Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
I don’t know about the rest of you, but “feminism” to me has become somewhat of a bad word. But before you get all up in arms and lynch me out of the church, please hear me out. I’m of the same mind that Malala Yousafzai had, youngest Nobel Prize laureate ever and strong advocate of woman rights and equality, in thinking that modern day feminism is confusing and perhaps even confused as to what it means and what it stands for. Like, I’m not against the pure ideals of what feminism is supposed to represent around equality and justice, but what has caused me concern over the past while is what feminism has started to represent, which is basically to specifically disrupt all forms of male hierarchy regardless of reason, to promote the “anything you can do, I can do better” kind of mentality, and basically to just put down men. I see many people hiding behind the term “feminism” to support their own ideas of superiority and imbalance of respect and power in their favour.
And as a man, I sometimes take issue with that.
I know, I know, women have been put down a lot in the past, way more than men could ever be now. I know I can’t ever fully understand because I wasn’t born a female into a male driven world. I shouldn’t really say anything because I don’t fully see or feel the oppression, the exclusion, the sheer injustice in being a woman living in such a male-driven society because I am a male in a male-driven society.
But you know what? I would strongly argue that it is actually a white-male driven society. Which I am not. So close, yet so far.
People don’t always see that, it seems. Many think, well at least you’re still a male, and that says a lot. Does it? Let’s put it this way, how many Asians do you see in any given movie? I know it happens here and there but it still is very much a novelty unless the production is specifically about Asians and/or the issues that pertain specifically to Asians. That, or it’s some martial arts movie. And almost definitely any Asian will have an accent.
That’s just movies, but it trickles down to me personally. Like people often ask me things like “when did you come to Canada?” “Wow your English is really good” and the best I hear most recently “what is the ethnic make-up of your congregation now that you’re there?” Granted, it isn’t so bad here in the very Asian-saturated Lower Mainland, but when I was in Saskatoon? Man alive. People looked at me like I was from a different planet, and I’m 75% sure that it was because I was Asian and not any other reason. Actually maybe 65%.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining nor am I thinking that my plight as a Canadian born Chinese man is comparable to that of a woman born in a male-dominated society. All I’m saying is that there are pros and cons, there are benefits and injustices, there are freedoms and oppression for all demographics, that there isn’t one specific group out there that has it the absolute worst in that everyone needs to or should drop everything and cater to them.
That is the problem I have with what is considered modern day feminism. I am all for equality. I am all for black lives matter. I am all for uplifting the oppressed and telling them that they are loved, they are special, they is impo’tant. But I am not for oppressing others for make up for the oppression you’ve faced, or diminishing the skills and talents of others to uplift your own, or simply putting down an entire demographic that have members that have put down members of your demographic, as though they personally hurt you personally, which they may or may not have done.
But why do I bring this up on this holiest of days? My birthday? No I mean our AGM date? No I mean Superbowl Sunday? No I mean this 5th Sunday after the Epiphany, which isn’t all that of a holy day now that I think about it, but anyway it’s where we get this story of Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law. This story might not be all that familiar, but if you’re anything like me or the plethora of commentators that I’ve read, your eyes and ears stopped at that one phrase in the story. You know what I’m talking about: “Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”
Is that all she is good for? Making these men their sammiches? Pouring them drinks? Maybe even washing their feet? Those lazy, privileged men, taking advantage of this poor woman who was just facing death, but now expected to serve them?
At least, those were the first things that ran through my head when I read this, and apparently the same goes for many others too and perhaps many of you here. And there isn’t anything wrong with thinking this, as I don’t think I’d expect my own mother or even mother-in-law for that matter to make me food as soon as she got off her deathbed. In fact, I don’t really expect either of them to make me anything ever because well, my wife is much better cook than both of them combined. But I don’t feel like they should be serving me, because hey, I can do this stuff myself, I’m not a kid anymore.
Perhaps it is modern day feminism that put this in our heads, the idea that Simon’s mother-in-law was being seen only as a lowly servant. Perhaps it is because of our own bias, experience, or maybe even fears that make us think that she is being oppressed, regarded as a lesser being, or treated unjustly and unfairly.
Again, there isn’t anything wrong with thinking this. There isn’t anything wrong with keeping an eye open for these kinds of injustices and oppression and perhaps imagining ways that we can stand against it and stop it. There’s nothing wrong with thinking that Simon’s poor mother-in-law should still rest up a bit after just being so sick. There’s nothing wrong with wanting equal treatment among all people in this story and in the world.
But what I’m afraid of here, and which I would partially blame modern-day feminism for, is an over sensitivity toward the injustices against women. So much that when we hear something just hinting at it, our ears perk up, our eyebrows raise, and we can no longer hear anything else as our focus remains laser sharp on that one, single, point of the story.
Because now we miss everything else. We forget about the other readings we had on this day about seeing and hearing how great God is and worthy to be praised and talked about. We forget about the other parts of this particular story and how Jesus was healing a multitude of people and in his exhaustion he went to another town to heal a bunch of their people too. We forget about the richness in what the texts are telling us about God, about God’s love, grace, and mercy, and about our response to God and God’s love, grace, and mercy… through service.
We forget about how Jesus said that we are called to serve God and each other. We forget that Jesus is coined the servant king who humbled himself for the sake of others. We forget how Jesus taught us how the first is the last and the last is the first and the greatest among us are those who serve.
Just like Jesus served. Just like how Paul said he’ll serve. Just as Simon’s mother-in-law, fresh from the healing of Jesus, fresh from being made whole again by the grace of God, fresh from coming face-to-face with the epitome of love itself, the light in the darkness which the darkness cannot overcome, the servant king holding her up and regarding her as worthy, had this compelling urge to return that love and serve.
My own mom and mother-in-law like doing things for their kids because that is how they show love. I like doing things for my kids because I hope that they can see that it is out of love. And in our interactions with each other, with our friends and family, with those we love and respect, our inclination is to serve them as well, because it is a natural expression of that love and respect.
And so I don’t see Simon’s mother-in-law here as oppressed, in fact, I see her as being liberated, freed, given the gift of being able to feel and show love, acting out of gratitude for all that God has done for her, allowing her to serve as she has been served.
So this service isn’t a bad thing. Doing things for others isn’t a bad thing. Acting out of love and respect of course isn’t a bad thing. But thinking that we are lesser people because we aren’t in charge or the most feared or taken into account in all the decision making of the shape of society and the world is a bad thing, in that it detracts us from what we are called to do and to be, beloved children of God gifted with skills and talents to worship, proclaim, and serve.
So do I feel oppressed as a Canadian born Asian man? Yeah, I guess so. But not so much that it blinds my eyes from God’s grace, love, and mercy, which brings me time and again into worship out of my appreciation and to serve out of my respect. It doesn’t change the fact for me that we are all invited and welcomed to the table of God’s unity and forgiveness, where we all see the connectedness that we share as the body of Christ, and that we together are a part of and contribute to the community of saints. It doesn’t disallow me to see how we are all equal, how we are all worthy, how we are all filled with God’s blessing and peace, given the opportunity to love and serve and to be humbled before the Almighty God that created the universe.
This afternoon we will be having our Annual General Meeting, where we look at the past year and look ahead to this current year. We will be reminded of the things that we have done and look ahead to what we hope to do. We will reflect on who we are and dream about who we can become. We will look at how God has proven Godself as worthy of our worship and how we reciprocate in our continued service to God and neighbour, proclaiming the gospel of Christ through our actions, our words, and our very lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.