Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40).
One would hope that U.S. politicians currently seeking to mandate unwarranted vaginal probes without a woman’s consent don’t actually imagine probing Jesus. Neither do I suppose that they imagine deporting Jesus when they strike a hard line on “illegal” immigration that separates mothers from their children. I’m sure many of them don’t see Jesus when they look at single mothers of color, or the women who speak only Spanish who just happen to be cleaning their congressional offices.
But the Gospel actually demands that those politicians do see Jesus in each of those moments. It demands the same thing from all of us.
I believe at least one faithful rendering of the Gospel is this: Jesus practiced radical solidarity. I believe this also means that God continually practices deep and sustaining solidarity with God’s whole creation. The Lenten journey of following Jesus toward the cross and an empty tomb invites us to adopt that very same discipline of divine solidarity.
Traditionally, the first Sunday of Lent (this weekend) features the gospel story of Jesus being tempted by the devil in the wilderness. I’ve heard many sermons and read many commentaries on that story, but I’ve never encountered one that interprets that story through the lens of male privilege. We’re long overdue.
(If you don’t know that story, pause and read Luke 4:1-13; the one assigned for this weekend is Mark 1:9-15).
- Famished and tempted to turn stones into bread, Jesus chose instead to stand with the poor, who have no power to make bread suddenly appear on the table for their families (Luke 4:3-4).
- Tempted to seize the kingdoms of the world for good, Jesus chose instead to stand with all the socially marginalized who have no voice in the corridors of imperial government (Luke 4:5-8).
- Realizing his physical vulnerabilities, Jesus was tempted to test his divine safety net. But he chose instead to stand with all those who have no recourse to guarantees, who can’t afford to test anyone or anything because the risk is too great (Luke 4:9-12).
The gospel writers don’t make it explicit, but the first hearers of this story would readily have known this: the least powerful in each of those cases in the first century were women. The same is true today, especially women of color.
It’s women who struggle most to provide bread for their children (see the WIC site on this); it’s women who can’t ever seem to earn equal pay for equal work (think this is old fashioned? thinks again and read here); it’s women the world over who have virtually no access to the corridors of power that would save them from the state’s killing machine (the global situation is dire, just read here) – or even from coerced vaginal probes.
But I refuse despair. Peculiar as this may sound, I refuse despair because of my Christian faith and because of the Gospel. After Jesus resisted the power that comes with male privilege, the rest of the story bears ample witness to the remarkable result: women as agents (John 4:1-29); women as confidants (Luke 10:38; John 11:5); women as teachers (Matthew 15:21-28); women as die-hard comrades when it mattered most (John 19:25); women as the first witnesses to God’s victory over death (Mark 16:1-6).
Following Jesus through Lent must mean at least this much: listening closely to women’s voices and attending carefully to the dignity of women’s bodies. For men (especially white men), it must mean more: using our (white) male privilege to practice divine solidarity and, with it, to create a new world – a world of thriving and flourishing for all.
Now that’s a Lenten discipline all of us could, quite literally, live with.