Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Good Samaritan Woman

Jay Seidler has a quick post today, linking to a psychology blog which drudges up that old 1973 study showing that, "Religious personality variables" do not predict whether a person will show kindness or care to another human being in need. ABC Primetime did a 2008 repeat of that study that focused, not on religious personality, but, in part, on whether race and gender had much to do with being "a good Samaritan." And I remember at Suzanne's Bookshelf a post in which she considers how "There is no male way to care for others, and no female way to care for others." (The whole notion of whether personality and gender are bound together is something Suzanne had already talked about some in another post.)  The studies show that people (whether female or male or black or white or religious in personality or otherwise) tend to show kindness when they are not rushed and are not overly busy.

But I do want to look at what's racist and sexist in this story of Jesus.  If you hear the parable of the Good Samaritan, then you do get the idea that there's something racist going on. Definitely, the first and intended audience for the story was religious racists. And the story teller (a pure Jew and a male) had apparently learned a little already from a good Samaritan (a half-breed Jew?, a female). So I want to post here about that. And I want to make available Peggy Weaver's essay "The Good Samaritan Woman," which gets at the religious, racist, sexist crux of the parable.

First, there's the hilarious dramatized version of Jesus telling the parable of the good Samaritan with all the PC backlash we might expect today (posted by Deeky at Shakesville).

Second, there's Jesus learning from the Samaritan whose body was sexed female and mixed-breed too. (Here's how Carolyn Custis James recalls it in her book, When Life and Beliefs Collide, page 40:
When Jesus taught the multitudes, he employed metaphors from a woman's experience to draw their interest. He visited places where women commonly gathered. Beside a well, he engaged the Samaritan woman in serious theological conversation about living water. And here, in the house at Bethany, he spoke at length with Mary, despite her unfinished domestic duties and pressure from her sister.
And here's how James hears it from a sermon by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, preaching gender equality as what Jesus learned and taught but gender inequality as "horrible superstition" believed and practiced by men of religion.)

Third, then, is Weaver's essay (from page 25 of The Wisdom of Daughters: Two Decades of the Voice of Christian Feminism by Reta Halteman Finger).  I read the essay this morning after reading Bill Heroman's post discussing "Paul's inherent misogyny" that ostensibly "had begun to abate." And then I thought of the horrors of this holiday season, for so many.

Unfortunately, labeling of the one spouse as "submissive" and the other as "loving" has led to the crumbling of marriages of friends and families close to me. For the first holiday season in a quarter of a century, some good friends of ours will not be together -- divorce in progress. The wife, a submissive woman because she believes that's her role, has given no time to herself but all to her "loving" husband and all to their children and grandchild. Two families in my extended families are torn apart another holiday season, because of the inequalities. Submissive wives (like slaves of Aristotle and of the first century) are kept busy by roles of service to others first. Gender, especially bodies sexed female, (and race, typically bodies born blacker or mixed) mark the inequality, the "nature" of the roles. Listen, then, to what blocks your care of another human being this holiday season. Listen, and remember yourself:

The Good Samaritan Woman
by Peggy Weaver

     Yesterday I heard a sermon which angered me.  Everyone else seemed touched by it.  Even the priest cried as he spoke of two men who had been mentors in his life.  It was not the individual stories that bothered me.  It was the concept being presented:  give everything of yourself.  Give it until the very end, until you have nothing left.  And then your reward will come.

     How readily women hear that message!  How easily we believe these words.  Give all.  Don't question.  Don't be angry.  Don't doubt that your reward will be on some distant horizon.

     Perhaps the lesson the priest spoke of is needed by those who are not familiar with commitment, with toughing it out until the end.  But there is another lesson to learn, and we women especially need to hear a new message.  Most of us do not need more instruction in holding on until the end.  We need instruction and mentors to teach us how to let go.

     The parable of the Good Samaritan came to my mind, but with a new lesson, one particularly for women.
     ...a Samaritan, as she journeyed, came to where he was, and when she saw him, she had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring oil and win, then she set him on her own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  And the next day she took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, "Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay when I come back." (adapted from Luke 10:33-35 KJV)
      She left.  She left!  The woman tended to his wounds, brought him to a safe place, took care of him, and paid his way.  And then she left.
      It sounds almost sinful when we replace the "he" with "she."  You mean she didn't stay long enough to be sure that he had a job or a home?  What kind of woman would leave so quickly?  Yet the parable tells us that the woman had compassion when she saw the man.  The lesson is that she also had compassion for herself.  She knew her limits.  She did what she could at the time, and then she went on her way.  The Samaritan woman did not leave the man totally alone; she arranged to return when she came back through town, to pay any extra costs.  She trusted that the man would know when he was healed and would leave of his own accord.  She knew how much she could give; she knew how much to trust others to provide.
      Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."

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