Monday, July 16, 2012

Calling the gender question...leads to new ones

I'm preaching this coming Sunday from Mary Magdalene's garden chat with Jesus (John 20:1-2, 11-18) and am so excited I can hardly take it!  July 22nd comes around every year as a Feast Day in honor of Mary Magdalene, the Apostle, and this year it falls on a Sunday.  In the last few verses of the story, Jesus (now resurrected) sends Mary to fill the disciples in on what he said and...wait for it...she does!  For me, both as a woman and as a preacher, it just doesn't get any better.

I took my enthusiasm and intensity on the topic to a weekly pastors' text study.  As group-leader-of-the-week, I laid out some thoughts and questions about Mary Magdalene's story, the various interpretations of who she is, and how this text might be preached on Sunday.  The conversation was open and honest and wonderful.  And then someone called the question that has been with me for days, "Do we lose something here when we make this more about Mary's gender rather than emphasizing her as a follower of Jesus?"

The problem is that in so many ways, the last few thousand years of the church and, by extension, Biblical interpretation have been absolutely about gender - which genders are good or bad or clean or unclean or given voice or not given voice or public or private or preachers or listeners or...  The list of how gender has formed, and been formed by, church and society is utterly exhausting.

Pat Keifert, one of my seminary professors, would urge us to understand the assumptions behind someone's idea before entering into the conversation.  He wanted us to consider what we were agreeing to when we began a disagreement.  Because often, even when we disagree, we are agreeing to certain assumptions about how the argument should go.  So, does calling attention to Mary as woman, or anyone as a woman, in addition to whomever else she be might be lock us into the disagreement in the exact spot from which we we are trying to move?  Or might it give us a starting point from which we are able travel to something new?






6 comments:

  1. First off, welcome to the world o' blogging! (Got there myself about a month ago)

    Good thoughts....especially Kiefert's about assumptions. I think assumptions ultimately are about us: what we value, what convictions we hold, what matters to us....basically, it's who we are. To interpret faith/theology/scripture through this.....it's totally about us.

    But should that overshadow the gospel? I don't think so, because it's a universal message....I think while our assumptions inform how we experience and encounter Christ, it ultimately isn't the main focus. It's about what God does for us in Christ, right? It isn't about us.....

    I find that so many disscusions/arguments on such topics always lose the focus on the good news. It becomes about exactly what you raise here. And while it's an important point, it's just what Keifert says it is: an assumption. It's not the gospel.....thoughts?

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  2. Yes. As Mary does in the text, how do we point to Christ? So that, along with Mary, we are able to say, "I have seen the Lord."

    My hope is that these conversations break down barriers between the hearer and the good news rather than reify the old or create new ones.

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  3. I was moved by Caitlin's excitement in preaching about Mary Magdelene. Part of it has to do with the fact that my mother's baptismal patron saint is Mary Magdalene (she went by the name of "Magdalene").

    But more to Caitlin's point about whether gender matters; I think gender does matter. We all know that the ancient world was mostly dominated by men. Women were in mostly subserviant roles. Christianity was/is not immune to this kind of dominance. There are still those who encourage this sort of relationship because Jesus was a "man" and the apostles were all "men." I think it is interesting that the Gospel stories place women in such prominent roles: Mary, the mother of Jesus (the Theotoksis), Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus, the Samaritan woman at the well and, of course, Mary Magdalene.

    I doubt that the Gospel writers were trying to make a "gender-specific" point. They were just recounting a story that involved women as well as men. The Gospel message is simply that the human world is populated by two genders and that both are significant in the human condition. Political institutions are the origins of relationships of dominance.

    But I do very much like the account that Mary Magdelene was the first person to whom Jesus appeared after His Resurrection --- while the apostles were still cringing in their hiding places. A little voice inside me says: "Serves them right!" [This was not the Mary Magdelene of Dan Brown's "The DaVinci Code.] This was a woman who knew what love and commitment is all about; they cannot be erased by death, even to the death on the Cross.

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  4. Do we lose something if we focus on Peter as a fisherman rather than as a follower of Jesus? Do we lose something if we focus on Matthew as a tax collector rather than as a follower of Jesus? I say no, we gain. It's an old saying that we are known by the company we keep. We know Jesus through the company he kept, which included tax collectors, sinners, men and women. To downplay these people's genders and their histories, reducing them to generic "followers," will lead us to know and understand less about Jesus, too.

    For some reason, it cana be irresistably tempting to try to dehumanize Jesus. In this case, by dehumanizing his followers by ignoring their genders. Maybe we just can't handle the idea of a God who became truly human. But this is the power of Jesus, that he was truly human and had truly human friends. Friends who had genders, and occupations and histories. We can't ignore our genders because they are part of who we are are human people. The richness, beauty and power of the Gospel is that Jesus left the realm of angels and came down and walked among, died among, and appeared after his resurrection to real human people, including women!

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    1. Yes, Joan. My original sermon title for today, 7/22, prior to the movie theater shootings was "It's a chick thing...and it isn't." I think there are times when the particularities of someone are quite important, as you so eloquently argue, and other times when it is simply enough to be designated "Child of God." But one does not rule out the other and I believe God uses all of who we are - as God did with Mary Magdalene.

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Challenging and respectful comments welcome...mean ones, not so much.