Shawna Atteberry

Writer, Editor, Researcher

Sermon: Not Taking No for an Answer (Part 2)

I preached on the story of Jesus and the Canaanite Woman twice this summer. Once for a conference and the second time at my church. With the two different audiences I needed two different applications. Here is how I took the same Scripture passages and interpretations, but came up with two different applications specific to each audience.

This sermon was preached at my home church, Chicago Grace Episcopal Church on August 17, 2014.

Not Taking No for an Answer

Matthew 15:21-28 (Mark 7:24-30)
Year A, Proper 15 (Year B, Proper 18)

Jesus left that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman came out. “Have mercy on me, Lord, son of Bathsheba and David!” she cried. “My daughter is severely oppressed by a demon!”

But he didn’t say a thing.

His disciples came and begged him. “Send her away,” they said, “because she bothers us.”

He answered, “I wasn’t sent to anyone but the lost sheep of Israel.”

But she approached and bowed to him. “Lord, help me,” she said.

“It is not right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs,” he answered.

“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered, “Woman, your trust is great! What you want will be done for you.” Her daughter Was healed that very hour (Matthew 15:21-28, New Testament: Divine Feminine Version).

4.2.7We read about two women in the Gospels who talked back to Jesus: Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus, and the Canaanite or Syro-Phoenician Woman in this passage. That these two women stood up to Jesus and talked back to him is usually explained away, if it’s even acknowledged. In one scene, Martha was tired from cooking; in the other, her brother had just died: of course she’s snippy, and Jesus is patient. In this scene, the Gentile woman knows that Jesus is just teasing her, and she plays along. Martha and this woman’s backbones are covered up, their nerve shoved into a corner. Neither of these women thought silence and submission was the way to go.

We have two very different stories about this women in the Gospels. We heard Matthew’s version, now let’s look at Mark’s:

Jesus left that place and went to the region of Tyre. He went into a house and didn’t want anyone to know it, but he couldn’t escape notice. A woman whose little daughter had a corrupting spirit heard about him and immediately came and fell down at his feet. She was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. Jesus said to her, “Let the children eat first, because it’s not right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs.”

“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

He said, “For saying that, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found the child lying on the bed. The demon was gone (Mark 7:24-30, NT: DFV).

What is the biggest difference you see between these two accounts? Matthew adds the disciples. They don’t appear in Mark’s account. After seeing the way Jesus comes off in Mark’s account of this story it’s not hard to see why Matthew added the disciples and made them the bad guys. After all when you trying to convince a Gentile audience that Jesus in the Savior of the world, it doesn’t look good for that Savior to ignore a Gentile in such great need.

In Mark’s account Jesus had been healing and teaching. He fed the multitude of 5,000. He had been debating (fighting) with the religious leaders. He came to a totally pagan, Gentile area to get away from everything. He was here for a break. He was not here to teach, to heal, or to fight. No one knew him here. He could sneak in, get some rest, and sneak out again. Or so he thought. Since Jesus was trying to stay incognito, we don’t know how the woman knew he was in the neighborhood. I grew up in a small town where everyone knew everyone else’s business, so my guess is she heard it through the local grapevine. She found out a great healer was in town, and she decided to act. She went to the house where Jesus was keeping a low profile, and there she fell at his feet begging him to heal her daughter, who was demon-possessed.

Based on everything we’ve previously read about Jesus in the Mark, we expect Jesus to act immediately. We expect him to get up and go with this woman to her daughter, like he did with Jairus in the previous chapter. We also know from chapter 5 Jesus had no qualms about healing Gentiles in Gentile territory: he healed the Gentile demoniac in the country of the Gerasenes. His first healing in Mark was healing a man with leprosy by touching him. But what we expect does not happen in this story.

Instead he told the woman, “It’s not right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs.” At this point (if we are honest with ourselves) our jaws drop, and we wonder “What happened to Jesus?”

A dog. Jesus called her a dog, a term of derision for Gentiles. But this woman is quick-witted, and she’s not going to take no for an answer. She let the insult slide over her with this incisive retort: “Yes, but even the dogs get to lick up the crumbs on the floor.”

Because this woman did not take no for an answer, because this woman did not submit–even to the Son of God–because she stood her ground, Jesus changed his mind. He had not come here to heal. He didn’t want to heal this woman’s daughter. But in the end he did heal the daughter. He did because of the woman’s retort. This woman’s daughter was healed because she talked back to Jesus, and didn’t assume her place was one of quiet submission. She didn’t take no for an answer, not even from the Son of God himself.

In Matthew’s version of the story, Jesus is passive, but he’s not the only one who is telling her no. The disciples—the representatives of the church are. And thanks to a man I met a few years ago who grew up in the Middle East, we have a different way to interpret this passage where Jesus uses the woman to help teach his disciples, his church, a few lessons.

Reverend Nadim Nassar, an Anglican priest, grew up in Syria and went to school in Lebanon. He now lives in London. There is a very cultural thing he grew up with that explains perfectly what is going on in Matthew if we know Middle Eastern culture. In the Middle East when the eldest son marries, he still lives at home with his parents, and his wife comes to live with the family. This is because as the main heir, the eldest son is expected to take care of his parents in their old age.

When the mother-in-law doesn’t like something the daughter-in-law is doing, or doesn’t think the daughter-in-law is treating her with enough respect, the mother-in-law does not tell the daughter-in-law. She complains about it to a neighbor in the daughter’s-in-law hearing.

“Miriam, do you know how my daughter-in-law treats me? I tell her every night, dry the dishes with a towel, don’t air dry them! But does she listen to me?”

“Abraham, have I told you how my daughter-in-law doesn’t respect me? I told her to water the garden this morning. Bah! Just look at my poor tomatoes withering away in this harsh sunlight!”

You get the idea. Now take this idea and apply it to the story. Jesus is the mother-in-law. The disciples are the daughters-in-law. The Canaanite woman is the neighbor. So what does that mean Jesus is doing in this story? In Mark’s story Jesus is the one who’s being exclusive, showing the members of Mark’s community that even Jesus was corrected when he thought the gospel was just for the Jews. In Matthew, the disciples want Jesus to send the woman away, and he takes a minute to teach the disciples (Matthew’s community) the gospel was not just for the Jews.

Jesus: “Look at my daughters-in-law thinking God is just for them. You called me ‘Son of Bathsheba and David.’ You know I can’t take the kids’ food and feed it to the dogs who come wandering in.”

Woman: “Oh you poor thing. Such disrespect. But you know even the dogs get the crumbs the children leave behind.”

Even in this context I think the woman surprises Jesus with her retort. Jesus: “Woman you have great faith. Go. Your daughter is healed.”

(Exegesis and interpretation is taken from my book What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up and Sit Down, ch. 3.)

I like this interpretation because it uses women’s roles and experiences to interpret Scripture. How often does that happen? Even about women in the Scripture? I always wondered what Matthew’s female listeners felt when they realized their life experiences were being used to proclaim the gospel.

But in the end two things remain constant in these two stories: Exclusivity is the first. Jesus, the disciples, and people in Matthew and Mark’s communities thought that God’s grace was limited, that it wasn’t for everyone. The other constant in this story is this woman telling Jesus, the disciples, and the Christian community NO—grace is always inclusive, and God’s healing power is for everyone. This woman does not take no for an answer when that no marginalizes her and limits God’s grace. In Mark she doesn’t take no for an answer from Jesus. In Matthew she doesn’t take no for an answer from the church. We have a lot to learn from this woman and her spiritual children.

Sometimes those who see where the church is failing in loving inclusively are those who are outside our doors. Those we fail to love. And my challenge to us is this: that we listen to them. That we listen to the children of this brave Canaanite woman who looked the Son of God in the eye then looked at the church standing behind him and said, “No, you will not exclude me and my daughter from God’s love and grace.”

It’s a hard thing to do. To listen to where we are failing our neighbors, confess, repent, and then do what must be done to love our neighbors—all of our neighbors—as ourselves. But Jesus did it. He realized he was wrong. In the end he listened to this woman, and he healed her daughter. This woman taught Jesus that salvation was not for the Jews alone.

I have a hard challenge for us. The next time we hear someone outside of our faith criticize the church, we listen. We don’t jump to defend our beliefs. We don’t start formulating responses while they are still talking. But we listen. And we ask ourselves: is what they are saying true? Are we failing in this area to show God’s inclusive love just at The Canaanite Woman showed Jesus were he was failing to show God’s inclusive love? Is the person complaining her spiritual child calling us to a deeper understanding of God’s mercy and grace? I don’t know how the conversation will go from there, but it can’t help but go in a better direction when we can honestly tell someone you’re right: we’ve screwed up there. How can we do better? Then listen to the answer.

And if you have one of these conversations, please tell the rest of us about it. Bring it back to the church, so that we, as the body of Christ in the South Loop of Chicago, can learn to be more loving, more grace-filled, more merciful, just like our Mother in heaven.

Blast from the Past: The Biblical Family?

This was originally published on 10/12/2006.

Abraham had two children with two different women. Isaac and Rachel had two children. Jacob has at least 13 children, 7 of them with Leah. What does the “typical biblical family” look like? It’s hard to tell by the patriarchs. Abraham had a wife and a concubine. Isaac and Rachel were monogamous regardless of the number of children they could produce. Then there’s Jacob with two wives, two concubines, and a brood of kids. I think it’s safe to say that there is no one “typical” family model in the Bible no matter how much some conservative Evangelicals want there to be. The New Testament is even foggier with Jesus changing the rules about family. In fact he redefined family saying “Whoever does the will of my Mother who is in heaven is my sister, my brother, my mother” (Matthew 12:15, NT: Divine Feminine Version). He also didn’t go in for putting family above all else mentality that we see in conservative evangelicalism. He said no one could put their family above him and still call themselves a disciple of Christ. This redefinition of family continues through the New Testament as the Church, the body of Christ, becomes family. Paul mentions several family members “in the Lord,” but he doesn’t mention one biological family member in his writing. We only know Paul had a sister and nephew thanks to Luke. We know Priscilla and Aquila were married, but we have no idea if they had kids: Paul and Luke never say. Then there’s Paul and Jesus–neither of them even bothered to marry. It also appears that Barnabas, Lydia, and Timothy were all single as well. And yet they are part of the body of Christ, part of the family of God.

When we see family in the biblical and Middle Eastern sense of the word, it is not the nuclear family we are used to. Family was the extended family, which usually lived together, may be not in one dwelling, but all of their houses or tents were right next to each other. When a son married, the parents built a room on top of their house for the couple. The couple then moved in. The family was run by the oldest living male–the patriarch–and everyone lived together: parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and children. This was family in the Old Testament and New Testament. In Acts we also see the concept of household, which included all the relatives plus the servants and slaves. How many people were added to the body of Christ when Cornelius and his whole household repented and were baptized? His wife (or wives), children, relatives, servants and slaves? Lydia’s household also were baptized. Who all did that include? Lydia’s relatives? An aged mother or grandmother, siblings, nieces, or nephews? Then there were her servants and slaves, all of whom repented and were baptized. Lydia’s household became the first church in Europe (Acts 16). Households and families were very different than the Western nuclear family. In fact, in many parts of the world, this is what family and households look like today. Not even Christians in other countries will agree with the American Evangelical definition of “family.”

There is a reason I’m bringing all of this up. I have seen a couple of articles about larger families starting to be more common than the typical 2-3 child norm our society worships. Of course these larger families are looked down upon, especially the mothers who decided that this is what they wanted: to have a large family. On the other end of the spectrum are couples like my husband and I. We’ve chosen not to have children. Both of these decisions should be fine with the church along with those who have chosen to remain single. All of these families are represented in the Bible. My husband and I should not be classified as “selfish” because we’ve chosen not to have the culturally accepted family. Neither should women like Leslie Leland Fields, who wrote, The Case for Kids at Christianity Today, be judged on why she and her husband have six children. In the article Leslie talked about the reaction outside of the church her big family receives, but I can see raised eyebrows in the church foyer when they walk by as well. It is more acceptable in the church for a larger family because we see children as a blessing from God. But I still have heard comments about “what were they thinking” directed at couples with a lot of children.

Back to my end of the spectrum: please do not believe that because I don’t have children that means I hate them or don’t want to be around them. I love children. And every child needs at least one adult in their life who shares their life and hangs out with them because they want to and not because they have to. I love being that person. I love being Aunt Shawna. When I told this to one of my friends, Virginia, she absolutely agreed. That meant a lot to me because Virginia is a mother (she has two kids), and she is called to children’s ministry: she’s a children’s pastor. I take very seriously the part of the infant dedication or infant baptism where the pastor turns to the congregation and asks the congregation to do all they can to help the parents raise their children in Christ and in the Church. When I say, “I will,” I mean it. I will do anything I can to help parents raise their children to know the love and grace of Jesus. Whether they have two, six, or ten, no set of parents can raise children by themselves: they need the church; they need a community. This was something the extended family provided in the Bible: parents weren’t all on their own raising a family. This is also the way neighborhoods used to be: the entire street helped parents raise their kids. It wasn’t a Lone Ranger thing.

In her book Real Sex, Lauren Winner points out that both singleness and married life teach the church about God and her kingdom. Marriage teaches us about God’s love for us, the church. Marriage teaches us what faithfulness in a relationship looks like. It also teaches us about forgiveness and compromise. Just as marriage is not easy, it is not always easy to be part of the community, and it’s not always easy to be in a relationship with God. Singleness teaches the church utter dependence on God. Singles don’t have a partner always there to help. They have to depend on God for their intimacy. They teach us that there should always be an empty spot in our lives for God alone. They also remind us that in the end the only marriage is between Christ and his Church, and all of us will be siblings. Our primary relationship with each other is not as spouses, but as brothers and sisters in Christ. Before our marriage vows are our baptismal vows. Before we married, we were a sister or brother to our spouse.

Let’s take this a step further for families of all kinds. Large families teach us we don’t always get what we want in community. Siblings may have to share bedrooms and toys. They can’t hog the bathroom or the computer. They also have to conserve: their clothes will go to the next sibling. They have to learn to share. They also have to learn to compromise. They know life isn’t all about them when there are younger siblings too play with and care for.

Childless families remind us that we don’t always get what we want. Not all of us are called to be parents, just like not all are called to be parents to a large family. Childless families remind the church that family is a much larger concept than those who live under our roofs. We also remind the families with children that they don’t have to go it alone. We are here to help. We spend time with their kids because we want to. We also remind the church that marriage is not for children alone: we can use our marriages to build the kingdom of God. Childless couples have more time and resources for short-term mission trips, giving to those in need, and in helping the families at church raise their children in a godly way.

All of us together show the world what the kingdom God is like. It’s like the single person who depends on God for the intimacy she or he craves when they crawl into their bed alone every night. It’s like the married couple who does not let the sun go down on their anger and works through their argument to reconciling peace before they go to the bed. It’s like the family with two children who show us how important it is to know our limits and to do what is best for the entire family. It is like the family who has six children and teaches us that life does not revolve around us: we have to share, we don’t always have to space we want, and there are others who need us. All of this is what it looks like to be part of the church, part of the family of God.

Sermon: The Bent and Burdened Woman

The Bent and Burdened Women
Luke 13:10-17

Luke is one of my favorite books and my favorite Gospel. So it was a given for me that this is what I was going to preach on. Luke is full of stories of underdogs. Luke tells the stories of the poor, sick, and women. I come from a poor, working class, blue collar family, and Luke is our Gospel. Probably one of the reasons I like it so much as well as Luke has a lot of stories about women. Luke focuses on the marginalized and poor, which includes widows, lepers, tax collectors and others society has outcast. The outcasts take center stage in Luke. Sinners and misfits—that’s who Luke’s Gospel is about and for. At this point in Luke Jesus has already encountered several outcasts: for starters the disciples are a motley crew consisting of fishermen, tax collectors, and zealots. Then there are the lepers, more tax collectors, paralytics, and sinful women. In Luke we have the stories where Samaritan is a good guy, and a rebellious son who is forgiven and restored. The religious leaders accused of Jesus being a friend to the worst kinds of sinners. And they were right. He was and still is.

Today we meet another one of those misfits: a woman whose back is so bent that she’s literally bent over. All she sees is the ground. She can’t straighten up and she can’t look up. She talks to people’s feet, and they answer her stooped and bent back. But today her life is going to change. And today Jesus is going to get into another controversy with a Jewish leader. Because this day is the Sabbath, and Jesus is going to choose to “work” today. Back in chapter 6 of Luke, Jesus had run-ins with the religious authorities over what could and couldn’t be done on the Sabbath.

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Sermons: Tables of Love

I preached this sermon on Thanksgiving 2007.

Tables of Love

Scripture Readings: Psalm 100; Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35

When I think of tables, I think of eating with friends and family. Through the years these tables have taken different shapes and forms. Sometimes it’s just me and another person and at other times there could be 15-20 of us gathered around. Sometimes it’s quiet conversation and other times a cacophany of chatter, dishes, and someone yelling down the table to get someone else’s attention. I’m Irish-Italian; we tend to be a loud bunch. Of course that didn’t change when I headed off to seminary, and all of my friends were religion geeks like me. There was still a lot of talking over one another, around one another, and yelling at someone in order to get a word in edgewise. I felt right at home.

The table I normally think of is our family table growing up. Mom, Dad, my sister and me every night for supper. We didn’t have very many family rules set in stone, but eating supper together was one of them. When friends were over, they ate with us. Same thing if family visited: eating supper together never changed except when we slept over at a friend’s or had a school function. Some nights there was a lot of chatter, some nights we played Jeopardy more than we talked, and other nights we ate in relative silence because we were tired. The ebb and flow of activity may have changed but supper itself did not. We ate one meal as a family at the table everyday. Period.

One of the hardest things to get used to when I moved out and started living on my own was eating alone. It seemed odd, wrong. And not just because of family dinner. Before college I had always eaten breakfast with my sister, lunch with friends, and dinner with the family. In college I always ate with friends or a the family that adopted me at church. Eating by myself bothered me more than living by myself. In the movie Under the Tuscan Sunher neighbor invites Francis over for supper saying, “It’s not healthy to eat alone.” I absolutely agree with him.

In fact the Mediterranean people know how to do supper. I lived in Barcelona for a year as a Nazarene in Volunteer Service or NIVS for short. I loved their attitude about food. Food was something to be enjoyed, not scarfed down. I am a slow eater. I always have been and I will stubbornly remain so. I get teased because I refuse to scarf my food down in order to “do” something more important. What’s more important than nourishing yourself? And I don’t believe you can nourish yourself if you inhale your food. I fit right in in Spain and with the Mediterranean mindset: food is to be enjoyed and preferably enjoyed with family and bunch of friends. They take supper seriously. There it is a three hour affair with three or four courses and a lot of conversation. Talking, joking, sharing the day, getting caught up. It’s relaxed. Everyone is enjoying themselves. Everyone is enjoying the food. I fit right in. I found out the Italian genes I got from my full-blooded Italian great-grandmother ran true in my blood. They somehow skipped the rest of family.

How the Mediterraneans view supper is very much how people in both the Old and New Testaments viewed supper. Breakfast was some bread, probably left over from the night before. Lunch was at work and normally a piece of dried fish and what ever fruit or vegetables that were in season. But supper–supper was different. You were paid for your work at the end of the day. You went shopping then came home, and the whole family–and you have to remember in the Bible this would be three generations who lived close to each other–all of them would get together and eat supper. It was a relaxed, joyous time for the family. They had food, they had each other. They enjoyed their day’s labor at the end of the day. And they took their time. This meal was not to be rushed. It was to be savored and enjoyed. It was the only time the entire family ate together.

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Have You Heard About the Girl Effect?

Did you know?

  • Anita in India (Photo from The Girl Effect)

    When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.  (United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990.)

  • An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent.  (George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].)
  • Research in developing countries has shown a consistent relationship between better infant and child health and higher levels of schooling among mothers.  (George T. Bicego and J. Ties Boerma, “Maternal Education and Child Survival: A Comparative Study of Survey Data from 17 Countries,” Social Science and Medicine 36 (9) [May 1993]: 1207–27.)
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.  (Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily 2003.)

Did you know?

  • Addis in Ethiopia (The Girl Effect)

    When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children.  (United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990.)

  • An extra year of primary school boosts girls’ eventual wages by 10 to 20 percent. An extra year of secondary school: 15 to 25 percent.  (George Psacharopoulos and Harry Anthony Patrinos, “Returns to Investment in Education: A Further Update,” Policy Research Working Paper 2881[Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2002].)
  • Research in developing countries has shown a consistent relationship between better infant and child health and higher levels of schooling among mothers.  (George T. Bicego and J. Ties Boerma, “Maternal Education and Child Survival: A Comparative Study of Survey Data from 17 Countries,” Social Science and Medicine 36 (9) [May 1993]: 1207–27.)
  • When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.  (Chris Fortson, “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World,” Yale News Daily 2003.)
  • Medical complications from pregnancy are the leading cause of death among girls ages 15 to 19 worldwide. Compared with women ages 20 to 24, girls ages 10 to 14 are five times more likely to die from childbirth, and girls 15 to 19 are up to twice as likely, worldwide.  (United Nations Children’s Fund, Equality, Development and Peace, www.unicef.org/publications/files/pub_equality_en.pdf [New York: UNICEF, 2000], 19.)

Did you know?

  • Photo from The Girl Effect

    Approximately one-quarter of girls in developing countries are not in school. (Cynthia B. Lloyd, ed., Growing Up Global: The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries [Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2005].)

  • Out of the world’s 130 million out-of-school youth, 70 percent are girls.  (Human Rights Watch, “Promises Broken: An Assessment of Children’s Rights on the 10th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” www.hrw.org/campaigns/crp/promises/education.html [December 1999].)
  • Girls get less than two cents of every aid dollar.  (http://www.girleffect.org/give)

NOW you know

So what are you doing to do about it?

Here’s some ideas:

  • Go to The Girl Effect to learn more and donate to girls all over the world.
  • Join the campain and write about The Girl Effect on your blog October 4-11. Link back to Tara Mohr’s website here. Then go read about what other bloggers have said about The Girl Effect.
  • Also visit Girls Count for even more reports, resources, and ways to help.
  • Find a girl in your neighborhood and mentor her. Talk to her her. Make her feel important. Be her friend.

Now you know

What are you doing to do?

 

A New Commandment I Give You: Love One Another

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).

This is the new commandment Jesus gave the disciples on the night of the Last Supper, the night he was arrested. Earlier this year I wrote a post on seeing the love Jesus talked about in action in Egypt as Christians and Muslims protected each other through two terrorist attacks and during the marches. It’s happening again. This is from The Lead at Episcopal Cafe:

Egyptian muslims have been using social media late this week to organize an effort to protect their Christian neighbors this weekend during their Easter celebrations. It’s the second time this has happened since the church bombing on New Year’s Day. Christians returned the favor during the Tahir Square protests.

Considering the latest sectarian tensions and hate speech that have hit the country, especially after the mass demonstrations witnessed at Qena demanding the resignation of the governor for being a Christian, many fear that Egypt’s Coptic community may be at risk.

Muslims have before turned up in droves for the Coptic Christmas mass, offering their bodies and lives as ‘shields’ to protect Egypt’s Christian community following the terror attacks that struck the country on New Year’s Eve, targeting the Two Saints Church in Alexandria and leaving 21 dead.

Similarly, during Egypt’s revolution, Christians in Tahrir Square acted as human shields to protect praying Muslims as the demonstrators were threatened by attacks from pro-regime thugs and snipers.

From here.

This is how the commandment Jesus gave us the night he was betrayed and arrested looks like in real life. It’s an image I will keep in my heart as I travel through the Easter season.

 

Vigil Saturday: The Long Wait

“Some women were there, watching from a distance, including Mary Magdalene, Mary (the mother of James the younger and of Joseph), and Salome. They had been followers of Jesus and had cared for him while he was in Galilee. Then they and many other women had come with him to Jerusalem. . ..Joseph [of Arimathea] bought a long sheet of linen cloth, and taking Jesus’ body down from the cross, he wrapped it in the cloth and laid it in a tomb that had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone in front of the entrance. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where Jesus’ body was laid” (Mark 15:40-41, 46-47).

At sunset the Sabbath began; the first Vigil Saturday. What did they do that Sabbath? How did the mother of God, who had just watched her son die, and these other women who had followed him right up to the cross spend that Saturday? Did they go to synagogue? Did they say the prayers? Did they take part in the joy of the Exodus? Would they go to the Temple? Would they worship side-by-side with the people who had condemned and cheered her Son and their Savior to death? Would they too pray Jesus’ prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do?” Or was their grief and anger too great? Did they just stay inside, holding on to each other, comforting each other as best they could? They saw where Joseph buried Jesus. They knew he did not have the time to properly anoint and wrap the body of their Beloved. They knew what they would do the first thing Sunday morning. But what did they do that long, long Saturday?

I know the Resurrection happened. I know tomorrow I will celebrate the Resurrection with my brothers and sisters in Christ. And this day is a long day for me. The waiting. Living an entire day between the last breath of death and the first breath of resurrection. It is hard. It is long. My first reminder is during morning prayers when I see there is no Gospel reading. There will be no Gospel reading tonight when I pray Compline. This is the only day of the year, we do not read the Gospel. The Gospel is in the grave, and we feel that loss, that void. Today the Church lives between life and death. And we long for, anticipate, and hope for Sunday morning. We live in anticipation and expectation of waking up Sunday morning to the creedal cry of the Church: “HE IS RISEN!” “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” I long for tomorrow when the silence of death will be broken. When I will walk into the sanctuary and see the cross draped in the victorious white of the Resurrection. We will sing ALLELUIA! Our first Alleluia since the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  We will hear the Gospel. We will renew our baptismal vows. We will take communion. We will pass the peace. We will worship our risen Lord and Savior. But today is one of silence and waiting–vigil.

I will always wonder what the women who watched Joseph place Jesus’ body in the tomb did on that first Saturday. They didn’t have our hope. They thought Jesus was dead, and the kingdom he proclaimed was destroyed with him. What did they do on that day between death and life?

Originally posted April 7, 2007.

Egypt: What the love Jesus talked about looks like on the ground

Like many of you who read this blog, I have been watching what’s been happening in Egypt avidly. After almost three weeks Mubarak has stepped down after very peaceful protests. The only violence that happened started with the government, not the people. And yesterday when Mubarak said he wasn’t going anywhere, the people did not let their anger lead them to violence, their protesting remained peaceful. The thing that has touched me the most, moved me to tears, is the way that Coptic Christians and Muslims are taking care of each other, and showing the entire world what it looks like to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Or as the Quaran says: “…Do good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is stranger, the companion by your side…” (4:36, emphasis mine).

Here is how Egyptian Muslims and Christians loved their neighbors:

From Ahram Online

On New Year’s Eve a Coptic Church was bombed in Alexandria, Egypt, killing 21 people. The Copts did not stand alone in their outrage. Their Muslim neighbors joined in and protested with them. On Ahram Online two Muslims made these powerful statements:

“We either live together, or we die together,” was the sloganeering genius of Mohamed El-Sawy, a Muslim arts tycoon whose cultural centre distributed flyers at churches in Cairo Thursday night, and who has been credited with first floating the “human shield” idea.

“This is not about us and them,” said Dalia Mustafa, a student who attended mass at Virgin Mary Church on Maraashly Street. “We are one. This was an attack on Egypt as a whole, and I am standing with the Copts because the only way things will change in this country is if we come together.”

The Cross within the Crescent became the symbol for Egyptians who did not want fundamentalists on either side to define their religions. Muslims promised their Christian brothers and sisters they would attend the Coptic Christmas Eve service (January 8 on the Coptic calendar) and stand as human shields to protect their Christian neighbors. They were as good as their word. Muslims all over Egypt attended mass at Christian churches across the country to show their solidarity, not only with their neighbors, but for peace and safety from terrorist acts. (Thank you to chantblog for bringing this article and picture to my attention.)

Two weeks later Trahrir Square was filled with people demanding democracy: Muslims and Christians gathered against the totalitarian government demanding Mubarak step down, and a democratic government that listened to the people–all of the people–be organized. While his country’s unemployment rate was 30% and the cost of food doubled, Mubarak was sitting on $70-80 billion dollars. Yes BILLIONS, not millions. I can understand why the Egyptians said enough is enough (not to mention being imprisoned and tortured for not pulling the tyrannical line). And we in US we complicit in the dictatorship: we set up Mubarak and supported his regime.We give 1.5 billion dollars a year to Egypt for their military. We were also complicit in the tyranny when our government originally sided with the Mubarak regime to keep “stability” in the region. But that military stayed neutral throughout the protests. They did not attack the protestors nor did they try to make them leave. They stayed on the circumference and only acted if they needed to break something up. If Mubarak commanded them to disperse the protestors, they did not obey. The government shut down the internet in the country because people were using Twitter and Facebook to connect and organize. The people still found ways to organize and gather to protest tyranny.

Last week things did become violent as goon squads were sent out to attack the people. The general belief is that Mubarak and his officials sent the goon squads out to violently disperse the protesters. But the protesters held their ground and fought back. They were not leaving the square. Again the military stayed neutral. They broke apart fights and shot in tear gas when groups started fighting, but they did not take sides.

Friday, February 4, came: the Muslims holy day when this beautiful picture was posted on Yfrog. Nevine Zaki, who was in Tahrir Square, snapped this photo of Christians ringing around their Muslim brothers and sisters, so they could pray safely.

Nevine Zaki/Yfrog

As the Muslims protected them during Christmas Eve mass, now the Christians protected Muslims as they prayed on their weekly holy day.

But that’s not the end of it. On Sunday, February 6, Egyptian Christians held a mass in Tahrir Square and Muslims joined in. According to UPI.com:

Egyptian Christians held a mass of unity in Cairo’s Tahrir Square Sunday to show solidarity with the country’s thousands of anti-government protesters.

Muslim prayers also resounded in the square “in what seemed a show of interfaith harmony” five weeks after a suicide bomber killed at least 21 people at the end of a New Year’s Eve mass in Alexandria, The New York Times reported.

“We are all one,” people began chanting in Tahrir Square after the outdoor Coptic Christian mass was completed.

*                    *                     *                       *                        *                    *

Sunday’s mass was “for all Egyptians, Muslim and Christian, and I am proud to be Egyptian today because we are showing the world how important our country is for all the people who live here,” a 33-year-old Christian identified as Farid told the Egyptian news Web site Bikya Mass after the liturgy was completed.

The CopticNews.org, a Canadian site, posted this video from Sunday’s Mass at Tahrir Square, 2/6/11. (I can’t get the video to embed.)

Anticipation built this week as it appeared Mubarak was going to step aside. Then Mubarak spoke Thursday. It was one of the most patriarchal, clueless speeches, I think I’d ever heard. Mubarak made himself out as the old-style patriarch who ruled the entire family with an iron fist. His general message was: “I am your father, and you are my children. Obey me or suffer.” Mubarak was so out-of-touch with the rest of Egypt that he thought all he had to do was play the old-time paterfamilias/ruler, and the people would just go home. Instead they erupted in angry shouts of “Leave! Leave! Leave!” They marched on the palace and the state’s TV station. More people came. The people weren’t going anywhere until Mubarak was gone. And once again the people didn’t get violent. The protesters stayed peaceful. Personally I think Mubarak was trying to goad them to violence, so he could unleash the military on them. The people did not take the bait. Today Mubarak stepped down, and those thousands of people who stood their ground peacefully and demanded a democratic government are celebrating in Tahrir Square and across Egypt.

Myths have been busted in Egpyt. The myth that Arabs/Muslims always resort to violence to change government is gone. The myth that there has never been a peaceful protest or change of government in the Middle East is gone. The myth that Muslims and Christians are enemies, and that Muslims always terrorize and murder Christians in Muslim nations BUSTED. And this myth was busted on the global stage. In Egypt we saw Muslims protecting Christians as they worshiped. In Egypt we saw Christians protecting Muslims as they worshiped. In Egypt we saw Christians and Muslims worshiping side by side, and standing in unity and solidarity to make their country a better place.

This is what it looks like to “do good to the neighbor who is near of kin, the neighbor who is stranger.” This is what loving your neighbor as yourself looks like in real life. This is what loving your neighbor as yourself looks like in oppressive regimes where doing the right thing is, not only hard, but deadly. This is what Jesus was talking about when he told the parable of The Good Samaritan to illustrate “who is my neighbor?” It’s easy to give empty lip-service to loving our neighbors, but this is what it looks like when the rubber hits the road. This is what it looks like when it’s not easy, but you do it anyway.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Do good to the neighbor who is near of kin and the neighbor who is stranger.”

Who supported Jesus out of their own means?

Soon afterwards [Jesus] went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources (Luke 8:1-3, NRSV).

One of the arguments that complementarians make for women staying at home is that it is God’s plan for men to work and financially support the family. As long as I’ve been on the other side of the argument, pointing out that women have always worked and supported their families monetarily, it was only last week when it hit me what these verses were saying. I’ve used these verses to show that women were disciples and followed Jesus in his travels just as the 12 did. But last week it hit me between the eyes: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna plus other women “provided for them out of their resources.” The Greek word translated as resources can mean property, possessions, resources, or means. These women financially supported Jesus and his ministry from their own finances.

I’m sure some would say that what they gave Jesus was really the money their husbands made. This could be true for Joanna, but she is the only one with a husband in this passage. Mary Magdalene had no husband, and Susanna is not paired with a husband in these verses. This means their money was theirs. We don’t know how they had these resources. Maybe they were business women like Lydia and Priscilla. Maybe they were widows. But neither woman, nor her resources, is tied to a husband.

It’s a little thing. A little thing that can be easily overlooked. But I think that we should pay attention to this little thing. Women who weren’t tied to a husband, and a married woman who isn’t tied to her home, are following Jesus all over the countryside and supporting him. These little things start adding up to show that roles women played in the Bible are much broader than mother and wife. It also shows the freedom Jesus allowed women to have in his own ministry. He didn’t tell these women to go back home and take care of their husbands and children (and he didn’t tell them to go home, get married, and start having kids). He welcomed them and accepted their support.

These three verses in Luke give us a glimpse of the broader role of women in Jesus’ ministry beyond the home.

Originally posted at The Scroll, April 22, 2010.