Date: July 10, 2016
Title: “Uppity Women”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Mark 7:24-30
Harriet Tubman, “Queen” of the Underground Railroad, 1850. Frances Willard, College President, 1871. Jeannette Rankin, Member of Congress, 1916. Jane Addams, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, 1931. Rosa Parks, civil rights advocate, 1955. Sally Ride, astronaut, 1983. Ann Dunwoody, four-star Army general, 2008. Malala Yousafzai, advocate for women’s education, 2014.
What, you may ask, do all these women have in common? What do they share with women like Margaret Brent, who in 1647 was the first American woman to demand the right to vote? What do they have in common with Ann Franklin, the first female newspaper editor, circa 1872; or Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President, in 1872 (several decades before women even won the right to vote!); or Katharine Graham, who in 1972 became the first woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company? What do all these women have in common with Sandra Day O’Connor, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elena Kagan, justices of the United States Supreme Court?
And what, pray tell, do they have to do with the unnamed Syro-Phoenician woman who interrupts Jesus’ rest, asks him for help, refuses to take no for an answer, opens Jesus’ eyes to his own narrow conception of God’s love, and just keeps asking until she gets what she wants?! One could say they are simply all “Uppity Women”.
“Uppity” women – the kind who, according to the Dictionary definition, Do not yield easily to persuasion or control. Women who know their own minds and are not afraid to speak them; women who understand they have a part to play and a life to live. Women who know they hold up half the sky. Uppity women are women who – like all of us – have been sold a different bill of goods, generation after generation. They are women (except for me) who still today make on average 79 cents for every dollar a man makes.
In worship at 10:30 we watched a short clip from John Oliver’s show, where he interviews researchers at an institution of higher education who presented a search committee with two candidates bearing identical resumes. There was no difference between the two in education, experience or skill levels. The only difference was in the names at the top of the page – one said “Jennifer” and the other, “John”. Time and again the search committees chose to hire John rather than Jennifer, and even went so far as to suggest they would pay him $4000 a year more than her!
John Oliver sums it up by saying “Ladies, the answer is obvious… you just all need to change your name to John. Sure, it will be confusing for awhile, but you’ll have $4000 a year more to deal with the confusion!”
We can laugh about it. We can cry about it. Or, we can do something about it. It seems to me these may have been the options the Syro-Phoenician woman faced when Jesus suggested she was no more than a dog. This is hardly Jesus’ finest moment in the Gospel tradition! It is easy to read this story and wonder “What the heck, Jesus?” Because it doesn’t fit with our usual images of Jesus. And it certainly does not leave us feeling all warm and fuzzy about God’s all-encompassing, unconditional love!
The woman comes to Jesus out of love and desperation for her daughter, and he responds at first with a racist, sexist comment, basically telling her to get lost because she is not a Jew and she is only a woman. Rather than laugh about it, rather than cry over it, this woman decides to do something about it. Karoline Lewis puts it this way:
The Syropheoenician woman tells Jesus “Guess what?, Jesus. God said YES to me. God said YES to me when God tore open the heavens. God said YES to me when God decided to show up in the wilderness rather than in the temple. God said YES to me when you came here instead of spending all your time in Jerusalem. It’s okay to be me. So get over yourself, Jesus!”
Talk about your uppity woman! Good for her. Thank God for her, because she is good for us. Not only does she get Jesus to change his mind about healing her daughter, she gets him to change his heart. Mark tells us this story to show us the evolution of Jesus’ own understanding. The woman helps Jesus broaden his perspective. She helps Jesus let go of his own narrow understanding of who is “in” and who is “out” when it comes to God’s love. Again, in Lewis’ words:
The woman tells the truth. And when the truth gets told, worlds change. Her world changed. Same for Jesus. He tried to escape it, tried to escape notice; no wonder. The rest of his ministry cannot be the same, because of her.
Uppity women tell the truth. They are not easily persuaded or controlled. They know they have a part to play and a life to live. They know they hold up half the sky. So they are willing to find the courage to tell the truth, to help themselves and others – even Jesus! – move out of the illusion, the lie that says some people are more equal than others. They tell the truth. And the world changes.
Our Christian tradition has long been a source of that illusion, growing as it does from a Patriarchal society where women were considered less than men, where Genesis was long thought to be a literal description of creation, and where men were usually named in the Biblical record, while women were too often left anonymous. Even when Christianity grew out of its early days, leaving behind house churches scattered throughout the Near East in favor of grand cathedrals and established institutions around the world, there has been a tendency to lift up the Biblical passages which point to limitations on women. You know the ones – like Paul’s suggestion that women be silent in church, obedient to their husbands and subservient to men in general. The tendency has been to lift up those passages while at the same time ignoring or downplaying the Biblical stories of strong, independent women who played a central part in salvation history. Women like Miriam, Huldah, Maximilla, Priscilla – all named as prophets; or women like Deborah, the judge; or women like Mary Magdalene, Thecla, Perpetua, Felicitas, apostles in their own right.
Writer Laurel Thatcher Ulrich once famously remarked that “Well behaved women seldom make history.” I suspect the same could be said for men as well – especially when it comes to our faith. The story we read today clearly shows us that God’s love iw without bounds, accessible to everyone, available in every challenge, and possible in every moment of pain or prosperity. God’s love is boundless. And we are called to live that love, showing the world that the Gospel is best known when it is a verb.
Kay Sylvester puts it this way:
Jesus, when confronted by a person who came from outside his comfort zone, did not go away to the hills to study the matter; he shifted and enlarged his understanding on the spot, and did what she needed him to do. We are called everyday to move from narrow to broadened perspective, to understand God’s love is for everyone, and that we are agents of that love. We are called everyday to take seriously the Gospel as a verb, and to act accordingly.
In that sense, each of us is called to be a little “uppity” from time to time. We are called to tell the truth. And to change the world. Thanks be to God. Amen.