Do You See this Woman?

+ A sermon given for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (Year C) – at First Lutheran Church, St. Peter, MN on June 12, 2016 +

Texts: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15; Luke 7:36-8:3

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“Do you see this woman?”

The simple question Jesus asks Simon seems almost silly.
Of course he saw her.
She barged in to his dinner party uninvited.
She embarrassed him by touching his guest inappropriately.
She wouldn’t stop crying!
Of course Simon saw her, and more than that, he knew who she was – a sinner.
Had Jesus seen this woman?
Surely a prophet would recognize her sinfulness.

Wayne Forte, "Anointing His Feet #2," 2008
Wayne Forte, “Anointing His Feet #2,” 2008

“Simon, do you see this woman?” Jesus asked.
Do you see her for what she is?
Not just a sinner.
A person.
Do you see her?
This child of God?
Do you see her as a person who is worthy of love and respect?
Simon could not look past this woman’s sins. He was unable to see her as a person – unable to allow this woman her full humanity.

And the truth is, the Church has not done a good job of seeing her either. It doesn’t help that Luke doesn’t even tell us her name.
But tradition has declared this unnamed woman to be a prostitute without a shred of textual evidence to support this claim.
Just like Mary Magdalene, simply because she is a woman who is described as a sinner, she has been slandered as a woman who sinned sexually.
By the way, even though the exact same Greek word that labels this woman as a sinner is used by Peter to describe his own sinful nature, no one has ever claimed that Peter was a prostitute.
But because she is a woman, it is assumed that this was her sin.

“Do you see this woman?”

Cover art from “A Peek at Bathsheba” by Uvi Poznansky –

This question could just as well have been asked to King David in our first lesson.
Of course David had seen Bathsheba!
She was bathing on her roof.
He had seen her and he wanted her.
So David ordered that her husband, Uriah, should die so Bathsheba could be David’s wife.
But did he really see her?
Did he see her beyond an object of his own lustful desires?
Did he see her as a woman who had thoughts of her own?
Did he consider what she wanted?
He called for her to be brought to his house and he brought her into his bed.
And considering the power dynamics at play here, the king summoning a mourning widow to his bedchambers, I cannot see how this could be consensual.
And nowhere do we hear about her experience.
Nowhere do we get a chance to see Bathsheba’s grief.
We don’t see her tears.
In the words of Pastor Emmy Kegler, “The story is all about David, David’s sin, David’s call, David’s condemnation and repentance and forgiveness. Bathsheba’s grief at her husband’s murder and her son’s death is a side story, a few throwaway verses that set up what David will do next. The victim who suffered at the hands of David is made far less important than David’s story of sinfulness and repentance.”
Even the Bible does not see Bathsheba.

Just this week, the news has been full of instances where women still are not seen for who they are.

Just over a week ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia voted to ban the ordination of women into ministry – a practice that they have done for decades.
This action caused the Lutheran World Federation, of which both the Latvian church and ELCA are members, to reiterate its hope that all member churches will work towards the ordination of women in the recognition that God calls people of all genders into ministry and the gifts we are given by God are not diminished by our sex or gender identity.

Do you see these women?

Even more prevalent in the media this week was the case of Brock Turner, the Stanford University student who was convicted of the sexual assault of a woman.
We don’t know this woman’s name either, but this omission is for her own protection and privacy.
Opinions are varied on whether Brock’s 6-month sentence is sufficient, the role of parenting in preventing such attacks, and whether his athletic abilities impacted the judge’s decisions.
It’s undeniable, however, that this case has caused discussion about the systemic problems surrounding sexual assaults to be pushed to the forefront of national conversations.

It seems to me that the root sin of sexual assault is the unwillingness to see the victim as a human – to regard that beloved child of God as merely a sexual object that may be used for your own pleasure.
Denying that person their full humanity.
Disregarding the Divine image and ignoring Christ’s incarnation.
Not seeing them.

And really, so much of the coverage of this case has been focused on Brock.
Brock’s sin, Brock’s athletic ability, Brock’s privilege, Brock’s sentencing.
We still aren’t seeing this woman and her experience.

The survivor of Brock Turner’s attack wrote a remarkable letter, which I would encourage you all to read.
It’s not an easy read, but so important.
We are able to hear her pains, her grief, and her story.
While reading it, my tears mingled with the ones I could feel in the words.
In the letter, she writes to Brock, “You made me a victim. In newspapers my name was ‘unconscious intoxicated woman’… and nothing more than that. For a while, I believed that that was all I was. I had to force myself to relearn my real name, my identity. To relearn that this is not all that I am. That I am not just a drunk victim at a frat party found behind a dumpster … I am a human being who has been irreversibly hurt, my life was put on hold for over a year, waiting to figure out if I was worth something.”

She concludes her courageous letter with these words for women and girls everywhere, “I hope that by speaking today, you absorbed a small amount of light, a small knowing that you can’t be silenced, a small satisfaction that justice was served, a small assurance that we are getting somewhere, and a big, big knowing that you are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you.”

Do you see this woman?
Do you, Simon?
Do you, David?
Do you, Latvia?
Do you, Brock?
Do you?

Sadao Watanabe "The Anointing with Oil and Tears" 1979
Sadao Watanabe “The Anointing with Oil and Tears” 1979

When the unnamed woman in today’s Gospel reading came to Jesus, he said to her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
At first glance, this is a simple statement.
But what does it mean?
I personally find it interesting that this is a present-tense statement.
It’s not salvation that will come in the future through the cross of Jesus, but here and now through this woman’s faith.
The faith that encouraged her to seek out Jesus and show such extravagant love.
In the words of Professor Karoline Lewis, faith is “the belief that you are worthy of salvation. You are worthy to sit at the table. You are worthy of touching, and being touched by, God. You are worthy of belonging. You are worthy of being called a disciple.”
This woman stood up to the Pharisees and all those who said she was nothing more than an unworthy sinner and went to Jesus, the source of life and truth.
She stood up to the societal and systemic injustices of her day and declared her value as a human – demanded that they see her as a full person.

The same faith that freed this unnamed woman also frees us, here and now.
It gives us confidence in our own God-given identity.
It allows us to proclaim God’s love for all people.
It tells us that we too are worthy to sit at this Table and commune with Jesus.

This is the faith that gives life – claiming the identity that you are a beloved child of God regardless of how the Simons and Davids and Brocks of the world dehumanize you.
That no matter who tells you you’re not rich enough, thin enough, smart enough, good enough – through Christ, you are enough.
Whatever the world tells us, we each bear the beautiful image of our God – no matter our sex, gender, race, orientation, our sins, or anything else.
Each of us are made in God’s image.
Each of us are beautiful and worthy and holy.

You are worthy.
You are enough.
You are loved.


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