Friday, January 15, 2010

Women Are Not Sex Objects

Another entry from Adele Hebert,
Independent Scholar.

There are numerous occasions recorded in the Gospels where women are treated as second‑class citizens, even as sex objects, and it was expected that Jesus would do the same. One such occasion occurred when Jesus was invited to dinner at the house of a skeptical Pharisee (Lk 7:36ff.) and a woman of ill repute (harmatolos, a sinner) entered and washed Jesus’s feet with her tears, wiped them with her hair and anointed them. The Pharisee saw her solely as an evil sexual creature: “The Pharisee ...said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who this woman is who is touching him and what a bad name she has.’” But Jesus deliberately rejected that way of thinking. He rebuked the Pharisee and spoke solely of the woman’s human, spiritual actions; he spoke of her love, her unlove, i.e., her sins, her being forgiven, and her faith. Jesus then addressed her (it was not “proper” to speak to women in public, especially “improper” women) as a human person: “Your sins are forgiven.... Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

A similar situation occurred when the scribes and Pharisees used a woman reduced entirely to a sex object to set a legal trap for Jesus (Jn 8:2‑11). It is difficult to imagine a more callous use of a human person than what the “adulterous” woman was put through, by the enemies of Jesus. First, she was “taken” in the act, then dragged before the scribes and Pharisees, finally brought before an even larger crowd that Jesus was instructing, “making her stand in full view of everybody.” They told Jesus that she had been caught in the very act of committing adultery and that Moses had commanded that such women be stoned to death (Dt 22:22ff.). “What have you to say?” The trap was partly that if Jesus said Yes to the stoning he would be violating the Roman law, which limited capital punish­ment, and if he said No, he would contravene Mosaic law. It could have been to expose Jesus’s reputation for kindness toward, and championing the cause of, women in opposition to the law and the condemnation of sin.
Jesus, of course, eluded their snares by refusing to become entangled in legalisms and plots. Rather, he dealt with bth the accusers and the accused directly as spiritual, ethical, human persons. He spoke directly to the accusers in the con­text of their own personal ethical conduct: “If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” To the accused woman he spoke with compassion, but without approving her conduct: “‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’”
Regarding the status of women, the woman being caught in the act of adultery, according to the Law of Moses must to be stoned to death. But since the type of execution mentioned was stoning, the woman must have been a “virgin betrothed,” as referred to in Dt 22:23f. It states both the man and the woman must be stoned, although in the Gospel story only the woman is brought forward. However, the reason given for why the man ought to be stoned was not because he had violated the woman, or God’s law, but “because he had violated the wife (property) of his neighbor.” It was the injury to the man (not the wife or betrothed) that was the great evil. Jesus defended her; he did not condemn her; he declared her a person, definitely not the property of a man.

Adapted from Leonard Swidler