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Alas, to Be a Woman. Chapter Five from The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

Alas, to Be a Woman

Chapter Five from The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

The evidence is there that the Scripture scholars who in the past prepared the liturgy for her official feast-day shared my view. This is how the composers of the liturgy for her feast-day celebrate that great love and longing: They even compared her unfulfilled love to that of the maiden in the Song of Songs, a poem that was frequently read in Jewish Sabbath liturgies and with which she herself must have been familiar.

‘...I will rise and go through the City;
in the streets and the squares
I will seek him whom my heart loves. ...
I sought but did not find him.
The watchmen came upon me on their rounds in the City:
"Have you seen him whom my heart loves?"
Scarcely had I passed them
then I found him whom my heart loves.

I held him fast,
nor would I let him go
till I had brought him into my mother’s house,
into the room of her who conceived me.’(Song of Songs)

For a woman such as Mary of Bethany life cannot have been easy. It was centred in the Temple and the Law and these were very much the domain of priests and scribes, a world of men. To be seen as a woman with outspoken views of her own on religious matters would have made her an outsider, different. We all know what it means to be different in a community turned in upon itself under the occupation by another people. In such circumstances it is more than ever considered essential to stick to traditional beliefs.

We may just as well remember at this point in the story that at least seven times Scriptures mention that Mary was rebuked for her actions by those who were close to her. Once it was her sister Martha who found fault with her for daring to sit with the disciples instead of humbly serving Jesus as a handmaid. Three times over there are the disciples in the various accounts of the anointing of Jesus who object to her behaviour. Who should be seen with her? Remarkably in none of these cases does the Lord side with those that find fault with her, on the contrary, in all these cases her actions are praised by him unlike those of her denouncers.

There is also the unspoken condemnation of the Pharisee in Luke´s dissenting story of the anointing. The original Greek text here uses the word hamartolos. Although this Greek word can certainly mean sinner, the translators might just as well have chosen the alternative meaning, that of a person holding wrong views. That is what is really so sinful in the eyes of the Pharisee-host that his guest, Jesus, whom he treats with such disdain, will be executed for in a matter of days. The story that Jesus tells, when he picks up the trend of the thoughts of the Pharisee, is heavy with irony. He juggles with the ideas of sin and love, respect and disrespect, the behaviour of Mary and that of the host. Unfortunately, people in those days did not have a way of transmitting the tone that makes the music, as the French say, the tone of irony.

Finally, when she comes to announce the glad tidings of the resurrection of the Lord, she is treated as a common gossip. Twice the Gospel states that the Eleven, the remaining male disciples, do not believe her.

Women and their faith. In the matters of spirit and soul women have always been and still are highly underestimated. Their task to be lovers and mothers and housekeepers. Spirit and soul had better be left to the wisdom of men. It is the ministry of Jesus that helped women overcome their historically founded feelings of inferiority in the matter.

In Israel, when a woman was married, the name of her husband, the names of her sons or of the town that she had some relation with, would be added to that of her own in order to identify her. Thus we hear of Joanna the wife of Chusa, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and Mary of Magdala. The fact that no husband’s name was ever attached to our Mary’s name in the four gospels, nor that of any sons, only that of a certain town, probably points to the fact that she never married, which in her own culture was something people frowned upon. Add to this her obviously strong character and her rebellious following of Jesus, and we have another reason why her contemporaries must have thought her something of a painted bird, a strange being, someone that people were just a little scared of, because of her strangeness. A person with the wrong attitude, I repeat, a ‘hamartolos’. A kind of witch or she-devil, most unclean in the eyes of the other townspeople and even more so in those of the Pharisees.

What I see, however, is a woman who uses her eyes to look, her ears to listen, her soul to receive the grace that is forthcoming. Such a woman, so different from her contemporaries, I repeat, cannot but evoke strong reactions, misunderstanding and fear.

© Theresia Saers

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