International Women's Day
Sunday 8th March is the second Sunday in Lent. It is also International Women’s day, a day dedicated to celebrating and acknowledging the contributions of women to the world. This context presents a number of question for the lectionary passages set for this Sunday. Where are the women in these passages? Does the role of women have any part to play in these encounters?
What does Sarai think of Abram’s call? Do we picture the women singing the Psalms of Ascent their approach to Jerusalem, with the sun beating on their brow and sweat stinging their eyes? How is the message of faith before law in Romans made meaningful to women when the contentious issue is that of circumcision? And it is Nicodemus who reminds us of the incredible role of many women in the world, bringing life to birth.
Genesis 12: 1-4a
For the three things Abraham is called to leave there are three blessings to move towards. There are as many things promised as sacrificed. He is to leave country, kindred and his Father’s house. He is promised land, a great nation and a great name.
It is a well known story of God’s call. Lauded as a great example of obedience, included in the great hall of faith in Hebrews 11:‘By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.’
The three words that begin verse 4, ‘so Abram went’, do not convey any hesitation on Abram’s part. We are not given any indication of whether he is more motivated by the reassurances of the promises than acting out of faithful obedience to what God has commanded him to do. Given his faithfulness to sacrifice his much longed for only son, (Genesis 22:1-14), we can imagine that he might have gone anyway, even without the promises offered.
Reading around these few verses we learn that Abram was not unfamiliar with being on the move, his father Terah had uprooted the family to begin a journey to Canaan that had not been completed and it is to Canaan that Abram chooses to journey towards.
It is on this journey that Sarai, not once but twice, would have to pretend to be Abram’s sister and become the wife of another man (Genesis 12: 10-20, Genesis 20: 1-18). The text doesn’t convey how she felt about this but it does tell us that in the case of Abimelech in Genesis 20 it is the women who are punished for the Abimelech taking another man’s wife. This raises uncomfortable questions about the treatment of women in biblical times and today.
Twice Sarai has to pretend she is Abram’s sister to protect him from harm but in turn puts herself at the mercy of powerful men she did not know. How she might have understood or heard this call as a blessing for all the families of the earth without having her own family? And how the pain of childlessness led her to give her slave-girl, Hagar, to her husband so he might have a child by her but regrets the decision as her plan unfolds. How she responds by mistreating Hagar.
How she laughs at overhearing the promise of a child in her old age. How she becomes a person of laughter when her son Isaac is born (Genesis 21:1-7). How did she feel when Abraham sets off to sacrifice Isaac (Genesis 22: 1-14), did she know and if she did how did she withstand that trial?
And with only a few women in the bible we are given details of how she is laid to rest in Hebron, in the land of Canaan and is mourned by her husband and son. Sarai’s faith and courage, without glossing over her difficult relationship with Hagar, her pain of childlessness and delight of motherhood could provide a different angle on Abram’s call on this International Women’s Day.
God of the wilderness
Thank you for this season of lent
For time set aside to journey with you
To reflect, repent and return
with broken hearts made whole
Thanks be to God.
On this International Women’s Day
Thank you for the women
Who have given us life and cared for us
Who have nurtured and inspired us
Who have challenged and changed us
Thanks be to God
For the many blessings in our lives
Of health, food and shelter
Supportive community and friends
Of hope, faith and love
Born from above.
Thanks be to God
Published on 02 March 2020