Religion, Theology and Self-Improvement Sundays: Women, Religion, Theology and Society Part 17

It is a very challenging and enlightening experience for most men to listen to a woman's perspective on the interpretation of scripture. I have experienced and witnessed this and bear witness that it can be an eye-opening event. At the root of the challenge and enlightenment is that most men who study religion and theology are never confronted in formal training or otherwise with the raw unedited opinion of scriptural exegesis from a woman's point of view. And of all women, a Black woman's commentary on the Holy Writ is the least well-known.

That is why we so highly recommend Just a Sister Away by Renita J. Weems. The point in recommending the book is not to demonstrate our agreement with its contents but rather to encourage men and women to come face-to-face with a female's point of view on women's relationships in the Bible and how those relationships point to the concept of "fermale" as it originated in the mind of God..

The experience alone, of moving through the 138-pages in the book is a major goal worth striving for. For most men the book represents the ultimate in the phrase, " Put yourself in my shoes".

Few of us can truly say that we have tried to see the Bible from a woman's point of view. And few male religious teachers have encouraged their students and followers to do the same.

For starters today and as a sample we quote an excerpt from the book that deals with the relationship between women and Jesus:

"Of their call, we have no record. We do not always know where they were born, nor do we know what happened to them after he was gone. Painful as it is to admit, we do not even know some of their names. Yet we do know that an untold number of women followed Jesus - even at the risk of anonymity and of being misunderstood. Perhaps embarrassed that he could not remember all their names, Luke, the writer of the third Gospel, refers to them simply as "certain women" in the King James translation of the Bible, a designation, which calls attention more to their novelty than to their integrity. But at the same time, such a phrase acknowledges - unwittingly, perhaps - that the women's presence was undeniable.

Many of the women attracted to Jesus' radical teaching, according to Luke, were wealthy women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna financed Jesus' ministry out of their abundant resources (Luke 8:1-3); Lydia, a successful businesswoman who specialized in purple dyes, opened her home to the nascent Church (Acts 16:12-15); and more than "a few leading women" of Thessalonica were converted under Paul and Silas' teachings (Acts 17:4). In today's jargon, Mary, Joanna, Susanna, Lydia, and the women of Thessalonica would be called "women of independent means."

But is Luke trying to suggest that only (or particularly) idle, upper-class women were drawn to support Jesus' radical vision? Are we to understand that Jesus called poor men to follow him, but attracted wealthy women as his financial backers? Although we have no reason to doubt the overall accuracy of Luke's Gospel, undoubtedly women from all economic backgrounds - the wealthy, the comfortable, the modest, the poor, and the homeless - were changed by Jesus' ministry. After all, the New Testament is full of stories of women, like Jesus' own mother, who were too poor to find a decent place to give birth (Luke 2:7); like the widow from Nain who, upon the death of her only son, was left destitute and alone (Luke 7:11-17).

And if our own experience as contemporary women in the Church has any validity in helping us envision the kinds of women who followed Jesus, those whom Luke imagined to be financially wealthy women may very well have simply been committed women giving all they had to a vision of a new kingdom and a new way of living. Dedicated women are certainly the women who have been the financial spinal column of the Black Church - not rich women but generous women, women who give all they have, even when what they have is just a little."

Cedric Muhammad

Sunday, February 25, 2001