On “Restrictive” Women’s Roles
A woman. Jesus. The 12. Expensive ointment. Broken alabaster box. Anointed head. Extravagant sacrifice.
“Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial.” (Mark 14:6-8)
I’ve pondered this story, and that phrase, many times over the past couple weeks.
Ability vs. permission
The word could speaks of both ability and permission.
In our traditional assemblies, following Biblical mandates, women seemingly have more restrictions than freedoms.
We are to be silent in the church, learn at home, and not usurp authority over men. In a nutshell…keep your head covered and your mouth shut.
Frankly, I get rather annoyed sometimes. Cooking for potluck and “being good with kids” are not spiritual gifts.
It is easy to focus on the negative. The rules and restrictions. What we aren’t allowed to do.
But then there is this poignant story recorded in both John and Mark. The story of a woman who did what she could.
If I think the restrictions in our traditional denomination are confining, I must concede they don’t hold a candle to the restrictions placed on a first century, Middle-eastern, unmarried female! She had to be covered and chaperoned. She was virtually invisible and often subservient.
Mary infiltrated this male gathering, and she did what she could. She broke her alabaster jar, and poured the contents, worth almost a year’s wages, over Jesus’ feet and head. She wiped Jesus’ feet with her hair.
It was beautiful. Extravagant. Generous. Sacrificial. Prescient. Worshipful.
People didn’t understand her generosity. They called it a waste. But, she did it anyway.
It seemed degrading, but it was beautiful. She did what she could.
Within the bounds of her society, she fully did what she could.
I am so very, very convicted.
Can or can’t
Am I doing what I can, or am I balking against what I can’t?
Even though I can’t vocally pray or share a thought during the meetings, am I doing what I can? Am I worshiping or am I distracted? Praying silently? Focusing on my Lord? Tracking with the thoughts the brothers are sharing? Giving generously in the offerings? Learning from the sermons?
Even though I can’t preach, am I stewarding well the tasks I’ve been given? Acting with cheerfulness, diligence, humility, and faithfulness? Am I preparing (more than) adequately for Sunday school? Am I putting my all into my casserole for potluck? Am I regularly attending the meetings? Am I spurring on other believers to love and good works? Am I encouraging my husband and sons (and daughters) in their God-given roles? Am I reaching out to the lost? Am I loving my neighbor?
Even though I can’t lead the singing or give out a hymn, am I doing what I can? Am I singing? Am I playing the piano when there is a need?
Even though my public teaching role is limited, am I doing what I can? Am I daily in the Word, reading and studying and applying Scripture to my life? Am I engaging in group Bible studies?
Even though____, am I fully attempting to offer my body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is my spiritual act of worship? (Romans 12:1 NIV)
Jesus lavished praise on this woman. He saw her heart. He knew her ability.
He called her act a beautiful thing. He emphasized that she did what she could.
She did what she was able to do. She did what she was permitted to do.
Reading this story, we’d never assume that this could was a cop out. It wasn’t disparaging or denigrating. Her could maximized all the possibilities of her role, situation and resources.
The could wasn’t said with a sigh, focused on limits.
It was said with authority, focused on opportunity.
This whole story shows what Christ appreciates, values, and sees. He values people and actions that we neglect or marginalize.
I love that this story has been recorded in Scripture for the ages. I love that Jesus decided that this story of a woman would be included in the relatively few stories about women in the Bible. I love that it is a story about a woman who worshiped, and that it is intrinsically tied with the proclamation of the gospel. I love that this story convicts and challenges and encourages my heart, almost 2000 years later.
Sisters, I would remind us that Christ sees our coulds too. He values what we might disparage. He calls them beautiful, and elevates our acts to worship. What an amazing thing!
She has done what she could.