This post is the seventh in what will be my Explorations in Womanhood Series. Please understand that while I intend to write things that are consistent with church doctrine, this blog is not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For this reason, I ask that you consider prayerfully interacting with anything published here.
|by Michael T. Malm|
"If she hath repented of her sins, and desired righteousness until the end of her days, even so she shall be rewarded unto righteousness."
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend. She sat across from me at a dining room table and she told me that in her earlier years, she had made some mistakes. Some mistakes that would be listed in the 'sexual sin' category. It happened several times, not long after her baptism. She converted in her twenties.
She told me that then, and now, she struggles. Then, it was under the weight of the sin. But now, the wrestle seems to be a fight between an old self and an emerging new. In her darker moments she wonders, "How can anyone ever love me?" And it is while she is in this head space that she gravitates towards using derogatory, debasing words to describe herself.
"But He called her Woman," I told my friend.
A few days prior to this conversation I had taught a Relief Society lesson in which we studied the account in John 8 of the woman taken in adultery. But the story really didn't come alive for me until that moment at the table. It's a short tale, 11 verses long. I think that the heart of the story is in the final two verses:
"When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? (v. 10) She said, no man Lord. And Jesus said unto her, neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more." (v. 11)
I love the Savior's response to this woman. He does not coddle her. He does not condescend or excuse her actions. Simultaneously, he does not shame her. He does no damage with his words, he stitches no scarlet letter on her chest or on her heart. He speaks to her as an equal.
And, he calls her Woman.
In preparation for my lesson, I (in the most divinely serendipitous fashion that brought forth much rejoicing) found an article printed in the March 2015 Ensign called "The Savior's Respect for Women." The authors of the article, Robert and Marie Lund, cite Bible scholar J.R. Dummelow:
"'Woman,' or rather, 'Lady,' is a Greek title of respect, used even in addressing queens." (pg. 778)
I'd read this definition once before, but it was while I sat, staring at the digitized pages of the Ensign beneath the plastic of my computer screen, that it finally sunk in. Christ called her Woman. What deference! What respect! What gentle love and compassion he showed this woman who was degraded and humiliated by the men of her time, and likely, by herself.
And you know, I think it made a difference. If you look at the footnote for the last word of the last verse of this story (that's 11c) you'll find that Joseph Smith added something. Something a bit miraculous.
"And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name."
We know that one of the effects of sin is spiritual death. Estrangement from God. Blindness in it's most acute sense. But here, this woman was not only faced with spiritual death, but with physical death. Which makes for a lovely look at what Christ's saving role can be in that process of death and resurrection.
Her life was threatened by the arms of her accusers. By the stones they carried and held high. Women in her situation had been killed before, and sometimes, had met their ends through even more inhumane means if you can imagine that. But Christ intervened for her. He acted as her intercessor, in a very real, present, and physical way. With his words and wisdom, he dispersed the crowd; preserving her life.
She was given a second chance. A new birth. A healing of sorts. And what was that healing? In addition to the gift of life I think she was given the gift of sight. She was shown, in a very firsthand, intimate way, the love and respect that Christ had for her—constant even when greeted with her shortcomings and sins.
Christ's display is revolutionary for a number of reasons. And surely, if you've found this blog you don't need me to spell out all of them for you. You wouldn't need me to detail the way that women have been trodden on through the years. The way that women, especially those who have sinned, have been mocked, ostracized, and abused according to a very long-standing socially kept double-standard.
And yet, it is as though Christ said to her, "My lady, where are thine accusers?" And what's more amazing is that I think that somehow, this woman internalized the love behind His words. She started seeing herself the way that Christ saw her.
That is a powerful change.
But was it all the change that was necessary?
She still had to go back and face her husband. She still had to (with the help of the power of the Atonement) graft out the influences and effects of her mistakes. We don't know any of the details of her relationships. But we don't need to. The history of humanity can fill in the blanks. Matters of the body and of the heart are always messy when they fall outside the boundaries of the commandments of God.
But she could face it now. And she could face it while glorifying God and believing in Him (and Her).
There have been times in my life when I have fallen short, when I have sinned. What I have learned from these experiences is that if I cannot first believe that God loves me—truly loves me—than I can never muster the necessary strength to change.
And so long as I sit in my position of estrangement from divinity, I cannot get answers.
And without answers, I do not progress.
Sometimes the situations that come into our lives, those situations that rob us of our remembrance of who we truly are, are our own fault. Sometimes, they are the fault of others. Regardless of who has sinned, repentance is necessary for the person needing healing. This is true because repentance is healing. And just like the woman in this story, often the first kind of repentance we need to undergo is turning back to really see God. Once we've really seen Him (and Her) it naturally follows that we will also truly see ourselves.
I think that is what this woman accomplished.