July 1, 2018 – A Woman’s Worth – Guest Preacher Sharlene McGowan
Gospel Reading: Mark 5: 21-43
My mother recently gave me a beautiful book called Women of the Bible. The book highlights the stories of about 160 women who are recorded in the Holy Scriptures from Genesis on through Revelation. Some stories warn us of the perils of doing wrong but most stories speak about the faith and strength of the women in scripture. Most of the stories have an actual woman’s name but some do not: Jarius’s daughter and the woman spoken of in our Gospel reading today are two stories which are featured in the book. Even though we heard the account from Mark today, it is important to note that the same account also appears in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
It may also be interesting to observe that the number twelve is used in connection with both the twelve-year-old girl and the woman who suffered from an infliction for twelve years. According to some scholars, twelve is an important number in the Bible which appears 187 times. There are countless examples which demonstrate the number twelve is used in connection with faith: The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that there were twelve sons of Jacob which formed the twelve tribes of Israel. 1 Kings speaks of Elijah’s twelve stones and the book of Ezekiel informs us that Ezekiel’s alter was twelve cubits long. In the New Testament, we are told that after Jesus fed the crowds with the loaves and fish, the remaining food was collected in twelve baskets. He was twelve years old when he questioned the religious leaders in the synagogue and, of course, Jesus had twelve apostles.
So our Gospel reading today shows Jesus encountering a large crowd on the other side of the lake after he crossed over. He is immediately approached by Jarius to help his young daughter who is dying. Without questioning, Jesus went with Jarius. As they walked, the crowds pressed against them. A woman who had been ill for twelve years touched the robe of Jesus with the faith and hope that she would be made well and, according to the Gospel of Mark, she was healed immediately. Jesus felt the touch and asked his disciples who it was who touched him. It could have been anyone, they say. After all, look at all these people following you. Jesus continued to look for the one who touched his robe and the woman approached him fearfully and admitted it was her who had done so. “Your faith has healed you,” Jesus told the woman. “Go in peace.” At the same time, people were telling Jarius that his daughter had indeed died. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus tells Jarius, “Just believe.” And then Jesus helped the girl up and asked that she be fed.
Now what is most astounding to me in this Gospel story is the importance and worth that Jesus placed on the lives of both the girl and the woman. Their lives were significant to him even though they were female. Specifically, the woman in the narrative would have been considered unclean according to Mosaic law; Leviticus 15 says that every woman was to be segregated for seven days each month and anyone who touched her during this time would also be made unclean. Keep in mind the woman had her condition for twelve years. But Jesus saw past the norms of the day to see the woman’s faith and, as a result, she was healed.
As my book on women of the Bible teaches me, the scriptures are filled with other suchlike accounts which portray the importance, strength, wisdom, faith, and worth of women: In Genesis, Sarah is rewarded late into her years with a son, Isaac, from which God established his covenant. God valued women for at one point He instructed Abraham to listen to his Sarah, his wife. Exodus 1 tells us the king of Egypt gave an order to the Hebrew midwives that the baby boys were to be killed, an order which they defiantly disobeyed because of their faith. Consider the consequences of acting contrary to what the king of Egypt decreed!
There’s the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 who rises early in the morning while it is still dark to care for her family and household. She buys real estate and out of her own money purchases a vineyard. She cares for the poor and earns the respect of her children and husband who says, “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Proverbs 18 tells us that a man who finds a wife has found favour from God.
There’s the story of Job’s daughters who shared in both the spiritual and material inheritance of their father. Job 42 says Job granted his daughters an inheritance along with their brothers. 1 Samuel talks about the faith of Hannah despite tremendous heartbreak. Likewise, Luke 2 tells us about the life-long faith of Anna. Luke 8 tells us about Joanna and Susanna who were supporting the work of Jesus and his disciples out of their own means. John 11 speaks about Jesus comforting the sisters of Lazarus and Jesus revealed himself to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die,” he says, beseeching her own opinion with the question, “Do you believe this?”
We know only too well the story of Elizabeth whose own child, John, was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in her womb and leaped for joy upon Mary’s visit. Mary’s own story is the one we likely know best: The favour God poured upon Mary as recorded in the Gospel of Luke is revealed through the Magnificat, or Song of Mary, for she says: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed…”
With the many incredible stories about the faith, strength, and worth of women in the Holy Scriptures, I often wonder: Where did it go wrong for women? The past centuries to the present day have not been kind to girls and women. Still today girls and women are denied rights, education, protection, equality, safety, and dignity throughout many regions of the world. Violence against women is widespread throughout the entire globe. According to a 2013 World Health Organization report, more than one-third of women and girls will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. The United Nations state that gender inequality is a predominant cause of poverty and hunger; about sixty percent of hungry people are girls and women. Women make up more than two-thirds of the world’s 800 million illiterate people even though a mother’s education level is a key factor in determining her child’s survival. Throughout the globe, only thirty-nine percent of rural girls attend secondary school.
As we think about Canada Day today, I am curious about our country’s own history of women. On January 28, 1916, Manitoba women became the first in Canada to win the right to vote. This was followed by Saskatchewan on March 14, 1916, and Alberta on April 19, 1916. In these instances, women were not yet considered “persons” in Canadian discourse. The “famous five” consisting of Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney, Emily Murphy, and Irene Parlby challenged the Supreme Court of Canada in 1928 to state that women were persons under the British North America Act of 1867. At that time, common law held that women could not hold political office and so therefore the Supreme Court determined that women were not persons under the law. The decision was reversed by appeal in 1929 and in 1930 Cairine Reay Wilson became the first woman appointed to the Senate and later, in 1949, was Canada’s first woman delegate to the United Nations.
It’s an important distinction, however, to note that most visible minority women – including Chinese women, Hindu or East Indian women, and Japanese women – weren’t allowed to vote at the provincial and federal level until the late 1940s. And under federal law, Indigenous women couldn’t vote in federal elections until 1960; therefore, the right to vote was not open to all Canadian women until 1960.
Many women in Canada may still struggle for equality and, in some cases, safety. Indigenous women in particular may be victims of violence. In September, 2016, the Government of Canada launched an independent inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. In Canada, we are now learning about the effects of colonization through the Truth and Reconciliation report and its Calls to Action. We are learning to become trauma-informed and we are making strong improvements in the high school graduation levels of Indigenous girls. We still have a long way to go.
In my current work as a mental health therapist, I often work with women who suffer from poor self-esteem and self-worth. I draw upon their own strength to show them that they are indeed worthy of dignity and love. I often call upon Marianne Williamson’s book A Woman’s Worth which demonstrates that women often look for love in people who are incapable of loving them back. More important, I truly believe a woman’s strength is as unfathomable as the sea.
Jesus knew the girl and the woman in our Gospel story today were worthy of life, dignity, and love. He respected and valued women. We may have gone off-track throughout the centuries in how the global family views and treats girls and women; our call today is to continue in the restoration of the worth of all girls and women as we go forward from here. Amen.