On the base of the Statue of Liberty are inscribed the words from the poem of Emma Lazarus written in 1883:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
Random thoughts towards a sermon. Readings are here.
This week I am thinking about Rebecca. I spent some time looking for information on women in her day. I found this item.
It was probably in this period that women enjoyed greatest freedom and prestige. The stories in Genesis and Exodus showed them as independent and strong, smart and tough. They displayed leadership and initiative. They almost always got their way when they wanted something. Rebecca, for example, is clearly in charge of her own destiny, both in deciding on her own future, and in shaping the future of her clan.
This was probably because women were necessary for the survival of the tribe, and they knew it. They did a wide range of tasks, without which the clan or family simply could not have managed. They moved freely in society, and were not confined within the home. The Bible stories show that they spoke and acted confidently.
Their contribution to the culture of the time was significant. The stories as we have them in the Bible were edited much later by male priests, but there are hints that women had a thriving cultural tradition of their own. Many of their stories dealt with families, children, food supplies, security/safety and home-places. All were matters that related to women’s spheres of influence, and some scholars suggest that many of the stories of Genesis were originally women’s stories, preserved by women in the clan.
As well, women played an active role in religious matters. The concept of monotheism was just beginning to develop, but many women probably worshipped a fertility goddess, the Great Mother, source of plant, animal and human life. Ancient Near Eastern religions certainly had fertility of the soil and animal life as one of their main focuses, with priestesses who served the forces of Nature (the power of river and rain water, abundance of crops and animals, etc.)
The laws of Hammurabi, a famous law-maker and king of Babylonia, provide insights into the lives of women in this period. There were laws to
protect the rights of women in marriage
protect women against rape
define the punishment for adultery
define the just treatment of women who were slaves
regulate the behaviour of sacred women who served in the temples
lay down conditions for divorce, etc.
Another source of information about women and their lives was provided by love poems and lullabies of this period.
Rebecca is clearly a woman who takes her destiny into her own hands. She chooses Isaac and from the text she is is only wife, unusual in those days. She decides that Jacob will be the better leader than Esau, although Esau is the elder brother. She tricks her dying husband to make it possible for Jacob to become first in line. We might think, wow, how can the Bible hold her up as someone to be remembered and honored with her own story? Was God behind all this or is it happy accident or is there a message about making things come into being by nefarious means? Things I think about when reading the stories of the heroes of the Bible. They all seem to be flawed.
This it the weekend we celebrate the founding of the U.S. - certainly we have had some flawed leaders in our history - yet we celebrate the freedom and system of government that has developed. We pledge to defend and protect and extend those freedoms to others. There are always those who say we have to keep it for ourselves - don't let any more in or give any more freedom to others. But as Martin Luther King, Jr. said - the arc of heaven bends towards justice - so the tide of freedom rolls on.
Jesus in the Gospel for today finds the religious leaders trying to protect God by many burdensome laws. People chide him for eating with all sorts of people. They compare him to John who was strict in his religious duties. Of course they did not like John either - too strict.
Andrew Greeley, a Roman Catholic priest and author, tells this joke:
There was some discussion in the Vatican about ordaining a woman priest—in Ireland, b/c they've been running things for 3000 years anyway. They sent her to the edge of County Mayo—so far out that the next parish was in Long Island. She bonded with all the womenfolk, but for the men, it was a bit of a strain. So one comes out and says, would ya like to come out in the fishin' boat tomorrow. It was a glorious day—they have them occasionally in Ireland. She got into the boat and the lads, in they forgot the boat, so she walks on water to get it and says, now get on with your fishin'. And he turns to his friend and says, they send a woman priest out to a fishing parish and she can't even swim.
That seems to be the dilemma that Jesus has. He breaks through it in his usual way of turning the world upside down. He quotes from Wisdom, that it is deeds that show the ways of God's world. There is an easier way - walk with Jesus, follow him, open the doors wide, feast with all who wish to feast. Let God be the host - we are the servers at the table - waiters and waitresses - who pass out the bread of life and wine of the Spirit. The yoke of this service is light and easy.
Bishop Tutu says - who knows what can happen when we sit down at table with one another. There is no limit to the possibilities.
Wendell Berry writes:
We Who Prayed and Wept
We who prayed and wept
for liberty from kings
and the yoke of liberty
accept the tyranny of things
we do not need.
In plenitude too free,
we have become adept
beneath the yoke of greed.
Those who will not learn
in plenty to keep their place
must learn it by their need
when they have had their way
and the fields spurn their seed.
We have failed Thy grace.
Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity.
P. 211 in Collected Poems: 1957-1982