Meanwhile, a woman from the city, a sinner, discovered that Jesus was dining in the Pharisee's house. She brought perfumed oil in a vase made of alabaster. Standing behind him at his feet and crying, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and poured the oil on them. (Luke 7:37-38, CEB translation)
I hope you’re somewhere praying, praying. I hope your soul is changing, changing. I hope you find your peace falling on your knees, praying. – Kesha, “Praying”
Video found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-Dur3uXXCQ
Kesha has dropped the dollar sign from her name and released a powerful song of healing and empowerment in “Praying.” And she has me rethinking a passage in the Bible as a result.
If you are unaware, Kesha has leveled accusations of rape and abuse against her (former) producer and contract holder Lukasz (Dr. Luke) Gottwald. He is suing her for defamation, and accusing her of making up stories of abuse to get out of her contract. As with many such stories like this one, the law is favoring the one who is accused and has power over and against the accuser (who has become the accused) who is not in the position of power. Favoring power is built into our systems in so many ways. For instance, one of the judges who has ruled against Kesha’s injunction is married to a lawyer who defends Sony, the parent company of Dr. Luke’s label.
Dr. Luke is probably going to win. Kesha is probably going to lose. Thus is the reality of the world in which we live. The broken, broken world in which we live.
Nonetheless, Kesha seems to have found a place of healing. I would not call it a place of total peace, as there is more than a twinge of anger when you listen to “Praying.” Anger is not necessarily a bad thing. God is angry about injustices too.
But as she scales a painted mountain in the video, one that boldly proclaims God is love, she says what needs to be said. Whatever goes on from here, she stands on the rock that God is with her, and that God redeems all. She doesn’t have to forget, but she can let go of the hate and go on and live her life.
So now I am thinking about the woman in Luke 7. When I teach this passage, one of the first things I do is ask people what the woman’s sin is, and I have never been (or am always) disappointed: she is a prostitute. Then I ask people to show me where in the text it says that. They are surprised to realize it doesn’t say that anywhere. She is a woman from the city, a sinner, and from that they decide prostitute. I turn it around on them to help them understand they are making assumptions about what sins women commit. Our sins are almost always conceived as sexual.
So I spend time with people getting them to conceive of this passage outside of sexual overtones. And now I am going to reverse all of that and return the sexual overtones. Now I want to ask, “What if this woman’s sin is that she was raped?”
Now, obviously I do not believe that a victim of rape has sinned in any way, or that a victim of rape deserved it because she is a sinner. I am instead considering how the society viewed and described what happened to her. Through much of human history, the blame for sexual crimes has fallen on the woman involved, whether or not she was an active partner. So what if this woman was raped and then she became “damaged goods,” as they say? (and I would also say “goods” captures both why Kesha had a dollar sign in her name and has dropped it on the other side of her experience of abuse and exploitation, as well as captures the reality of a first century woman whose body was likely literally owned by some male relative and would be traded like a good). It is far easier to let one woman’s body carry the burden of being named a sinner than it is to actually dismantle the powers and principalities that feel entitled to own those over whom they have power.
So into this space comes this woman from the city, a “sinner.” Into a space where men are gathered and talking their theoretical understandings of how and who God is. This woman comes in and falls at the feet of Jesus, and wipes his feet with her hair and her tears. Her whole body is crying out for healing and redemption. Her entire being wants to be lifted of this weight that was unfairly placed on her shoulders to carry. No one sees that injustice. No one except Jesus. Jesus sees straight through the brokenness to the woman who is in crisis, but he sees that something in her is refusing to be broken.
He lifts up her power in the face of the men around who would keep her in chains. He taps into what is already in her and sets her free.
I half expect now that this woman, having dried Jesus’ feet and finally dried her own tears, stands up and sings “Praying.” I can hear the words coming out of her mouth and into the ears of the men around her who want to deny her. She found her peace on her knees before Jesus. Now they need to find the same peace. They need to get on their knees, and their souls need changing.
While she is singing, I expect Jesus is singing with her.
A few weeks ago one of my male colleagues asked me, not in a tone of judgment but in a tone genuinely seeking understanding, as we discussed the statistics on sexual assault, “Why don’t more women report what has happened to them?”
My answer, “Because no one believes us.”
Not no one. Jesus. Jesus believes us, and Jesus sees us, and Jesus sets us free. And Jesus helps us learn how to pray for change, change for the people who abused us and change for the society that refuses to believe us.
“I hope you find your peace falling on your knees. Praying.”