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So, one of the things I’ve discovered about myself is that I have situational anxiety. I’m not a generally anxious person, but there are certain situations that make my palms sweat and my heart beat a little faster and that I try to avoid whenever I can. And one of those situations is finding a place to sit.
It could be conferences, large banquet-style meals, concerts with open seating…wherever. If I don’t have a seat I’m assigned to go to, it can lead me to a moment of panic. In fact, I purposely had assigned seating at my wedding because I was certain there had to be other people who felt a sense of dread when they walked into a room of 30 tables and didn’t know where to sit.
But the worst place for me is at a high school sporting event. I dread the feeling of standing at the bottom of the bleachers filled with people, wondering where I should sit or where I belonged. And because of that, I’ve discovered the best feeling is when someone sees you standing down there, flags you down, and makes a place for you to sit with them. Even saying it makes my body relax a little.
Hi, I’m Rebecca Trefz, the Southeast District Superintendent and Director of Ministries for the Dakotas Conference of The United Methodist Church. This week we continue our journey through our Lenten Study that takes us through the Gospel of Luke, looking at how Jesus made a place for people — people that others pushed aside, left out, cast out, or simply didn’t see.
In chapter two, author Rev. Adam Hamilton focuses on women and how women were seen and treated by Jesus. He shares specific stories of women that Jesus lifted up, women who were a part of his ministry or funded his ministry, and women who were invited to sit has his feet and learn as one of his disciples as well as be sent to share the Good News of resurrection. As twenty-first century readers of the New Testament, it can be easy to miss the significance of these stories, both that they happened but also that the author chose to include them as part of the testimony of who Jesus was and therefore who God is and how God sees people. And yet, they are incredibly significant and unique.
In the time of Jesus, women were not respected anywhere near equal to a man. Aside from their functional roles in the home and family, women didn’t have much purpose. One blessing quoted in the chapter that Jewish men would state is, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.” And yet, in Jesus Christ, we see God become a human and “flip the script” on how women were seen and treated.
One example comes in the story of Simon the Pharisee who invited Jesus to his house. Hamilton points out how Simon didn’t provide any of the practices of hospitality that would have been part of the customs of that time—including welcoming Jesus with a kiss on the cheek, providing water to wash his feet, and offering oil to “freshen up after a long day.” Hamilton writes, “The neglect of this common hospitality was a subtle way for Simon to put Jesus in his place.”
Yet Jesus didn’t demand these things for himself or exercise his power to get the respect he deserved. Rather, Jesus found a “teachable moment” later in the meal, lifting up the actions of a woman as an example of what great love should look like. And this was not just any woman. It was woman who wasn’t just “less than” because she was a woman but because of what “type” of woman we’re led to believe she was.
Jesus asks Simon if he sees her—is he able to see this person he judged and looked down on just moments earlier? Is he able to not just see her but also learn from her? You seek, Jesus likely knew that this woman was probably invisible to Simon and not worthy of his focus or energy. Or if he did see her, it was with a label of disdain and contempt. Yet in that moment, Jesus challenges Simon to open his eyes and see her…and therefore see himself and his worldview in a new way. And with that invitation, I believe Jesus invites us to do the same.
But in order to do that, we need to ask ourselves, who don’t we see? Maybe we don’t see them because we’re too busy going from one person or situation to the next based on our own schedule or agenda or preferences. Maybe we don’t see them because we don’t believe they really have anything to offer us because of their socioeconomic status or their differing political or theological perspectives or the label or demographic that they fall into. Or maybe we don’t see them because seeing them would require a response—a change in opinion or action or posture on our part. Whatever the reason, if we’re honest, it’s easy to live lives that miss seeing the people Jesus wants us to see.
Yet, thankfully, we have a God who sees us. And maybe more importantly, a God who shows us how to see others. In his letter to the Church at Philippi, Paul writes, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:5-8)
We often talk about getting to a high place in order to see better. And yet, Jesus shows us a different way. Through Jesus Christ, God humbled himself, becoming a human, coming low to see us! And through the life and death of Jesus, we see a selfless, sacrificial love that sees people that others may miss or dismiss and makes a place for them to belong and become an example to others.
As a woman in leadership in the church, I’m so thankful for the people in my life who have modeled this same kind of posture and commitment. I’m thankful for people who saw me and saw the gifts God had given me — gifts for building up the body. And I’m thankful for those who have been humble enough to give up some of their power or authority to make a space for me and my voice and my gifts and encouraged me to use them.
And I pray that this would be our collective commitment. Whether it be to the little girls in our church who are learning that they are created in the image of God, or the women who are wrestling with believing that God might be calling them to ministry and leadership, or anyone who wonders if there is a seat for them. That we would flag them down, make room, and look expectantly for what God might do when we open our eyes to see.