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Three Forceful Women

The First Forceful Woman

Once upon a time, there was a forceful, bothersome woman. She lived in a time and culture when many women were considered bothersome and troublesome. Her culture and religion, the Proverbs of Solomon especially, offered many ways of describing a good woman. She was first and foremost a good wife, never spiteful, always generous. She was also gracious, honorable, and dignified. These qualities were hard to argue with, but they did not capture the forceful woman’s full experience of being a woman. Rather, they captured aspects of being a woman that made it easier for men to be men. The ideal woman of the Proverbs of Solomon was silent and complicit. She kept out of the way of trade and commerce, that is, kept out of the business of empire.

This forceful woman was also a widow, which meant that she once had a husband who had died. Now, there were all kinds of things that the people of her time thought about widows—first and foremost, that that they were very old, that they had outlived their husbands. In stories of her time, widows were often used as placeholders for the meek and vulnerable, objects of pity, the opposite of forceful.

However, this woman, in our sanctified imagination, is young, and angry, and she is forcefully presenting herself over and over to a judge who neither fears God nor has respect for people. The injustice she has suffered is unclear to us, but given her time and culture, it is very likely connected to a man who has harmed her. The judge is unconvinced, but she argues. She persists. She returns. Day after day. And she thinks about a man she has heard about, a man named Jesus.

This Jesus is teaching and preaching dangerous ideas. They include loving one’s enemies, forsaking one’s family, and forgiving each other seven times a day. This Jesus is talking about a kingdom that almost entirely contradicts the business of empire, where the meek inherit the earth and the rich are likely to suffer. These ideas are starting to work their way up to the agents of empire, who are watching Jesus more closely and getting more nervous.

Also, according to reports, this Jesus loves forceful women. He is not threatened by them; in fact, they are among those he most prefers to surround himself with. It is said that some of his closest companions are forceful women, although those who tell the stories of Jesus and write them down still tend to focus on the men who will later be named apostles, the founders of the church.

One of Jesus’s dangerous ideas is that the Kingdom of God is here now, although not everyone has learned to live by the laws of love that govern that kingdom. In order to help bring about a justice that is rooted in love, where all people live together as God’s siblings, one must persist. The Kingdom of God is here, but it’s revealing itself slowly through the work of God’s children. One of Jesus’s more confusing statements he is that “God will quickly grant justice” to those who seek it, but the forceful woman knows that it’s only confusing because humans do not see time as God sees time. It’s not confusing to her or the other countless forceful and bothersome women who know that “quickly” may mean longer than any person’s brief time on earth.

On her way home from the unjust judge, who finally relented because she would not stop bothering him, the forceful woman silently prays, she considers the words of the Proverbs, and she thinks about Jesus.

The Second Forceful Woman

Once upon this time, our current time, there is a forceful woman. She lives in a time and culture where many forceful women are still considered bothersome. They have made some progress since the time of the woman of our first parable but being persistent still gets them into trouble. Not too long ago, a man in one of the halls of empire ridiculed a woman for persisting, and this ended up becoming a compliment. These moments are steps forward, but today’s forceful woman knows that they are rare. As long as she can somehow balance her forcefulness with the old expectations for being gracious and dignified, she gets a pass for being bothersome. And, if she can productively contribute to trade and commerce, which is to say the business of empire, she gets the easiest pass of all.

This forceful woman of today is also weary. Being forceful and bothersome can do that to a woman. She drinks wine, perhaps a little too much, and this is something for which she is ridiculed in the culture. It is now a longtime running joke to show a woman in a TV show or movie coming home from work and drinking a glass of wine the size of her head. This forceful woman of today cries over how the culture demands the impossible from her and then makes fun of her for the ways she copes with these impossible demands.

At some point, she remembers the religion of her youth. She’s old enough and wise enough to know that every religious tradition is both beautiful and flawed. For example, she loves the Psalms, how they can express both glorious praise and deeply human anger. In one of her favorite Psalms, the Psalmist proclaims:

How sweet are your words to my taste!

they are sweeter than honey to my mouth.

Through your commandments I gain understanding;

Therefore, I hate every lying way.

And yet, the forceful woman is troubled and bothered by the Psalmist. He is a future King who, in spite of “hating every lying way,” spied on a woman privately bathing on a rooftop—the forceful woman can imagine that woman in her bath, perhaps even sipping a goblet of wine. Then that King, that Psalmist, having objectified that woman, had her brought into his palace, had his way with her, and had her husband killed, making her a widow. The forceful woman has a hard time holding both the Psalmist and the King in her mind, but she has been holding onto two different versions of men for a very long time.

The forceful woman looks to the other women who have remembered the religion of their youth. The most dramatic shifts in her church in the last few years, as far as she can tell, have been implemented by women. They too are forceful women, especially women of color, who are proclaiming that the church of the future church will simply not look like the church of the past. These forceful women say that the church is not defined by huge crowds on Sundays who make enough pledges to prop up buildings built by men long ago. Rather, the church is defined by groups of deeply faithful and praying disciples—no matter how big or small those groups are—who are stepping out of a past way of being church into a future one.

And all of these women keep turning back to Jesus, the lover of forceful, bothersome women, the Jesus who not only drank wine but turned water into the best wine of all. Why is this? Why do they keep turning back to this man, who according to tradition was nothing less than a carpenter and according to the Gospels carried his own cross to his own execution and yet loved the meek, and the poor, and children, and women, and chose his disciples from the unlikeliest of men?

Maybe, this forceful woman thinks, they keep turning back to him because he saw into the future and knew that women like her would still be returning to the unjust judge over and over until justice is granted, clearing the way for a new kind of church. Maybe it’s because the slow work of revealing the Kingdom of God will be led by women like her, the kind of woman Jesus so very clearly loved. Maybe it’s because he is the only man that women haven’t had to hold onto two different versions of.

When she returns home from the work of being a forceful woman in the world, she pours a glass of wine, reads the Psalms, and thinks about Jesus.

The Third Forceful Woman

Once upon a future—it’s hard to tell exactly when, because sometimes it’s hard to tell with parables—there will be a forceful woman. This future time is a time when forceful women have become more the rule than the exception. It is a time when being single—whether through widowing or by choice—does not cause pity. The business of empire still exists—the future forceful woman suspects it will always exist—but forceful women have pressured the agents of empire to take into account equality for all God’s children and the effects of their business practices on the environment.

Our future forceful woman has furthered the work of the church done by the women of our last parable. In addition to reading perfect Psalms written by an imperfect man and proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, she studies a lectionary created in 2020 by a Black woman, Wilda Gafney, that centers the stories of women throughout both the Hebrew Testament and the New Testament. When it was published, its publisher guessed it might sell a total of 1000 copies altogether. But it sold several thousand copies in its first printing alone, such was the appetite for the stories of women.

Along with the other forceful women of her church, she has worked to reveal the Kingdom of God even more clearly, creating a church where LGBTQ siblings are not only welcomed, but made to feel like they belong. She has even made a space of belonging for their Trans siblings, whom the church of the past claimed to welcome but never quite understood.

In this future time, forceful women are moving together, alongside men, through the Kingdom of God which has always been here but is now revealed more clearly than ever before. They are deeply faithful and praying disciples living in a church that thrives, but in a different way than it used to. Now that they’ve moved closer to justice—which simply means that all have more access to the gifts of God—they spend more of their time worshipping, forgiving each other, and healing. For example, some of them gather in circles to provide support for those who, in spite of increased justice for all, still struggle with addiction. For some of these children of God, their phones and screens have deadened their empathy for real live human beings. For others of these children of God, the desire to spy upon a woman and objectify her remains a compulsion. For still others of these children of God, wine is not a gift but a suffering. Together, these children of God gather with the forceful women to receive the gifts of healing, and community, and prayer.

The forceful women of the future who lead the work of this healing are sometimes gracious and dignified, other times, they are bothersome and angry at God that certain sufferings seem always to be with us. Sometimes they are both of these things at once, which they suspect is the actual definition of a good woman.

When she returns from her work of healing, or from celebrating all aspects of being a woman, including the bothersome and messy parts, our forceful woman of the future thinks about Jesus, especially the words of Jesus that follow his parable of the bothersome widow. She remembers that at the end of the parable Jesus asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” She considers the journey that she and all the forceful women have traveled since Jesus first asked that question. Will he find faith on earth? Yes, the forceful woman says out loud. Yes, he will.


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