The Lord said to me in the days of King Josiah: Have you seen what she did, that faithless one, Israel, how she went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and played the whore there? And I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me’; but she did not return, and her false sister Judah saw it. She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce; yet her false sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore. Because she took her whoredom so lightly, she polluted the land, committing adultery with stone and tree. Yet for all this her false sister Judah did not return to me with her whole heart, but only in pretence, says the Lord.
–Jeremiah 3:6-10 (NRSV)
Lent is a time of year when the church and the lectionary tend to challenge us. On Ash Wednesday, we are invited to observe a holy Lent, by fasting and self denial, immersing ourselves in Scripture and prayer. It’s a time of the year when we challenge ourselves and perhaps deny ourselves a few things we might not otherwise deny, as we walk toward the cross and Calvary.
The Daily Office Lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer tends to include readings that some might consider a bit more challenging. I know I find the Old Testament reading for today from Jeremiah to be quite challenging.
This excerpt from Jeremiah exemplifies one of many areas in the Bible where women are likened to the status of property, of a pawn used in determining political deals and familial arrangements. And blaming the misjudgements or immoral behavior of the woman for potential undesirable outcomes of political or military ventures. This is obviously not something modern, enlightened people believe. But why did our ancestors?
Too often, modern people will “throw the baby out with the bathwater” to use a tired but easily understood expression. That is, many modern people will turn their back on God and on the church because of how many difficult things are in the Bible…misogyny being just one of many.
However, reading these difficult stories, and learning from them, and perhaps asking why things were once that way, and what came of such perceptions, and how can we be better…these are all valid questions to ask. There is so much beauty and positive energy throughout the Bible; but also so much hate and violence and destruction.
And yet, we read these stories. We read them again and again. We struggle with them, we question them, we get angry at them. And yet we are inspired by them, enlightened by them, and revived by them.
Thankfully, we have come a long way in how women are treated in society. Though we still have such a long way to go. Perhaps reading stories like this remind us of how offensive and disgusting such language and ideas are. Does any good ever come out of treating an entire group of people with such contempt?
I don’t have answers, but I bet that I am not the only one struggling with this. Reading these stories and struggling with them together are one of the many things that I find rewarding about being a Christian. So, let’s struggle together as we walk toward the cross this Lent, and watch and pray with Jesus as he walks with us.
O God, you so loved the world that you gave your only- begotten Son to reconcile earth with heaven: Grant that we, loving you above all things, may love our friends in you, and our enemies for your sake; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.