A Single Mom
A Poem by Mike Garner
She bears a child
She is shamed
He is a man
She raises a son alone
He is a better man than his father
God closes his eyes to our constructions of personal sin when systemic structures of evil prevail and the weak, the poor, and children become victims of an unhealthy society. The definition of a victim is that they are innocent. The attribution of sin to a victim is an ignorant self-righteous rant of religious absurdity. The inheritance of sin is not through genetic relationship; it is the resulting relation of all humanity through societal constructs of power that corrupt reality.
The state of a woman as a prostitute is indicative of systemic sin in society, and governing males are guilty of sin more than any sins women will be held accountable of before God.
Scapegoating a Woman and Religious Violence
The biblical portrayals of Jesus’ compassion for sexually exploited women communicate his understanding of their status as victims. The story of the woman caught in adultery and the incredulous behavior of those who seek to stone her is an example of Jesus’ sensitivity to evil. The male perpetrator of this sin is not present and the woman is a victim of a plot by the Pharisees who are more interested in building a case against Jesus than the woman’s alleged violation of Moses. The woman is said to be guilty of adultery even caught in the act.
Jesus certainly knows the law so his response is ultimately instructive on how to read and understand the passages of the law that call for killing. The constant refrain to put people to death is to communicate how damaging certain human behavior is to life. Moses’ extreme call for stoning is a literary deterrent; it is impractical and inconsistent with God’s mercy. It is instructive on the power of sin to bring death into the world.
For Christians, Jesus’ response indicates that the Pharisees do not possess anything written by the hand of God. So the Lord bends down to write in the sand, a rather nonchalant if not disruptive response from a teacher being confronted by persons of power. Our imaginations are left to wonder what Jesus -with the finger of God- wrote in the dirt. Initially it is the act of a child to play in the dirt, a simple mannerism that reveals Jesus’ practice; he writes nothing, rather, he lives. Perhaps he wrote out all the reasons for stoning presented in the law? Perhaps, he wrote the name of the man with whom the woman was caught? The wages of sin are death we do not need to kill anyone we are already dying.
When their questioning continued Jesus’ made an upward movement and invited any who would accuse the woman to throw the first stone. Public acts of violence always need someone to throw the first stone. Jesus’ knew the reality of the moment, if a stone was thrown, the stone thrower would be exposed as a killer. The absence of the male adulterer is too conspicuous to be ignored; the male must be stoned also according to Moses. The Pharisees knew this and could not respond to Jesus’ challenge for a first stone. Jesus’ also knew that their use of the woman was a ploy to incite the crowd to violence, to see the crowd stone Jesus along with the woman. Jesus’ challenged the Pharisees to begin the violence, to throw the first stone. I think they left by order of age -oldest to youngest- because the older ones knew their power was dependent upon the crowd, the younger ones did not yet grasp the fragility of their authority over the crowd.
Jesus returns to writing in the dirt, the departure of the group begins -oldest to youngest- all the accusers leave. In the story, we are left with only Jesus and the woman. The Pharisees are faced with this truth the Decalogue says do not kill as well as do not commit adultery and they sought to kill Jesus an innocent man. This is so because it is evident that if the stoning of the woman began it would be built upon Jesus defying the law and they would see to the death of both Jesus and the woman. Jesus, did not defy the law, he defied the abuse of the law in the Pharisees’ scheme. It the crowd had ignited with violence, the Pharisees could deny their complicity in any purposeful scheme set on stoning Jesus. However, Jesus hit the weakness of their plan; one of them, one of the Pharisees would have to throw the first stone because they are the accusers.
The Law of Moses has met its authorial-interpreter. The religious had the murder in their hearts exposed, their claim as interpreters of Moses challenged, and the scapegoating of the woman made clear by the actions of Jesus. Jesus would not leave the woman who they had stood before him. Jesus’ insight over the plan of the Pharisees is matched by Jesus’ wisdom of Torah. In effect Jesus has abolished the death penalty; there is murder in the hearts of the most religious among us.
The wedding motif is prevalent throughout the gospel of John. In our story the woman represents the body of Christ; there is no condemnation. Likewise, we are invited to view a picture of Jesus kneeling before a woman as a man does before his beloved. Jesus defends the woman who was merely a scapegoat for the Pharisees. John’s gospel in this story communicates that all are guilty of the adultery of idolatry. In the case of the Pharisees, their idolatry was to believe they were the interpreters of the law and had the power to murder both the woman and Jesus in a scheme of violent deception. The power over life belongs to God and God alone. The state and religion’s claims upon the right to take life are incompatible with the reign of God entering the world marked by Jesus’ entrance into history.
The Burden of Beauty
I am going to take a perspective on the woman at the well that is a reasonable assertion based upon the story though not stated explicitly. I am also not presenting the many wonderful readings available to the interpreter from this rich and meaningful story. So, I will argue for, and read the story, through a lens that understands the (nameless) woman at the well to be representative of women whose burden is their beauty.
First, the invitation of the Samaritan Woman to the people of the city informs the reader that the conversation of the nameless woman and Jesus was longer than the crafted literature we receive in the text.
“Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!
He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
I do not understand her words to be an exaggeration but to be an accurate statement on her encounter with Jesus. Our view into their conversation is limited to the defining events of her identity in the eyes of others. A woman who goes through four husbands and serves as a mistress to another man cannot conceal, or keep this part of her life, from defining her when other people speak about her. The absence of any mention of children, and her presence at the well alone, is compatible with the idea that her relationships were dependent upon sustaining her beauty.
The woman does not represent all Samaritans and her namelessness does allow her to represent the body of Christ for persons attentive to the wedding motif in John. Women are often left nameless to communicate how males treat them. At other times leaving a character nameless is a literary device to indicate that the character represents an entire group of people. However, I think the woman represents all the women who are loved only for their beauty. This is consistent with the ease in which she moves from one husband to another and eventually to a man who is not her husband and so she becomes a mistress to a rich man.
The nameless woman at the well met a man (Jesus) who witnessed the marks of five different men upon a lonely woman whose beauty separated her from other women and made her the preoccupation of men. Alone she came to the well to draw water in the heat of the day. Ostracized from other women she had become a plaything for men. I imagine Jesus told her things about herself that she kept from all others, he saw into her heart and saw her dreams. Jesus saw past her beauty and reached her soul with truth.
The Forgiven Escort of Faith
All four gospels record a story about the anointing of Jesus’ feet. Luke’s is my favorite; it is an encounter involving Jesus, a high-class escort and a judgmental Pharisee. It is clear that Jesus had some impact upon the nameless woman and that she also knew Simon the Pharisee. In an environment where men can commit adultery and not be held accountable it is possible that her knowledge of Simon might be more than traditional readings have offered. She does know his name and where he lives.
The nameless woman identified by Simon the Pharisee as a sinner hears that Jesus is to eat at Simon’s home. She immediately takes with her the tools of her trade, costly scented oil. Upon her arrival at the home of Simon she managed to make her way inside. I can imagine people moving out of the way for her simply because she would have been considered an unseemly character who good people avoided.
Once inside she sees Jesus’ a quick glance affirms her thoughts; Simon has not received Jesus into his home with dignity, he has not provided water for his feet, his head has not been touched with oil. Jesus’ is seated on the pillows at the low table, he is positioned on the side of his hip, his feet are behind him and he leans on his left hand. She begins to weep; this man named Jesus has touched her life and shown grace like no other religious teacher. She lets her hair down and takes shame upon herself for doing so, her tears flow so heavy that she uses them to wash Jesus’ feet. Her very long hair becomes a towel for the feet of the itinerant teacher. Then the room fills with the costly scent identified with a woman of the night and she oils Jesus' feet.
We are told Simon’s thoughts but they should not be surprising, we’ve learned enough already to know how a man like Simon thinks. It is questionable as to who would be forgiven much if Simon were to recognize his own need of Jesus. We know Jesus intends to forgive the woman. Her actions indicate her love for Jesus, for his teaching, and her repentance. Jesus rebukes Simon for his display of inhospitable treatment. The woman has reversed all of Simon’s social snubs directed at Jesus.
Jesus publicly and in a personal address announces that the woman’s sins are forgiven, obversely Simon’s are not. Jesus follows up his ministry to the woman by informing her that it is her faith that has saved her. Her faith was demonstrated in her actions to resist Simon and honor Jesus.
When she poured out her perfume onto the feet of Jesus it was a symbol of her transformation. She would need the pleasantly odorous oil no longer. This act was the culminating event of all her behavior and confirmed her conversion to the teachings of Jesus.
Women are the guardians of life. They hold the next generation in their bodies and nurture them with their bodies. In the presence of violence, even a military firefight, women will run into the middle of live fire in order to scoop up the children and get them to safety.
Male children need the influence of women in order to become healthy human beings. Manoah (Samson’s father) approaches life from the perspective that males are to be in charge of life and interrupts the influence of Samson’s mother with her son. In Manoah’s thought women are not suited to raise male children. This results in the over masculinizing of Samson who becomes a womanizing fool. The image of the macho male is mocked through the failed life of Samson.
Hannah rears one of Israel’s greatest prophets and does so by removing Samuel from the home of his father. She then forms his identity and nurtures his religious life beyond the failed father and priest Eli who receives Samuel because of the gifts Hannah is able to provide through the wealth of her husband. Women can rear excellent male children without a male.
Males are responsible for producing social structures that ensure the world is a safe place for women to bear and rear children. A world where males are taught war and violence is not a safe place for anyone. Hosea’s word in a God speech places responsibility for female sexual behavior upon males.
I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore,
nor your daughters-in-law when they commit adultery;
for the men themselves go aside with whores,
and sacrifice with temple prostitutes;
thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.
In Hosea the inebriation of a people lost to idolatry, a people who seek the favor of empire’s wealth, who trust in warfare, who make the world a place where ethics and religion are overcome by love for aesthetics, are a people without understanding on how society is to be structured.
Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”
Hosea provides a prayer for Israel in the final hope piece (ch.14) at the end of his book. The prayer provides the removal of the idols that separate Israel from God and produce a society where male/female relationships have collapsed into the exploitation and abuse of women. The wealth of Assyria cannot rescue them from the famine upon their land. The chariots of war cannot save them from their enemies. Their idolatry of the human, their love of self (culminating in unrestrained sexual behavior) is a false god. Israel is orphaned, their God has left them, they ask for mercy.
Hope pieces are not idealistic dreams of an age to come; rather they are indicative of practice for God’s people.
Endangered guardians are women whose lives have not been properly cared for by males who are responsible before God to produce societies of peace without the presence of idols. When males are not responsible before God for their sexuality, for their seed, then the guardians of life are endangered.
The conquering of a people through military force always includes the sexual conquering of the women. This activity of abusing the guardians of life results in a world inebriated on idols and unable to find their way in the world. When men do not restrain their sexuality as a spiritual discipline and women are abused the world collapses into violence. Women are not prostitutes they are endangered guardians. In scripture, the fault for the presence of prostitution is placed upon the males not the women.
I will provide a story to explain how systemic structures produce evil in society because I don't think most persons even understand the concept of systemic structures of evil. I have seen the following scenarios many times and always to my dismay and tears. A young uneducated woman suffers debilitating poverty brought on by structural adjustment programs, programs that ensured her entrance into the world through a given people would include debt. The young woman is a Christian and out of desperation seeks employment through an agency that promises her a job far from home.
Her home is a place where she is forced to live by scavenging for food and cans, bottles etc. in an odorous dumpsite in sweltering heat. She accepts the employment offering and is trafficked into bars where U.S. soldiers drink and buy women for a pittance. Within a year she has a child that the U.S. government will not take responsibility for, nor will they require the father of the child to do so.
At night she prays for God to help her and reads her Bible. She keeps it in a drawer next to her bed where she sleeps with men in order to send money home to care for her child and family. Is she a sinner? Where is God in all this systemic evil perpetrated upon an innocent girl by economic and military powers? God asks where are we? Perhaps we're planning to purchase our summer home from the wealth our nation builds on the backs of the poor across the world?
Since we are all victims of sin before we become perpetrators, the better question would be what constitutes being a perpetrator of sin, and of evil. When are we simply living in ignorance of reality? Of course, no one has ever said, "I've solved the problem of evil", ever! To face reality and learn our culpability for reality is a spiritual task most people never learn.
To recognize all women as guardians of life brings us back to the root of the problem, males have failed to produce a world consistent with God’s way for humanity. Jesus loves endangered guardians and looks to his people to love them and end the abuse, end the social structures that lead to the endangering of the guardians of life.
 The italicized statement is supported by a God speech, written in poetry by, the prophet Hosea. It is affirming of my teaching that men are held accountable for the sexual behavior of women in society. See, Mike Garner, Theological Adventures pg.