“Do you see this woman?” Stories about women--well, if you dig enough, there are stories about women in the Bible. Lots of women but often on the side or as a vehicle to move the story along.
I read a wonderful blog post this past week by Emmy Kegler and I liked her ideas. What does grace mean and if we are forgiven our sins, what about the victims of our sinfulness? What about them? “Do you see this woman?”
And that is why I volunteer--here at St. Mark, for Camp Victory, for Beyond Survival, and for Chaplains on the Harbor and even the Commission on Ministry. Because I SEE people--not dead people; I see living, breathing people who have been injured by the sins of others and yes, sometimes by their own sinfulness. And, I volunteer so they can be seen, if only by me.
Ms. Kegler started her blog with this:
“Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy is he who sees a married woman from far off, commands her to be brought to him, rapes her, and sends her home.
Happy is he who kills the husband of the woman he wants and who, when called out by the prophet of God, begs forgiveness.
Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy is he who has the wealth to host a dinner and neglects hospitality to the son of God.
Happy is he who sneers at a sinner.
Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Happy is he who takes his family to the zoo and, when the child falls into the gorilla pen, the mother is blamed.
Happy is he who rapes an unconscious girl but, because he is such a promising athlete, is given only six months in jail.
Happy is he who spews hatred, division and judgment, and for it is chosen as a presidential nominee.
Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”
In the Message Psalm 32 begins: Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be--you get a fresh start, your slate’s wiped clean. A very joyful state it is to live in grace and I am thankful for it. But, if you confess to a good priest, she will tell you to make restitution to anyone you have caused pain and suffering. If you go to a good 12-step meeting, you will be encouraged to work steps 4 through 10, which include making direct amends wherever possible to those you have harmed with your addiction.
And we do tout sin as anything that separates us from God--from the love of God. But, often our sins affect other people, and the Bible doesn’t often portray sins against women as particularly important to the victim. What about the victims of our sins? Tamar, David’s daughter, is raped by her half brother and nothing is done until her brother, Absalom, kills Amnon. Tamar is no longer an actor in the story by then, just the reason for Absalom’s anger. Tamar never gets an apology.
Tamars do not fare well in the Bible; they are always abused in some way. Women in Bible times were property; first the property of their fathers and then the property of their husbands--or, if they didn’t marry, the property of a brother or uncle. If they were widowed, they became the property and responsibility of a son or brother-in-law. Bathsheba, at least we know her name, is only mentioned as beautiful and an object of desire. We never see any record of her consent in all that happened to her, only that she told David of her pregnancy from the rape and that she grieved over the death of her husband, Uriah, and that she was the mother of some of David’s sons-one of whom raped his half sister. Sometimes the apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.
With recent events, these stories we read today, seem to hit hard right between the eyes. A woman is called out as a sinner in the mind of Simon the Pharisee and the Church with a capital “C” speculates over the centuries that her sin is sexual--that she is a sex worker or at least promiscuous. And I think of the excuse the swimmer from Stanford made: that drinking causes promiscuity! But we don’t know why Simon considered this woman a sinner--maybe walking into a room with a bunch of men who were not relatives made her a sinner.
So are things different for us now? Are women still considered property? I think about that swimmer and how it would seem he was on the prowl that night “to get laid”. In the victim’s letter, she noted that if she hadn’t gone to the party she would not have been raped but someone else would have been. Why is it that an obviously inebriated woman is fair game to a sexual predator? I like the video done by a young man in which a young woman is passed out on a sofa and he explains what a man should do in this situation is make sure she is sleeping comfortably with a blanket--and don’t rape her! Who decides an incoherent or passed out woman wants sexual contact? Who decides the best thing to do is run when people catch you? If you have enough sense to run, then you probably have enough sense to know what you are doing is wrong. Who would leave someone unconscious and unattended? Who would leave someone in such a state that one of the men who found her would be sobbing uncontrollably when the police came--just from what he had seen?
We who live in grace cannot ignore the victims of sin. It isn’t just about “Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven.” It isn’t just about reconnecting with God. It is also about relationship with the world and the victims of sin, our own and others.
How can we change the world to remove rape culture from it? Change the thinking that women, especially black women, are property. Change the thinking that boys will be boys no matter how obnoxious. Change the thinking that girls should always smile and be sweet no matter whether they don’t want to be touched in that way or whether they don’t want people to comment on their bodies. Change the thinking that boys should be allowed to physically abuse girls and make sexual comments and touch without asking because, “He just likes you, you should take it as a compliment.”
“Do you see this woman?” Do you see her for her real value to the world? Do you see her for her intelligence, her strength, do you see her through her laughter and her tears? Or is she property? Is it her fault that society sees her as property--that many men see her as property? Something to be stolen.
Bathsheba had a right to bathe on her roof. The woman with the alabaster jar had a right to walk into a room and care for someone she wanted to honor. Maybe she was Simon’s daughter or sister or his wife or mother! And the woman, the swimmer’s victim, had a right to go out to a party with her sister and yes, make a mistake in judgment about how much she could drink. They all have the right to do normal things without worry of assault.
Perhaps the rest of Bathsheba’s life was the life of a survivor of sexual assault with the added trauma of never being able to get away from her attacker. This is really a frightening prospect! And, I think of this young woman who spent the last year of her life in limbo waiting for this trial and its outcome. How she will wait out this short sentence and then worry the rest of her life about having to encounter this swimmer while walking down the street or doing normal activities. How she will never, ever really feel safe again.
Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing. But, how can we make amends for the pain we have caused? We are forgiven as children of God but all our victims are children of God, too. Emmy Kegler notes in her blog that forgiveness frees us to consider how our sins have harmed others and to make amends so we can live peacefully with other children of God.
Jesus asks, “Do you see this woman?” Do you see her, David? Do you see her, Simon? Do you see her, Brock Turner? Do we see her? I see her and she is 22 and she is 74 and she is 38 and she is 10 and she is 2. And she is I at 7 years old. And my heart breaks for her but I also have good news for her. There are safe people in the world. There are safe places in the world. It will get better. This woman has good advocates who will see her through and she is getting counseling and has good family support. I hope they are all there for the long haul.
And it is our job as Christians to be those safe people and create those safe places for this moment in time and someday, I hope, for all moments in time and space. We are here to SEE living, breathing people who are in pain because they have sinned and because they have been sinned against.
Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven. Do you see this woman?