The Sinful woman, a Church of action

On this fifteenth week of Pentecost, we hear of yet another woman as part of the collection of Pentecost Gospel’s.  She is the sinful woman who found repentance through Christ. (Luke 7:36-50).

As we highlighted last week, the Maronite Pentecost lectionary gives as a typology of women, Brides of the Groom, to inspire us to the Church we are called to be. A Church on a missionary journey who is accompanied and healed by Christ himself. 

The sinful woman came to Christ begging for his forgiveness. One of the most beautiful literary techniques used in Syriac literature is that of dialogue. The dialogues usually draws on a moment of tension from the Gospel and then two speakers conduct an argument in alternating verses. One of these is between Satan and the Sinful women. In this stunning dialogue the author draws out, through Satan, the tension he imagined would have been going through the sinful women’s mind in approaching Jesus.

The poem starts with a beautiful introduction in which we are told that God sent his Son clothed in his humanity as the Compassionate doctor who could heal. The Sinful Woman had heard of his healing and knew he was at Simeon the Pharisees house, she had resolved to go to him for forgiveness of her sins. As witness that the early Syriac writers saw this woman as the Church, the woman states to Satan:

I am indeed brazen and impudent,
And debauched men have loved me
But Christ the Bridegroom has betrothed me,
And he has made me holy, to be with Himself

We hear this theme of the Church being the Bride of Christ throughout the Maronite Pentecost liturgy:

Jesus is the faithful Groom
and we are the Church, his Bride.

In the poem, Satan is an externalization of what the writer imagines are the sinful women’s innermost thoughts. The poem highlights the sinful women’s struggles in detaching from her former life and gate crashing the party to meet Jesus. Her worst self and all that is bad about her is being portrayed by Satan who gives her all the reasons to stay away from Jesus, including:

SATAN: I can see that you’ve gone out of your mind,
You don’t know what you are saying.
You’ve never read the Scriptures,
And yet here you are expounding their words!
WOMAN: I can see that you are ashamed,
For the Son of God has condemned you.
Up to today I belonged to you,
But from now on I reject you and your friends.
SATAN: You’d be better off, my girl, if you stayed back
And didn’t go off to Mary’s son.
Perhaps, unbeknown to you, he’s already scowling at you,
And if he sees you he will be angry.
WOMAN: What could be happier than today
If I go and approach Mary’s Son?
I be better off even if HE killed me,
For I’d escape from you, the enemy of everyone.

The Gospel also highlights Simon the Pharisee was outraged that the Sinful woman touched Jesus and we hear Jesus say to him:

Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet.You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Our faith is demonstrated by our actions and not our condemnation. Here we would like to address something relevant to our times. 

Social media can be used as a wonderful resource for evangelisation, however used incorrectly, it can also drive people away from the Church. Our Maronite Church can reach out in a very unique way to those who may not know Christ. People are not going to be attracted to a negative Church, one that is unhappy and focused on consistently debating and judging. People are not going to be attracted to an angry mob.  The Church is not going to be attractive if the people in it are morally outraged, full of self-righteousness or judgemental like Simon was.

Before you share, post or comment, think about the overall objective and whether it will bring those in need of God’s mercy to the Church. The dialogue between Satan and the Sinful woman highlights the voices that might drive people away. The need to win an unnecessary argument or correct in the short-term can drive others away. People are looking for something that gives them peace, not a fight.  For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints. 1Co 14:33

Observers seeing people confusion and chaos will not find the Church attractive. A discussion that descends into argument, heated debate and attacks will not bring anyone to Christ. There are times when it is actually prudent to say nothing. 

Collectively we are part of the Church. How one of us behaves can have an impact on the Church as a whole. People who may be seeking Christ could be watching. The faith is not an ideology, it is a living example and we are witnesses to it.

Do not share things you can not verify yourself or believe them just because a ‘friend’ told you so. Next time you want to post, comment or share, think about the bigger picture. Think about whether it is necessary and whether it will bring you or others closer to Christ.

We shall conclude with the same prayer of the dialogue between the Sinful woman and Satan.

‘O Son of God, who opened Your mouth
And forgave the Sinful woman her sins
Forgive us our sins too, just as you did her
For we have sinned just as she did.
And as the Sinful Woman was forgiven
Because she kissed your feet in Simeon’s house
So you forgive Your Church
Which, at the altar consumes Your Body and Blood.’

Amen

Women in the Pentecost Gospels

A Maronite lesson in the Church we are called to be

Pentecost marks the birth of the Church and throughout the season we hear Gospels and Epistles with messages to the Church. As Pentecost comes to an end, we hear a series of Gospel’s whose central characters are women. While the Gospel’s can speak to each of us individually about the kind of person we should be, these Gospel’s are chosen to speak to us collectively about the Church we are called to be, a Church that is called to decrease in order to increase.

In the Syriac Rabbula Gospel icon for Pentecost, we see the inclusion of Mary in a prominent position.  Mary is not specifically mentioned in the scene in Acts 2, however she is mentioned as being with the Apostles earlier in Acts 1:14. In Syriac thought, Mary herself is a type of  Church. As the Pentecost Gospel’s unfold, we see other women in the Gospels are also types of Church.

On the twelfth Sunday of Pentecost we are introduced to the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28). The Gospel begins with Jesus leaving “that place” and going to the region of Tyre and Sidon. The place he was leaving was where he had been challenged by the Pharisees and teachers of the law about the breaking of the traditions of the elders (Matthew 15:1). The leaders and experts of the Church are burdened and preoccupied with the laws and  it is against this exchange, that we are introduced to the Canaanite woman, a foreigner. The Canaanite woman’s call to Jesus demonstrates immediately that she knew who he was. She recognised he is Lord, the Son of David and that he is the one that can heal her demon possessed daughter who is suffering terribly. The disciples tell Jesus to send the woman away and Jesus, in what can only be regarded a humiliating rebuke, tells the woman that he was sent only for the lost sheep of Israel.

When our faith is challenged and we are

humiliated our instinct is to react and demand justice for ourselves. Instead, even when the Canaanite women was compared to a dog and humiliated and marginalised, her concern remained for her daughter’s healing. She knew that Christ was the path to that healing and she continued to beg him for it.

In the season of Pentecost,  the Canaanite woman becomes an example to us all about the Church we are called to be. The Canaanite woman is not preoccupied with the law, rather she understands the law and with that understanding approaches Christ in love, faith and humility.

With so much happening in our world today, it is easy for us to consider ourselves persecuted and react with anger and demand justice for ourselves, forgetting those who are suffering terribly. It is easier to speak of the “rules” like the Pharisees and teachers of the law and demand that they not be broken. The Canaanite woman does not react this way, instead she unravels her beauty in humility and meekness and becomes an example of faith. She kneels before Christ and begs him, not for herself, but for her daughter who needs healing. To be the Canaanite woman is counter intuitive to how we think the Church should conduct herself in society. Why shouldn’t the Church stand up and defend itself? Against our intuition, we as a Church do not need to demand justice for ourselves, rather we need to have faith that our love and humility can lead others to be healed by Christ.

On the thirteenth Sunday of Pentecost, in the Gospel of Luke 8:1-15 we hear about the women who were accompanying Jesus, including Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward, Susanna ‘and many others who provided for them out of their resources.’

These were women who were healed by Christ are now devoting their resources to accompany Christ, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.

The mission of the Church is a central theme in Pentecost. The Church is called to devote its resources to preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The women in this Gospel are testimony to the fact that Christ came for all of our healing and salvation. This is the very mission of the Church, to proclaim that good news.  In the season of Pentecost, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit has been sent to give us the wisdom to take the message of redemption to the world. As a Church, the message is simple, Christ came for our healing and our salvation and like the women who were healed, we as a Church also stand witness to that and are called to proclaim that. These women have left everything to be with Christ and join him on his mission.

Similarly, on the fourteenth Sunday of Pentecost we hear the story of Mary and Martha. Mary leaves everything to be with Christ. Like the other Gospels, Luke 10:38-42 opens with Christ, accompanied by others, continuing a journey.

Martha like the Pharisees in Matthew’s Gospel is burdened, “anxious and worried about many things” even though Christ came to lift that burden and fulfil the law.

The message to us as a Church, is we need to avoid getting caught up in anxiety for the future, of losing our rights and way of life. Christians trust God to provide for them. The Church is more than an ideology. When as a Church, we become disciples of the ideology and are consumed by anxiety, we forget the very essence of who we are. Christ is at our centre and as a Church, like Mary, all we need is to be with him.

This year, the liturgical cycle did not proceed to the fifteenth week of Pentecost, yet in that week we would hear the Gospel of the sinful woman who found repentance through Christ. (Luke 7:36-50)

The Maronite  Pentecost lectionary gives as a typology of women to inspire us to the Church we are called to be, a Church of faith, love and humility. A Church on a missionary journey who is accompanied and healed by Christ himself.

In the words of the Liturgy at Pentecost let us remember:

Jesus is the faithful Groom
and we are the Church, his Bride.
He loves us and keeps us in the palm of his hand.
Our betrothal prophets blessed,
and our vows apostles wrote,
and when martyrs shed their blood
the promise was sealed.

Amen

Freedom of Speech

In this season of Pentecost, we are reminded that the Holy Spirit has been sent to give us the wisdom to take the message of Christ to the world. As Christians, the right to practice our faith is important, however with that right comes a responsibility. Even if the world allows us to say whatever we want, as Christians, we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit and discern how we say things and when we choose to say them. In this season of Pentecost we can reflect on the fruits of the Holy Spirit and use them to guide our speech.

Love

St Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that we can do many things, but if they are done without love, they are pointless.

“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Christian preaching is worthless without love. It is our love which will inspire others to Christ, not our judgement. Condemnation of people is not going to bring people to Christ. God transforms in love, not in fear.

Joy

Christianity is not going to be attractive if the people in it are morally outraged, full of self-righteousness, judgmental, fearful and closed up on themselves. We must resist anger and the language of moral decline. The joy of the Gospel is for everyone and no one is excluded.

Peace

Peace comes from relying on God. We need to avoid getting caught up in anxiety for the future, of losing our rights and way of life. Christians trust God to provide for them. From the beginning the central message to Adam and Eve was that God in his divine glory had given them choice. He gives us the choice to choose Him. Many did not believe Jesus was the Messiah because they expected someone who would come and overthrow the present kingdom, the government of the time. Jesus consistently taught that his Kingdom was not the kingdom of this world.  He resisted temptation in the wilderness when Satan showed him all the kingdoms of earth and offered them to him to rule.  Jesus did not come with armies or rule by forcing his views, morals and doctrines on anyone. He came in peace.

Patience

What is the point of saying to someone who does not share your Christian views – Doesn’t anyone believe in marriage anymore? The truth is many people don’t believe in Christian marriage and they have not done so in a long time. What is the point of telling people they are going to hell when they don’t even believe in hell? God has allowed us all the freedom to choose. Patience requires us to have a knowledge of our own imperfections and our need for God’s mercy and forgiveness and to accept that others have a right to examine their own imperfections and make their own choices.

Kindness

Our actions are in the spotlight right now, including how we speak and how we treat people. Kindness is the willingness to give to others beyond what we owe them, even if we don’t agree with them.

Goodness

Avoid evil yourself and embrace what is right. People are only going to be attracted to something that they see is working. They need to be inspired by the way you live your life in Christ. If you are living your own life as a true Christian and you are loving both your neighbour and strangers, people are going to be attracted to that.

Perseverance

Do not be easily provoked. We are witnessing amongst a section of our Christian community a growing fear about the world. We are witnessing knee jerk reactions. Don’t fear the secular world and the things happening in it, rather remember that everything is an opportunity to bring Christ into the midst.

Mildness

Christ Himself, said “I am gentle and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). Don’t let anger and rashness cause you to say things you will regret. Take your time, be gentle and forgiving rather than angry. Be gracious rather than vengeful. Do not insist on always having your own way and choose your moments carefully. The need to win the argument in the short-term can lead to us actually losing it in the long run. A discussion that descends into argument, debate and personal attacks will not bring anyone to Christ. Listening to and understanding the other person’s view, even if you don’t agree with it, is the key to unlocking what it is you need to say to that person in that moment. There are times when it is actually prudent to say nothing. The need to have the last word in this moment may cause hurt and drive people away forever. Think beyond the need to win and be patient.

Faith

Faith requires us to live our lives in accordance with God’s will at all times. As Pope Francis has warned, be careful of turning the faith into an ideology because when we do:

“The faith passes, so to speak, through a distiller and becomes ideology. And ideology does not beckon [people]. In ideologies there is not Jesus: in his tenderness, his love, his meekness. And ideologies are rigid, always. Of every sign: rigid. And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought… For this reason Jesus said to them: ‘You have taken away the key of knowledge.’ The knowledge of Jesus is transformed into an ideological and also moralistic knowledge, because these close the door with many requirements.”

Modesty

Being modest means humbling yourself and being just as powerless as God. Modesty requires us to resist the temptation to coerce, rather it allows us to slowly unveil the beauty and the truth of things without imposing them.

Self-Control

We need to exercise moderation in all things. We must be prudent about when and how we speak and not provoke others to anger. Self-control sometimes requires us not to speak at all, but rather listen. Listening will often lead us to improving ourselves.

Chastity

We are not called to simply indulge in our physical desires and succumb to what we need to say in that moment. If you are speaking about Christ, start by speaking about who Christ is and that he came for all of our salvation. He came to heal, forgive and free us. Don’t start by telling people Christ came to condemn them. Don’t indulge in your own self-righteousness, be prepared to listen and allow the Spirit to work through you to properly discern the right time to speak and the right words to say.