At 9am each Sunday, I run a class that has affectionately become known as “Bible Buffet”. We dine on the wisdom of Midrash; our shared attempt to make Bible texts relevant in our universal setting. We have a lot of fun. It’s very liberating to have freedom to be creative with texts that have so often been used to suppress free thought. We had a nice moment last Sunday. I opened one of the Bibles we store in the room and a note fell out. It was written by a one time visitor to C3, expressing his anxiety for our souls and quoting many verses to support his judgment. The note was written in 2008. One of our class wags said, “Only at C3 would it take two years to even find the note.”
In any case we have dusted off our Bibles and set about reading texts intelligently and not literally. Amazing insights keep emerging.
Take for example our conversation last week about Jesus and patriarchy. We looked at Matthew 10 with its comments about how dangerous it is to be a disciple. We agreed that disciple is a quaint way to describe following a path with heart, and being true to your own inner calling. Then we asked the question, “Why would Jesus say that disciples will be hated by EVERYBODY?” Why is authenticity so unpopular? Jesus main charge to his disciples was to heal, and maybe the most radical aspect of healing is liberating someone to be true to their own essence. Why would this be unpopular? Maybe because it messed with the established social order. In Jesus’ presence, women were affirmed and given rights, lepers were touched and given value. All people were given freedom to transcend their social standing.
Jesus’ main interest was to create communities of free thought and self responsibility. This was particularly radical in a world where the oldest male in each household had rights over those who lived with him. He had authority even over adults in the household. Adults could be sold into slavery, sick babies could be abandoned and women were the legal property of the patriarch. His authority also came with the burden that whatever household members did in public, reflected on him. So any crime or social faux pas by a householder created shame for the man of the house.
When Jesus said “Do not call anyone “Father” but your “Father” in heaven” he was committing the ultimate social and religious faux pas. This may be one of the most radical statements he ever uttered. Here is one possible interpretation of the statement- do not give your loyalty to the patriarch. Retain your self autonomy, and give your ultimate loyalty to your own inner conscience, the God within.
In the first century, the household was the place where religious ideology was upheld. The father was the keeper of tradition. Jesus’ call not to bow to the father of the house shattered the patriarchy that both family and religion served to protect. He came with a sword that sliced to the heart of oppression and exposed it for what it was. Instead he called for a new world order of free thought, self determination, broad compassion and generosity.
Jesus suggested that following your heart will inevitably cost you- sisters and brothers, land and house, mothers and fathers. But authenticity will bring you so much more in return (100 fold)- brothers, sisters and land. Interestingly the list of what they will receive in return excludes fathers. Maybe this also sheds light on why Jesus’ father Joseph plays such a minor role in the story. The new vision tears down hierarchical relationships. To never call anyone "father" is to refuse to recognize patriarchy. When you follow your inner voice, there is no limit to the abundance you will enjoy. You will be liberated from self limiting and oppressive baggage. You will be free to be who you truly are, and not what society expects you to be.
Now, I would go a step further than the recorded Jesus saying. I wouldn’t call my inner conscience “father” either. That limits the inner calling way too much, especially for women.
Mary Daly was a radical feminist theologian who died early this year. She said this-
I have already suggested that if God is male, then the male is God. The divine patriarch castrates women as long as he is allowed to live on in the human imagination. (Beyond God the Father, 19)
Patriarchy oppresses both men and women. It is a destructive ideology as it squashes self expression in all people. The new consciousness that I hear in the teaching of Jesus encourages self expression, even if this means disappointing the expectations of others. Call it whatever you want- authenticity, God within, divine calling. Choose something that empowers you and doesn’t limit you. This quality transcends and includes gender.
The liberating truth is that men and women contain both "masculine" and "feminine" traits. So be yourself. Be a brilliant, creative woman or a nurturing, receptive man, or any combination that fits for you. There are no rules. I don’t believe that the intention of Jesus was to make more Christians, but to make more authentic people. Whether you are Christian, Muslim, spiritual but not religious, or no declared faith, this is an empowering message.
Seed of Diversity
Gender matters. We are equal; but we aren’t the same. Men and women are different and each person has a unique blend of feminine and masculine traits. Understand the differences. Avoid judgments. Make difference a strength. Decide which aspects of gender you want to transcend and which aspects you affirm as part of who you are for now.
Say to yourself: I celebrate gender difference, and my unique blend of masculine and feminine.