This Forgiven Woman

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By Kerry Connelly | Twitter: @sheselevated

J_Kerry-750Two thousand years ago, in a boldly intimate gesture, a woman let down her hair at the home of a Pharisee and bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears. Two millennia later, I sat and read her story in my parallel study Bible. I entered into relationship with her, and by doing so, Jesus delivered a deeper redemption to both of us.

It came in the form of a letter.

The unexpected envelope sat unnoticed for at least 24 hours, on the floor in the foyer underneath the mail slot. Foyer makes it sound as if I have a big home. I don’t. It’s really more of a box-shaped room where my children throw their shoes. And there the letter lay, half-covered by a muddy red Croc.

Months earlier, I read Luke 7:36-39 in The Message version of my Bible. I love The Message. It is lyrical and approachable. It makes me feel like I am lying in the tall grass with Jesus, or chilling at the banquet table and sharing a bottle of wine with him.

But as I read this passage—the story of a sinful woman who ran to the home of a Pharisee when she heard Jesus was there—one word stuck out to me that I simply could not get past: harlot.

The Message brought this story alive to me, and I knew immediately I had to write about it. I did, in a blog post entitled The Subversive and the Perfumed Sinner. But when I wrote it, I had to reference the NIV version of the story, because in my quest to better understand this woman, I discovered that the word harlot, which denotes sin that is quite specifically sexual in nature, is not contained in the original text. It was a quick scan of my concordance that led me to the discovery. As a simple, unscholarly lay person, I thought surely I was missing something.

But the questions were insistent.

Does the constant representation of women as sexual sinners in the Bible have a direct impact on the over-sexualization of women in today’s society? Why must she be a harlot? Isn’t it possible she was—I dunno—the town drunk? Maybe she screamed at her kids? Cheated on her taxes? And most importantly, why did the translator choose a sexual word when there is no evidence of that meaning in the original text?

I discovered that Eugene Peterson, the Bible scholar who translated The Message, is still alive. He has no website or email I could find, so I wrote him a short, to-the-point letter asking what made him choose that word. I forwarded it to his publisher after carrying it around in my purse for about three weeks. I didn’t really expect he’d receive it, much less actually read it or respond.

But there on my foyer floor, under the muddy Croc, laid an envelope with a shaky script on its front and a postmark from somewhere in Montana. It took me over a day to finally discover it.

It was beautiful. Short. Humble. Redemptive.

Eugene Peterson thanked me for my letter. Then he told me I was right to object to his use of the word harlot. He expressed surprise that I was the first to bring it to his attention. And he assured me that usually the comments he receives are about how inclusive his version is. He told me how his mother—a pastor—suffered much discrimination in her life, and that he was surprised that harlot got past his sensors.

I sat back in my office chair, my mouth agape in awe. Here was a major Bible scholar who not only acknowledged my letter, but also acknowledged that I—a woman, a lay person—was right. Immediately, I was struck by his love and particularly, his humility—something many leaders lack.

I was struck by something else, too. When I first read that passage, I was so moved by the moment in which Jesus turns to look at the woman. I imagined the compassion and love in his eyes; I wondered what it must have felt like to stand under his gaze like she did. And when Reverend Peterson wrote back to me, I was struck by how alive the Word of God is still today; how Jesus will still leap out of the pages to grab us in a great big bear hug, take us by the shoulders, look us in the eye, and chuck us under the chin. Yes, even us women, whom he loves so deeply. We get to stand in his redemptive gaze.

And after he leapt from the page, I sensed her, off over to the side, standing with the women of history. She stood with Eve, Esther, and the many Marys, weeping tears of joy and redemption now. I sensed her watching, nodding her approval and love, my sister from two thousand years ago.

This forgiven woman.

I got your back, girl.
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About Kerry:

kerryKerry Connelly lives a messy life in New Jersey with her husband, two children, and two cats (three, if you count the dust bunnies the cats produce in the spring). She’s a Christian Life Coach, Certified Human Behaviour Specialist and writer. You can find her at www.sheselevated.com

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Image credit: martinak15

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