The shaming of a precious woman

In Matthew 9:20-22, Jesus who has just been asked to come with a synagogue ruler and heal his sick daughter is interrupted. A desperate woman reaches out to touch him and is healed. We are told that she has an issue, or haemorrhage of blood.  It is possible that this was something along the lines of endometriosis in which case, her bleeding was likely to be long-term and would have resulted in her being classes as unclean. This is why she isn’t able to come directly to Jesus but in effect hides in the shadows. As well as being extremely painful, debilitating and possibly dangerous to her, the illness, like leprosy had the effect of cutting her off from society and subjecting her to shame.

Furthermore, Mark and Luke add in this detail:

“[She] had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.”[1]

Not only had her illness resulted in her being ceremonially unclean and suffering shame, not only had it caused her great physical pain but when she had gone to those who were meant to be there to help and heal they had failed and not only that, but they had made things worse. She had “suffered much…” perhaps they had used treatments such as leeches and cutting that had inflicted further pain, perhaps it was the humiliation of how they spoke to her and how they examined her. Certainly, she had suffered financially as they had taken everything from her. 

In this article I want to highlight a few ways in which we can shame women.  I hope it is obvious to us that the Bible talks about women as valued and precious in God’s sight, that men are to honour and love their wives and daughters and that there should be no place for this etc kind of shaming.

Shaming includes “body shaming.” This includes pushing unhealthy expectations about weight and body image. Every time men through their words, magazine choices etc push particular images as sexual attractive and preferable we are shaming precious women made in God’s image.

In the light of the specific encounter here, we cannot avoid mentioning shaming linked to health and reproduction. This includes period poverty -especially where there have been taxes on sanitary products. It also includes the way in which illnesses such as endometriosis and PCOS are still taboo subjects. 

Then there is the whole subject of relationships, marriage, fertility and childbirth. Many women dread the “dance” they will have to go through at church, at a wedding, christening or social occasion. “Have you not met anyone yet?”  “So when are you going to have children?”

Then there is sexual harassment. It is probably invisible to many of us. However, during lockdown, women going out for daily exercise, unable to use gyms due to COVID have been subject to wolf-whistles and cat-calls, been approached uninvited for relationships, had vans and cars slow down alongside them. This creates a toxic and frightening culture.

There’s also our attitudes to women and how we think of them and speak of them when they show confidence to speak out.  I remember a pastor when I was younger making it clear that there would be zero tolerance for coarse or demeaning jokes, none of the “her in doors” put downs or grumbling about wives. He was spot on to insist on this.

This links to how we think about women in the workplace and using their gifts in church. Now, to be clear, I am complementarian so I have specific views on how husbands and wives relate in the home and the role of men and women in the church.  However, I think that if we are not careful then complementarianism can get blurred with a particular understanding of manliness and womanhood which has no basis in Scripture and at times appears to have as much to do with misogyny as Christ likeness. When for example, we hear about speakers delivering seminars on dominion and applying the Creation mandate to subdue to men separate from women then alarm bells should ring.

So, a challenging question.  Jesus was clearly seen as someone who welcomed and valued women, neither exploiting nor shaming them. Are we seen as more in his likeness or more in the likeness of those doctors who exploited, shamed and failed the woman in Matthew 9?

[1] Mark 5:26.

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