On the heels of celebrating women in March, I found myself considering the nature of the women’s liberation movement and the plight of women throughout history. I found myself amazed by the real life situations women can face, sometimes terrible in nature, and their ability to rise up into a stronger, more resilient version of themselves.
As I thought of some of the recent events in the media, in particular the shooting at the Asian massage studio, I couldn’t help but compare parts of these women’s stories to my own personal story. I was reminded of my experiences as a massage therapist and the stigma that went with it; the frequent criticism and judgement I faced simply for doing work I did well. The way I was treated in relationships where I was seen as a second class citizen. How my life was a series of attacks from every possible angle, all while the powers that be did nothing but support it. I wondered many times how in the 21st century I could be fighting so hard just to preserve my health and well being. While we should never have to deal with situations like this, it’s another reminder why these mindsets and behaviors can no longer be tolerated.
Then someone in my family sent me an article that really made me think about the plights of some notable women in the Bible. Three of these women, Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth all share equally powerful stories of pain and persecution, but ultimately, and seemingly miraculously, redemption.
Tamar’s story is never shared in Sunday School for rather obvious reasons. After her husband Er’s death, his brother Onan is supposed to help her conceive a child. She was, as a childless woman, vulnerable to destitution and erasure in her world. Onan is quite willing to use her body but intentionally avoids impregnating her (spilling “his seed on the ground”), and God takes his life. Judah then promises that his son Shelah will marry her, but Tamar knows Judah does not intend to keep his promise. So, she does the unthinkable: she disguises herself as a prostitute and sits by the side of a road Judah frequents. He solicits sex from her, and she requests his signet, cord, and staff as a pledge until he can send payment, keeping them while a baby grows in her belly. Upon hearing she is pregnant, Judah intends to kill her with fire. But she sends his three items and says, “By the man to whom these belong, I am pregnant.” Realizing he is the father (of what turns to out to be twins) Judah says, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” He even calls her incredible act “righteous” because she was holding him to his responsibility to care for her.
In the case of Rahab, she is a prostitute in Jericho, and she protects two Israelite spies. She asks for protection from God and she is not only spared, but later marries an Israelite and becomes the ancestor of Boas, David and Jesus.
Finally, we have Ruth, who lost her husband and all her male protectors, is without children and has a mother-in-law to care for. She is celebrated because of her marriage to Boaz, but her real vindication is when the village women sing around her, “Your daughter-in-law who love you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to your grandson.” It was that she, even as a foreigner, became part of the kinsman-redemption story. Her son Obed becomes the grandfather of David, one of the greatest kings ever to rule the Israelite nation.
What strikes me is that we can take on the viewpoints of those who try to tear us down, or we can see ourselves as God does. Like many of the women in Jesus’ own lineage, we have faced terrible treatment, and yet, despite their labels as prostitutes or worthless property, they are not scorned by God or cast away by Jesus, and instead, they are actually revealed as being the kind of unstoppable, strong, resilient women that they were created to be, that rose up despite facing some of the worst kinds of mistreatment. And, even more surprising given the rules of their society, placed in the lineage of one of the greatest spiritual teachers of all time. It was as if God was saying, “You can think whatever you want about these women, I know the truth. I know their spirits and the power that lies within them.”
I love that these women’s stories live on to this day, reminding us centuries later that we are made of that same kind of grit, determination and unwillingness to be crushed that allows us to thrive another day. They remind us that we are queens, made of the stuff of royalty, and that even the terrible acts of cowardly men cannot snuff out the truth of the redemption of our lives each time we rise back up. For far too long there has been a history of judgement instead of compassion and women are dismissed as “broken”, “sinful” and even “lost”. These are not the words of Jesus, and they certainly aren’t the heart of a loving God. Love says that we can all be saved, redeemed to a better day and one that allows us to come alongside others not with the pointing finger of hypocrisy, but with an arm across our shoulder, saying, “I too have suffered, let me be here with you to ease your pain.” The Bible says it a bit differently in Galatians 6:2: “Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” Surely this is something we should see in Christianity more than anywhere else, but sadly, the opposite has often been quite the case. It leaves us searching, wondering why so many of us have still not found relief from the death grip of judgement.
It compels me to believe that, at the heart of it all, we can now easily see how far humanity has gotten off track, not just in the church, but in the lives of many who are looking for redemption in a world that seems to offer very little. I just have to wonder what it will take to awaken us. For us to see what we have tolerated, what we continue to create, when we fail to see the deep value of each life. And maybe most importantly, to see why we matter and how love is the one thing that can rise us up from the depths, show us the hope of something better, and give us the strength to take the next step toward it. I wonder what our children will have to see, how much life will have to be taken, before we open our eyes to what judgement and hate are leading to and find ways to create the kind of world where these kinds of acts are unthinkable.
I wonder what it will take for us to realize the kind of power we have together, to stand against the tide of hatred and division and leave a legacy of love, empowerment and redemption for generations to come. If each one of us does this, if each one of us takes responsibility for the world we are creating, we might just find that deliverance we’ve all been looking for.