst a self-proclaimed P. 31 scholar (*wink), but that our Gospel passage, from Mark, works with the Proverbs reading. Jesus spends time explaining to his disciples what it means to be a good disciple (and the Gospel of Mark is directed at such a specific message): If anyone wishes to be first, he must be last and servant of all people (9:35, translation mine). He then (immediately) snags a small child and places that child in the midst of his cadre of disciples. Jesus lowers himself, puts his arms around the child and says this, Whoever receives one such as this child on the basis of my name, that person receives me; and whoever receives me, does not receive (only) me, but the one who sent me (v37, translation mine). Whoever receives into their arms, intimately, one such as this child receives me. Receives one such as this child. And I am relocated to when I reached for and held my first born son, just born; receive one such as this child. According to Jesus, to be and do the will of God is to love like a mother.

Even Paul, in the letter to the Ephesians uses mothering imagery to explain what agape love (divine love) looks like to the men/husbands in Ephesus. In a discussion about what mutual submission looks like, Paul shorthands a quick statement to the wives: each to their own husbands as unto the Lord. (Full Stop.) He then turns to the husbands: y’all best sit down for this…Paul begins. What do I mean by love and mutual submission the women get, but you don’t because you’ve never brought a child into the world. The washing imagery of 5:25-28 is less to do with “baptism” and everything to do with the washing of a child by the mother.

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”

A regular practice of mothers in the ancient Greco-Roman society was to forgo their own cleanliness in order to wash their child. Just like our own bodies betray us in gestation, so to do our brains in consistently choosing the well being of our child over our own. It’s why mothers do weird things (because they’re tired and they’re in love). The men would’ve washed themselves first, but the mother would’ve washed the baby first. This Paul uses as an example for the men, they would’ve seen it practiced in their own homes and boy would that message had been radical. Paul knew that women understood “mutual submission”; not only because they had to endure it socially and politically but also because they couldn’t deny it relationally (as a mom). They knew instinctively what that agape love was.

If you’ve ever wondered why the women are always getting “it” in the gospels, if you’ve ever wondered why the women seem to understand what and why Jesus came, you now have your answer: the activity of God for the world has not only paternal but also significant maternal power. And if you know agape love you recognize agape love.

Mark 15, the women watch Jesus die; they knew. Mark 7, the Syrophoenician woman; she knew. Mark 14, the woman who anoints Jesus in Bethany; she knew. Mark 5, the woman suffering from perpetual bleeding; she knew. John 4, the Samaritan woman at the well; she knew. Luke 10, Mary at Jesus’s feet; she knew. They all knew in the core of their being; they knew.

We see Jesus the man in his strong masculine form and forget that he’s God who is both male and female and thus embodies also the strength and dignity of the paradoxical gentleness and fierceness of the feminine. Both men and women, in Christ, justified by faith, are to receive and love all people unto the least, like a mother. It’s not reception as in tolerance; it’s life laying down neighbor love, the way a mother loves her child. Believe me, Jesus loves the whole world. He loves in the way that he bore the sins of the world just like a woman bears a child into it. In the same way she holds that child to her breast as she nurtures and sustains that child. In the same way a mother will lay her life down for her child no matter what the threat or possible destruction she herself will undergo.

Both men and women are encountered by God in the event of faith. Both men and women are called to be disciples of Christ marked by laying down of their lives and in bearing their crosses. Both men and women are brought unto death and into new life in Christ. Together.  Good news has come to the world in Christ Jesus this man who is God. And no longer bound to the systems and stories and lies of the world, believers are the ones who live into the world in a radical way; the one’s who know God and live as if they do. Today through the words of the poem of Proverbs 31 and in Jesus’s embracing a child, we are called to be the faithful witnesses of Christ in the world, to proclaim Christ crucified to the world in all that we say and in all that we do, and to love (radically) all people and the world as we have been loved (radically and unconditionally) by God. Let us love, let us love like a mother loves her child, love like the Proverbs 31 Woman, love like the women who knew, love #likeagirl.

[1] (1 Cor. 13; Eph. 5, Love your neighbor as yourself)

[2](DBI 297) “God not only provides, and provides abundantly for his creatures, but he also provides an immense variety of pleasurable flavors, textures, colors, shapes and smells, all of which indicate the joy and delight of the creator with his creation”

[3] (Prov. 6:6, 9; 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30)

[4] (v. 16; Gen. 1:28; Mt. 25:14-30).

[5] “Both the arm and the hand are biblical images of power….[and] can represent power in action, either good or evil” (DBI 43)

[6] (Gen. 1:10b, 12c, 18c, 20e, 25c, 31b)

[7] (Mt. 25:1-13)

[8] (Moore 25-30; BDB 813; cf. Nehemiah)

[9] (Gen. 1:24, Gen. 2:18)

[10] (Lev. 19:18; Mt. 22;39; Mk. 12:31; Lk. 10:27; Rom. 13:9; Gal. 5:14)

[11] (Gen. 1:24, 28)

[12] “In order to understand what follows, we must turn at once to the final goal: ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh,’ is the cry of man when God brings him the woman. This exclamation, the expression of a recognition, the proclamation of a choice and decision made by man—the first saying of man expressly recorded in the saga—is not just a kind of epilogue to the creation of the woman, and therefore the completion of man’s creation, but it is with this express saying of man that the latter reaches its goal…The whole story aims at this exclamation by man. In this, and this alone, the creative work of God reaches its goal, for only now has man really been given the necessary help designed by God” (CD III I.41.3 291).

[13] Erika Moore’s Exegesis paper, “The Domestic Warrior: An Exegesis of Proverbs 31:10-31”. 1994. (14).

You Can’t Get There From Here

John 6:35, 41-51 (Sermon)

“You can’t get there from here,” I said to the person sitting in their car.

“But isn’t this Pine Street?” They asked, a bit desperate.

“Yes,” I assured. “It is Pine Street. But the part of Pine Street you’re looking for isn’t connected—in any way—to this segment of Pine Street. You actually have to go down this road, take a left, go up two blocks, take a right, then you take the next life, follow that road for a few blocks, take a left, and then take your next left, then drive a few blocks, and then you’ll see the part of Pine Street you’re looking for on your right.” I finished on a very confident note.

The driver of the maroon sedan looked over his left shoulder and down a small portion of Pine Street clearly visible through his back window. “But, isn’t it just right there?” He pointed to a cluster of trees and a dead-end no more than 50 yards away. His eyes communicated his confusion and maybe even a small amount of panic. Good Lord. What dimension have I fallen into??

I turned to look in the direction he was pointing. I smiled, chuckled, and said, “Yup. It’s right there. Someone could easily throw a rock and hit that house you want to get to.” And then I turned back to look at my confused traveler. I smiled as reassuringly as I could, and said, “Welcome to Pittsburgh.” I sent him on his way and encouraged him that he’ll eventually get there, but that he’ll also probably have to stop and have this very conversation a few more times. But, hey! Isn’t life about being on a meandering journey and making many new acquaintances on the way?

Pittsburgh was notoriously hard to navigate via car. I don’t think I ever audibly uttered the sentiment, “If I just had a horse, this whole thing would be easier,” more than I did when I lived in Pittsburgh. At one point in our little-more-than-a-decade there, I was convinced that Down Town Pittsburgh itself, the actual city of Pittsburgh, had a magical force field around it. If you didn’t hit it just right, you’d bounce off it and be sent into a long and major tunnel that would drop you off somewhere else where you’d whisper while curiously looking around and out of all the angles of your windshield, “Huh, I didn’t know this was part of Pittsburgh…” Then 40 minutes later and finally having found a place to turn around (legally or illegally, desperation gets the best of all us), you’d find yourself headed back for round two, “Hold on, Kids! Mama’s breaking through this time! Children’s Museum or Bust!”

You can’t get there from here.

Jesus said to them, “I, I am the bread of life; the one who comes to me will not hunger, and the one who believes in me will not thirst at any time…And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not grumble with one another. No one is able to come to me if the father, the one who sent me, does not draw them…It is written in the prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ All the ones who heard and learned from the father come to me (John 6:35, 43-45; translation mine)

The tension of the paradox embedded in this portion of our Gospel passage is palpable. Jesus explains in v. 35, “The one who comes to me will neither hunger nor will they thirst ever again…” And then Jesus adds, “No one comes to me unless the Father draws them.” This is the divine, “You can’t get there from here.” “Come to me but only if you’ve been called.” “I’m calling your name, but only if you’ve been given ears to hear me.” In this verbal moment, those who are listening to Jesus are all stuck in a maroon sedan, unable to get to the location they want to get to: satiating bread and thirst quenching water. The destination is so close and also so far away, it’s right there within reach and just beyond their grasp. These verses highlight that the people Jesus is addressing are very much in a bad way; they’re stuck. Like Nicodemus before them in John 3, “How can anyone…?”

We’re stuck, too. We spend most of our days endlessly running and running and running, and the entire time we are going absolutely nowhere. Days bleed into each other, the same thing over and over and over again, the distinction that used to be big and bold between Thursday night and Friday night has nearly vanished—weekdays and weekends are all just days. Demands come and demands are met; and again, tomorrow, those same demands will come trouncing back in to our lives, asking to be met with the same answers and actions. Day in and day out we are chained to the treadmill of life that forces us to run at a demanding pace, that causes us to slowly and surely turn in on ourselves so much that we eventually begin looking like tightly coiled springs that are made of flesh and bone.

We live in the paradox of being “alive” but also very dead at the same time. We’re stuck in an endless cycle that is death pretending to be life—we joke, “Life, am I right?” We comfort others and ourselves as we run about this rat-race with contrite phrases and some version of “misery loves company” and console ourselves into accepting that this living death as living life. But it’s not, it’s no joke, and it’s certainly no comfort. And, I ‘m not speaking of the monotony of life that I referenced a couple of weeks ago. And, I’m not speaking against various forms of self-improvement. What I’m speaking of is the striving after our own self-justification, the desperate activity we employ to make ourselves “ok” not only in our own eyes but in the eyes of others and in the eyes of God; I’m speaking against our frantic and frenetic activity that is the hallmark of the sham existence that is desperately trying to stave off the reality that death (in its myriad of existential forms) comes and you’re helpless against it. No matter how much food we eat or how much water we drink, death still comes; [1] to think we can avoid death through any of our own actions is to attempt to grasp oil with the hand. This type of striving and living is a sham living, is a barely alive version of death; and it is very real. We’re the walking dead and no wonder most of us were riveted to that show for months and months—it strikes very close to home.

The worst part of what I’ve been describing is that we’re hopeless to remedy the situation of our living-deadness in and of ourselves; we’re helpless to help ourselves out of this death like living. No Zombie can unzombify itself; the walking dead have no hope apart from the quick activity of a sharp blade. No one stuck on this treadmill of life can just turn the treadmill off and take a break because this treadmill doesn’t have an on/off switch or a pause button; and it’s ill advised to just step off because that way lies either certain disfiguring injury or death. We’re stuck, very stuck unless someone trips us up and throws our incurvatus in se focus out of alignment. Anyone who comes to me will never thirst or hunger again…but the ones who come only come because the Father draws them. Apart from some miracle of radical intervention, we can’t get there from here.

‘…Not that anyone has seen the father except the one who is from God, this one has seen the father. Truly, truly I say to you, “the one who believes has eternal life.” I, I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness and they died. This one who came down from heaven is the bread, in order that anyone may eat of it and not die. I, I am the living bread, the one who came down from heaven…’ (John 6:46-51a, translation mine)

We need an intervention and that intervention necessitate having our dire state exposed and revealed to us. It’s not until we get the right diagnosis that we can then get the very help we need. In our gospel passage from John, Jesus is the one who has come down from heaven to reveal to us God and to give the dry bones, the walking dead life, true life—not the living deadness we call life. Jesus is the Revealer, the one who has descends into our plight, exposes our dire situation, calls us to him, feeds us with the bread of life, quenches our thirst with living water (John 4), sends the darkness permanently fleeing with his light (John 1:5), and summons the dead to life. [2]

Deuteronomy 30 verses 11-14 we read:

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ either is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.”

We can’t get there from here. But the good news is God crosses the vast distance to us. The incarnate word, the word made flesh, Christ the Revealer, descends from heaven and crosses the sea to us. No matter how much we think that demand rests on our shoulders, it doesn’t. You can’t climb up into heaven and you can’t walk across water. The paradox and tension embedded in our gospel passage is real, but it is of great comfort, too. God has descended. God has come down from heaven and has entered into our world, not hovered a bit above it or dwelled about over in the sidelines, but into it, in it, in the midst of the people.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth…From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1:14, 16-18).

Just a few chapters before our gospel passage we read about the “Samaritan Woman” who has trudged off to the well to fetch water under the heat of the noonday sun. There at the well, she encounters Christ who is sitting on the ground reclined against the well. Jesus the incarnate word is physically down low; the word made flesh dwells low in a Samaritan village talking to a Samaritan.

“Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?…Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’” (John 4:10-15)

Descent is exactly the verbal thrust of what “incarnation” means and is. It doesn’t mean that God took on flesh and then remained out of reach; it means God was very much in reach, touchable by us as we are. It means: we might not be able to get there from here, but sure as heck God can.

Because God has come to us, because God has descended from heaven and has traversed the sea to get to humanity, to get to us, faith is now possible[3] because the author of faith, God, has come to us to create that which God desires. The static voice of the law couldn’t generate faith, only something dynamic—something living, breathing, thirst-quenching, hunger-satisfying—could generate faith. Not the commands of God but God in God’s self in Christ Jesus comes down into the world to dwell among humanity, calling humanity unto God’s self. To gaze upon Christ is to gaze upon God; [4] the great “I am” walks among the people and calls them to him thus to God; this is who is speaking, the one we desire and long for. [5]

We do not receive of some measly bread loaves and a couple of fish and wash it down with a bit of water drawn from a human made, earthy well—these items mentioned by Jesus symbolically represent that everything we desire, our deepest needs are met in God by faith.[6] In faith in Christ we receive more than what any bread or water could ever give us: we receive God, thus life.[7]

And this goes against everything that makes sense to us; in fact it’s an offense to us and to the world.[8] Jesus, the “son of Joseph and Mary”, is the Revealer, is the έγώ-είμι that walks about on the earth encountering humanity, up-ending our expectations and desires, and putting a cessation to our demands. We are stripped down of all of our false beliefs and comforting myths; not even our real hunger and our real thirst will save our hide.[9] Everything we are striving after is as if we are striving after the wind. We need the real manna[10] (cf. Ex. 16) from heaven and the waters from the real Rock (cf. Ex. 17): “…the bread [and water] of God is the Revealer who comes from heaven and gives life to the world.” What Christ reveals is that we need him.[11]

In that we are made to realize in the revelation by the Revealer, by Christ, that we do not need more bread and water, but that we need him, we find ourselves falling to our knees with empty hands outstretched and eager to partake of Christ—because Christ is the both the foundation and orientation of faith.[12] We find ourselves forfeiting our rights to ourselves and to our self-justifications and our sham existence.[13] In this moment of our desperation, in the coming-to-the-end of ourselves, and in being completely undone, we paradoxically find ourselves—in the event of faith—fully alive in this wholly other, we find ourselves fully alive in God by faith alone in Christ alone by grace alone.[14] When we let go of ourselves and suffer that death, we find ourselves called back to life by the voice of God in Christ.[15]

“I, I am the living bread, the one who came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live into eternity, and also the bread that I, I will give—my flesh—it is for the sake of the life of the world” (John 6:51, translation mine)

The love of God can neither be contained in heaven, nor can it be contained within God’s self alone. It’s a love that is both dynamic and active and moves and goes to the furthest recesses of the world to seek and save the beloved: you and me, the disciples way back when and all who are to come, the whole entire world. [16]

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17) 

It is a love that descends and hovers over the surface of the waters and the land as it did way back when in Genesis (cf. Gen 1:1-5). In the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, in the totality of who Christ is and what Christ did, Christ is for all of humanity.[17] And in that we have heard and seen, in that we have partaken of the living bread and living water given to us in Christ received by faith, we are sent forth in to the world moved by the Spirit who’s mission is to continue to reveal to the world this man Christ Jesus who is God and to draw all people unto God through faith in Christ.

Just as the love of God manifest in Christ Jesus was not static but dynamic, so to are we made to be dynamic and not static. We weren’t able to get there from here, but God met us. And we are to bring this encounter out and beyond the four walls of this church. We are not to be lights dwelling with other lights; we are to be lights unto and into the world, casting away darkness with the light of life. We who have been encountered by a wholly other God go forth into the world making a wholly other society.[18] As we are fed with the bread and water of Christ by faith, we go out and literally feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are naked, shelter those who are homeless, befriend those who are lonely, and reunite those who have been separated. We are drawn unto God and exhorted to live wholly different in a world that is tethered to it’s own addiction to the status-quo, controlled by the myths circulating and running amuck and oppressing people with fear, stuck in an incessant need to meet real hunger and thirst with things that never bring relief and only bring death: death to those who are starving from consuming and death to those because they are being consumed. We are left in our encounter with God without reason or excuse not to be about the business of upending injustice.

By the movement of the Spirit in our lives and because we have heard and have seen and have eaten and have tasted, we are to be humans in a world that behaves and acts rather inhuman.[19]

Borrowing from the words of Paul to the Ephesians,

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (4:31-5:2) 

Let us go forth into the world, bringing the very life and light we have received here in hearing and seeing and partaking of Christ through faith in Christ to a world that is desperately in need of life and light. Let us go forth into the world, rejoicing in the power of the spirit, proclaiming to a hungry and thirsty world: We couldn’t get there from here but God has crossed the divide, God has come to us! Let us go forth in to the world proclaiming, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him!” (Psalm 34:8).

[1] Rudolf Bultmann The Gospel of John: A Commentary. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 1971). v.27 “This warning is again delivered against the background of Johannine ‘dualism”’ It is open for all to understand; for it is addressed, as of the living water, to man’s will for life. It brings home to man that life is not assured by human food; for such food is perishable as is the life which it gives. If man wants eternal life, he must find the food which endures. But what is this miraculous food, and where is it be found?“ p. 222

[2] Bultmann, “For here the bread of life which the Father gives by sending the Son from heaven (vv. 32f.) is the Son the Revealer. He gives (v. 27) and is (vv. 35,48,51) the bread of life, in the same way that he gives the water of life (4.10) and is the light of the (8.12), and as the Revealer gives life to the world (v. 33; cp. 10.28; 17.2)—to those, that is, who “come” to him (v. 35; cp. 3.20f.; 5.40), who believe in him (v. 35; and cp. 3.20f. with 3.18). In all of this there is no need for a sacramental act, by means of which the believer must make the life his own.” p. 219

[3] Bultmann, “On the other hand vv. 41-46 again form a closely-knit unit. The Jews’ unbelief, which finds expression in their murmuring (vv. 41f.), is traced back to its metaphysical roots: the possibility of faith is given only by God (vv. 43-46). The reference to faith here as “coming to Jesus” gives the theme of “coming” its organic place within the dialogue, and vv. 36-40 would doubtless most appropriately follow on vv. 41-46.” p. 221. And, Έγώ-είμι “…shows Jesus as the true bread of life and confronted man with the decision of faith in the form of a promise. In the second part the express theme is the possibility of faith….” p. 229

[4] Bultmann, “’In the έγώ-είμι statements Jn. 6.35, 48, 51; 8.12; 10.7, 9, 11, 14; 15.1, 5 we clearly have recognition formulae, even if in the source they were perhaps intended as presentation or qualificatory formulae. For in the context of the Gospel the έγώ is strongly stressed and it is always contrasted with false or pretended revelation (cf. 6.49-51; 10:10, 11-13; cp. also 5.43). On the other hand 11.25, and perhaps too 14.6, are probably identification formulae.” 226fn3

[5] Bultmann, “Jesus’ reply (v. 35), expressed by means of the revelatory formula, έγω είμι, says that what they are looking for is present in his person…” p. 225

[6] Bultmann, “In the promise the fulfillment of man’s desire for life is split up into the stilling of man’s hunger and the stilling of his thirst…symbolic meaning of άρτος, and the identity of the bread of life and the living water.” p. 227fn3

[7] Bultmann, “The whole paradox of the revelation is contained in this reply. Whoever wants something from him must know that he has to receive Jesus himself. Whoever approaches him with the desire for the gift of life must learn that Jesus is himself the gift he really wants. Jesus gives the bread of life in that he is the bread of life. Yet he is the bread of life surely because in his person he is nothing in himself, but is present in the service of the Father for man. Whoever wishes to receive life from him must therefore believe in him—or, as it is figuratively expressed must ‘come to him.’” p.227

[8] Bultmann, “The murmuring of the Jews (v. 41) is directed against the decisive έγώ είμι in ν. 51. The claim of revelation provokes the opposition of the world. It takes offence at the fact that the revelation encounters it in history; it is offended by the fact that the man, whose father and mother they know, claims to be the Revealer (v. 42).” P. 229

[9] Bultmann, “…God’s revelation destroys every picture which desires make of it, so that the real test of man’s desire for salvation is to believe even when God encounters him in a totally different way from that which he expected.” p. 228

[10] Bultmann, “The contrast is first made in general terms. The manna could not give life; the fathers who ate it the bread of heaven (v. 50). This is again followed in v. 51a by the word of revelation: ‘I am the one who fulfills that which is said about the bread of heaven’.” p. 229

[11] Bultmann, “V. 32 had stated that only God gives the bread of heaven, and v. 33 added that the bread of God is the Revealer; vv. 47f. now completes the argument by declaring, “I am he!” What is true in principle has become historical reality in Jesus’ person.” p. 229

[12] Bultmann, “Since hearing and learning from the Father are basically nothing other than faith, i.e., coming to Jesus, the statement is a paradox which makes clear the nature of faith. It means that only he who believes, believes; but this is to say that faith has no support outside itself; it sees what it sees only in faith….For faith is related to its object; it is a relationship to that which is believed and as such it has its own security, which can rest only in the object of faith: τον ερχόμενον πρός με ού μή εκβάλω εξω. Faith is sure of only as it seizes hold of the promises made to it.” P. 232

[13] Bultmann, “Thus the Jews with their objection do not see that the divine cannot be contrasted with the human in the confident way in which they say, ‘How can an ordinary man claim to be the Revealer!’ For this is the very absurdity which the event of revelation proclaims; and the condition of its understanding is that [humanity] should relinquish the assurance with which [humanity] believes [humanity] can pass judgement on the human and the divine as objectively determinable phenomena.” p.230

[14] Bultmann, “It is not that [one] has the possibility of a special and direct relationship to God; for this can be said only of the Revealer; any other relationship to God must be mediated by the Revealer” p. 232

[15] Bultmann, “…faith becomes possible when one abandons hold on one’s own security, and to abandon one’s security is nothing else than to let oneself be drawn by the Father….[This drawing] is not a magic process, nor is it governed by rigid laws like the laws of nature. It occurs when man abandons his own judgement and ‘hears’ and ‘learns’ from the Father, when he allows God to him. The ‘drawing’ by the Father occurs not, as it were. Behind man’s decision of faith but in it. He who comes to Jesus, however, receives the promise, ‘I will not reject him’.” pp. 231-2

[16] Karl Barth CD III.2.45.213 “…and most powerfully of all Jn. 651 Tells us that ‘the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give —a saying which finds as exact parallel in the well-known verse Jn. 316, where we read that ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son.’ What Jesus is ‘for us’ or ‘for you’ in the narrower circle of the disciples and the community He is obviously, through the ministry of this narrower circle, ‘for all’ or ‘for the world’ in the wider or widest circle. And in the majority of the relevant passages this action of Jesus for others (His disciples, His community, the many, ail, the world) is His death and passion. This is the primary reference of the more general expressions which speak of His self-offering for men.”

[17] Karl Barth CD III.2.45.214 “It must not be forgotten that as the New Testament sees it man Jesus who was given up to death is identical with the Lord now living and universally visible return is for the community the sum of their future and of that of the world. He has overcome death in suffering it. He has risen again from the dead. And it is in this totality that He is ‘for men.’”

[18] W. Travis McMaken Our God Loves Justice: an introduction to Helmut Gollwitzer. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2017). “That is, [Gollwitzer] clarifies for us that there is no such thing as a theologically neutral political position. Either one advocates and undertakes political steps to combat the socioeconomic privilege that oppresses immense swaths of the world’s population, or one is a heretic—unfaithful to the God encountered in the event of faith. For this ‘wholly other God wants a wholly other society’ in which all forms of privilege are abolished and social structures ever increasingly approximate the true socialism of the kingdom of God. And why does God want this? Because our God loves justice.” pp. 166-7.

[19] Helmut Gollwitzer The Way to Life: Sermons in a Time of World Crisis. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981). “What is the mission of Jesus? To make men human, to make inhuman men human, brotherly, for the sake of God’s brotherliness, because in humanity and unbrotherliness is destroying all of us.” p. 21.

A Window into the Past: Women, Greco-Roman Society, and the Pastorals (part VI : Ephesians 5:15-33)

Ephesus in Brief

“‘Ephesian and Roman were no longer mutually exclusive categories,’ is significant for this study.  There was no substantial distinction between a major city of Asia Minor, Roman Corinth and Rome itself; such was the ready embracing of Romanization” (Ando qtd in Winter 97).  Ephesus was the “…urban hub and provincial capital of Asia”, which is now the western part of modern Turkey (Belleville 735).  Ephesus was the home to the “…temple of Artemis, the Anatolian goddess of fertility, acclaimed as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  In fact, the city was named the temple warden of Artemis (Acts 19:35)” (Belleville 735).  The temple cult was an important aspect to the religious and economic properties of Ephesus, so much so that there was a two-hour-long chant praising Artemis of the Ephesians (Acts 19:28-36), and the belief that “…the city possessed Artemis’s image, supposedly fallen from Jupiter (acts 19:35)” (Belleville 735).  Towner writes, “Ephesus was famed for its cult and temple dedicated to the worship of Artemis, around which a good deal of the city’s commercial interests revolved.  It also had a large Jewish colony.  Ephesus presented the gospel with a formidable challenge in that it was a center of pagan worship” (Towner 21).

Belleville comments on the appeal of the Artemis cult on women,

Artemis, it was believed, was the child of Zeus and Leto, and the sister of Apollo.  Because of the severity of her mother’s labor, Artemis never married.  Instead she turned to a male consort for company.  This made Artemis and all her female adherents superior to men.  Artemis was also seen as the mother goddess, the author  of life, the nourishers of all creatures and the power of fertility in nature.  Maidens turned to her as the protector of their virginity, barren women sought her aid, and the women in labor turned to her for help (735).

In regards to the church in Ephesus, there was a multitude of false-teaching affecting the growing church.  Belleveille explains, “…[there were at] least five components to the false teaching.  Esoteric knowledge….Asceticism….Dualis[ism]….Jewish [influence by the Circumcision group]….[and] positing of mediators through which contact between a material creation and a spiritual God was accomplished.  Christ was held up as one of them…” (Belleville 735).

Eph. 5:15-33

vv.22-25. The women of Ephesus would not have been shocked to hear the command from Paul to submit to their husbands.  How could it have been shocking? It was commonly understood that women would submit to me. However,  as Liefeld points out, the shocking news “…was that such submission now (1) was to be done for the sake of the lord (v.22) and (2) was balanced by the love of the husband even to the point of self-sacrifice (v.25)” (142).  In other words, taking our queue from Ephesians 5:21 (“submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ”) submission is now mutual. The mutuality of submission would have been the shocking news, and not that wives should submit to their husbands. Paul’s language subverts the role of Patria Potesta in a subtle yet revolutionary way.

Leifeld comments,

It is striking that there is no command here for the husband to rule his wife.  His only instruction is to love and care for her.  The husband should not claim authority over his wife the way a Roman man used to.  In that system, which underwent changes during the period of the early empire, a woman used to be under the manus (‘hand’) of the father and at marriage came under the control of her husband (Liefeld 142).

Taking into account what has been written thus far about the Greco-Roman society and the role of the father, Paul’s language in this periscope provides three extremely counter-cultural statements.  The first statement is the concept of mutual submission (just referenced briefly above).  Following the flow of thought from the Greek text, the passive verb translated here as “submit” is from v.21; therefore the context is mutual submission and not only the submission of wives to husbands.

The second statement is enveloped in the phrase, “…as to the Lord.”  Paul is supplying the proper realm of submission for the wives; wives are not simply and blindly submitting to the authority of the Patria Potestas  they are submitting to the Lord, the one who has authority over the earth (Eph. 2)—the true King and Emperor of the world, the true Divine Son.   Paul’s use of the societal house-code, which required submission of wives to husbands, women to men, is not advocating the societal standards, but is placing this infant church in a realm that is to be submitted to the true authority that is in Christ Jesus.

The third statement is the command for husbands to love their wives (v.25).  As my friend Brian McVey commented, in a lecture on the use of Eros and Agape within Greek literature, and the understanding of these two terms, the command that Paul gives to the husbands would be to love their wives in way that was pouring out from them rather than loving something because of a need or lack within themselves (eros).  Marcus Barth contends that the use of agape in v.25 is the wedding together of Eros and Agape (which, as McVey pointed out, could be the understanding of hesed); that husbands were to love their wives in such a way would have been counter-cultural in the Greco-Roman society (621).  “For the first time in Ephesians the term ‘love’ (agapaō) includes the erotic relationship and sexual union by which a man and a woman become ‘one flesh” (M. Barth 621).

Also, it’s worth pointing out again (because I’ve said it before in this post here) the following about our passage:

Considering that in Ephesians 5. In v. 21 the verb translated as “submitting” is the verb that is pulled into the subsequent verse (v.22) when Paul turns his attention to wives: submit to your husbands. Then, after only three short thoughts, he turns to the husbands and addresses them in a rather lengthy discourse starting with an exhortation to lay down their lives for their wives. This is less of a change of subject and more of a addressing a different audience. Paul uses different language to say something similar to the husbands as he did to the wives.

But, the question remains, why change the language?

My thought about the “why” is this: Paul speaks to the women in terminology they would’ve existentially understood–the language they would’ve been familiar with but also because of the woman’s ability (and in the case of Paul’s age) one of her primary functions in bringing forth life into the world: a woman, having gone through the experience of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and caring for a helpless child, would have been well acquainted with the event of submission as a laying down of their life, of loving something/someone form the inside out that can give nothing back in return (agape). I’m not saying that Paul had this later aspect on the forefront of his mind, but it’s intriguing to me that he speaks nearly in shorthand to the wives. Thus, what he says to the women, is not radical: it’s nearly status quo; they would’ve nodded ” oh yes, we understand.” But what’s radical is what follows with his discussion to the men. The feeling in the transition from talking to the wives to the husbands is as if he paused and said to the husbands: all y’all best sit down for this; i’m about to blow your minds. And thus enters into a longer explanation of how the husbands are to love (agape) their wives and live out the “submitting one to another” aspect of 5.21. Both the act and the concept would have been so radical to the husbands, that Paul essentially has to spell it out for them and even then Paul loses his own mind and gets caught up–nearly raptured–in the mysteries he can’t even explain well enough. So, in short, my thoughts have been that Paul had to explain in detail (agape worked out in submission to another (the wife)) to the husbands because it was radical and foreign, and he could speak plainly and briefly to the women, because they would’ve understood (per the reasons mentioned above).

In regards to the use of “head” in this periscope, Liefeld writes,

The meaning of head in this context is…crucial….The Greek language did not assign as strong a leadership/authority meaning to kephalē as the Hebrew apparently did to ros and the Latin to caput.  Because of the strong connotation of caput, it was easy for the Latin Church fathers to interpret head in this passage strongly. The most common word for ‘head’ in Hebrew was rō’š.  When pre-Christian Jewish scholars translated the Old Testament into Greek (the Septuagint or LXX), they sometimes avoided the normal Greek word kephalē when the Hebrew rō’š meant rule or authority (as in the word leader) and used instead a stronger synonym such as archon.  If kephalē had the unambiguous, univocal meaning of rule or authority, this would not have been necessary” (Liefeld 144).

Therefore, it is best to not understand the use of kephalē in this periscope as “rule or authority”; but, referring back to 1 Cor. 11:3-16 (posted here), as “preeminent, foremost, and synecdoche for a representative whole” (Thisleton 821).

Random Thoughts on Egalitarianism and Justification

A while back, I received an email from a Twend (Twitter+Friend=Twend) about egalitarianism within the marriage and male/female relationships. My husband and I are “egalitarian” in our approach to our marriage and relationship with each other, and I passionately welcomed this email. I don’t make a huge deal about our “egalitarianism” because I find it more divisive than helpful in social media contexts. I love talking about it; i don’t love tweeting about it because, in my opinion 140 characters in an environment that is consistently devoid of the I/Thou relationship is a recipe for disaster.
While this email exchange took place a few months ago, I’m posting it now because I find myself in the midst of a pretty radical and awesome and huge project on gender and the gospel. So, why not just put this email in to a post and put it on my blog. I’m passionate (VERY) about gender and gender relations; this isn’t some fleeting fancy. The bulk of my research is aimed in the direction of gender and gender relations. I think about this topic daily, examining all the different facets for all the different angles.
So here is my response (slightly cleaned up) to my twend about “egalitarianism” and all the “rights and privledges therein” 😉

I’ve done a lot of study on the creation of woman and through all of it I just don’t see any reason for an emphasis on one gender having authority over another–it’s pointless and causes more turmoil than it’s worth. My husband agrees and he finds it ludicrous. you should hear how he talks to our daughter about being equal with men: she’s not “eye-candy” or, his favorite phrase, she’s not to be “subjected to the male gaze and can wear whatever she wants!” (She often has pants tucked into socks and strips going all different directions from head to toe!) He’s even on me when I wear make up. I tell him: IT’S FUN! And he says: you wear it because you’ve been raised to do it by our culture. I typically just roll my eyes… my shoes and makeup are fun to wear/put-on…i love me some sexy boots and smokey eyes! #ohhedoestoo 😉

This is how we view our relationship: in light of the two great commandments. These commandments are: Love the Lord your God and Love your neighbor as yourself. In my opinion, my husband and my children are my CLOSEST neighbors. I don’t then need a another commandment or “law” to come in and tell me that my role as a woman is to be at home and in submission to my husband. If the gospel is the thing by which order or, what I prefer to say, orientation occurs between me and God and me and my neighbor, then the gospel rightly orients me toward my husband because it rightly orients me toward God through the Son by the power of the Spirit. My husband and I think “roles” are pointless, and that, truly, we in merely loving each other serve and mutually submit to each other. If i love you, then why wouldn’t I put you first? For all intents and purposes, if you were to look at my life and how we run our family, we look very traditional: I stay home, he goes to work (etc). But it’s less because I should or because he can’t and more because we wanted to run our family in this way (again, laying down our lives for our neighbors, our spouse, our children, putting our desires on hold until later)–it also helped that he made enough to see that it happened.

Some have argued (and have said this too me) that egalitarianism (again, a pointless word) leads directly to androgyny–as in you can’t avoid it. This is stupid. This is like me saying that “complimentarianism” (another pointless word) always leads to domestic violence. It doesn’t. Do i find it a dangerous concept? YES; in the hands of the wrong man, yes, it will lead to violence and oppression.  I’ll always err on the side of more liberty than less because I know the law is impotent to do what it desires (orient rightly). Androgyny only occurs if we begin to think that men and women are equal AND interchangeable (rather than: equal BUT NOT interchangeable). But if we adhere to equality and difference then it opens up a beautiful relationshiop between the two. Now, the accusation that egalitarianism leads to androgyny came to me from a student in a class who is a  confirmed “complimentarian”: the husband has authority over the wife. Now his accusation came after a discussion that one gender doesn’t have authority over another. So his point: without some authority over the woman the man’s role is now no longer defined and out of the window goes masculinity. Thus, masculinity and “decision making” and “authority” are inherently linked and femininity linked with it’s compliimentary features: “non-decision making” and “subjection.” Here’s the problem I see in that line of logic: 1) he is linking masculinity to a “work” which is a huge problem considering that in heaven while there will be no marriage or giving of marriage there will still be “gender” and “masculinity” (keeping in mind that the image of God isn’t erased in heaven but made glorified by his creation man and woman) and 2) what happens to said man when he loses his mind? Does he ALSO lose his masculinity? No, that’s stupid. He’s STILL masculine, he’s still a man even when she has to decide on his behalf.

The problem lies in the inability to go into the abstract and the deep desire of limited humanity to always want to figure out everything down to the tiniest molecule and have an answer: if a then b! But I love the abstract. What if, Twend, what if masculinity and femininity are defined by each other…what if just my presence as a woman (i.e. not man) is enough to emphasize, draw out, point to my husband’s masculinity. Boobs and hips aside: I’m NOT him; if we allow this to be true, and if we allow our nakedness with each other to be the deciding factor about who is feminine and who is masculine, then a whole new world opens up to us. Things that are classically “masculine” and “feminine” are now more appropriately considered human. My husband can cry and I can be a hard-ass, neither one acting like the other gender. In this light, we see how the doctrine of justification penetrates even the most intimate human relationships: no longer defined by works but by God’s declaration to us: forgiven sinners, forgiven men AND women. In how I understand the totality of the event of justification, i believe that works can no longer define me WHATSOEVER. And thus I’m free to be fully woman in right relationship to my husband, a man.

So, while there are things on this earth that still define me as a woman–things that I feel obligated to do or chose to do because I’m a woman–these works do not define me as a woman in Christ (not even birth or the act of sex, because women who don’t have either are still fully women).

Let’s also consider Ephesians 5. In v. 21 we have the verb translated as “submitting” and I know that this is the verb that is pulled into the subsequent verse (v.22) when Paul turns his attention to wives: submit to your husbands. Then, after only three short thoughts, he turns to the husbands and addresses them in a rather lengthy discourse starting with an exhortation to lay down their lives for their wives. Now, what I’ve heard from a number of people (both professors and lay people alike) is this: women only have to submit, but men have to lay down their lives! I find this statement ridiculous and irritating. I find submission to be a form of laying down yourself for another (it’s not subjection considering that the verb is a deponent with an active meaning: submit yourselves); in order for me to submit, let’s say, to the will of my husband, I have to put myself aside, sort of like an act of oblation; this, to me, thematically jives with 5.21: “Submitting therefore one to the other.” Submission is loving your neighbor as yourself and incorporates laying yourself (‘your life’) down (‘dying’). In this light, submission/submitting yourself = laying down your life.  Thus, Paul isn’t totally saying something new as in “subject” to the husbands, but rather explaining in clearer language what it means to live out “submitting therefore one to the other” (toward their wives). And if he is using different language to say something similar to the husbands as he did to the wives, then my next question is why? Why change the language?

The thought I’ve been having lately about the “why” is this: Paul speaks to the women in terminology they would’ve existentially understood–the language they would’ve been familiar with but also because of the woman’s ability (and in the case of Paul’s age) one of her primary functions in bringing forth life into the world: a woman, having gone through the experience of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and caring for a helpless child, would have been well acquainted with the event of submission as a laying down of their life, of loving something/someone form the inside out that can give nothing back in return (agape). I’m not saying that Paul had this later aspect on the forefront of his mind, but it’s intriguing to me that he speaks nearly in shorthand to the wives. Thus, what he says to the women, is not radical: it’s nearly status quo; they would’ve nodded ” oh yes, we understand.” But what’s radical is what follows with his discussion to the men. The feeling in the transition from talking to the wives to the husbands is as if he paused and said to the husbands: all y’all best sit down for this; i’m about to blow your minds. And thus enters into a longer explanation of how the husbands are to love (agape) their wives and live out the “submitting one to another” aspect of 5.21. Both the act and the concept would have been so radical to the husbands, that Paul essentially has to spell it out for them and even then Paul loses his own mind and gets caught up–nearly raptured–in the mysteries he can’t even explain well enough. So, in short, my thoughts have been that Paul had to explain in detail (agape worked out in submission to another (the wife)) to the husbands because it was radical and foreign, and he could speak plainly and briefly to the women, because they would’ve understood (per the reasons mentioned above).

another thing to think about (and I’ll end with this) is: whenever Paul seems to be correcting the women in his churches it’s nearly always because their pendulum has swung too far. Thus, while they are trying to flaunt their freedom, they are really just a law to themselves and others. Don’t dominate men, women, because that’s not freedom nor is it the proper correction to Gen 3. No gender is to dominate the other gender; don’t abandon your children and husband because now you’re “free”; that’s not freedom. Freedom is being able to say: this might suck and i might want to be devoting my life to the Lord (PhD, Career, etc), but I can’t because I have these lives, these others that need me. That’s freedom. That’s Gal 3. The law has been abrogated, the prison warden has been silenced and unemployed, and I am no longer defined by my deeds (“there is therefore no…”) but I am still here and there are things I must still do. Paul is always hyper concerned to protect the gospel from slander: if having a woman publicly teaching men was considered offensive to OUTSIDERS in his day and age, then he would encourage abstaining from the practice. From the commentaries I’ve read, it seems that Paul is not universally making a claim about women but, rather, talking about how things should proceed in order to move the gospel forward. (Cf. 1 and 2 Tim, Titus, Ephesians, Corinthians…etc).