Jesus, Women and Social Stigma (Matthew 9:18–26)
At different moments of the history of every religion and culture, women experienced one form of discrimination or the other. For example, it took centuries for women to vote or do certain types of work in almost every society on earth. In some places, they cannot yet drive or make their own decisions without the approval of men. They are also sexualized or body shamed.
And even today, in countries where human rights and equality appears to be a law, women keep on being body shamed and stigmatized. A quick look in our cities shows the number of men who can freely move about on shorts without shirts. Who feels disturbed by those sights?
Then consider the reaction of the public when a woman breastfeeds a baby in a public place. Many see it as an eyesore and would prefer she does it in a hidden location. What beats every imagination is why society cannot see such a sacred act as feeding a baby without sexualizing women’s bodies.
Furthermore, in religious circles, we curiously observe the social stigmatization of women in a significantly higher way. We term it being decent or respecting God. Though this social stigmatization of women comes in many different ways and forms in religious places, they are always present both in secular and religious circles. And more to the dressing code issue, in religious circles, it takes a ritual dimension.
In today’s Gospel, the author presents us Jesus’ encounter with the woman with a disordered menstrual cycle. For the Gospel authors, this woman is the model of all discriminated women and men, against all odds, met Jesus and touched him. Under normal circumstances, Jesus was to be soiled, then, should have withdrawn himself, and finally (ritually) cleanse himself at the end of the day. But instead of hiding under his new unclean status, he consoled the woman and went ahead to raise Jairus’ daughter. The author wants us to observe (I believe) that even after this encounter, Jesus was still clean; and capable of performing miracles.
Besides, one might think that this is an old story. Yet, in many religious circles—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, African/Native American Traditional Religion and Spirituality, etc.—women, in their menstrual period, are (or were) often considered unholy and unworthy to be present in particular celebrations. Who ignores that even in this 21st century, women cannot attend specific religious gatherings while in their period?
And even outside religious circles, we keep on stigmatizing them to emphasize our superiority and make them feel dirty and unwelcome. So today, the majority of women feel ashamed when they are on their period as society continues to treat such natural phenomena as taboo even to talk about.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to stop treating anyone as unworthy of God. By healing the menstruation problem of the woman, he challenges us to treat each person as a child of God and never according to their situation and circumstances. He also asks both women and every other marginalized people not to allow society to either body shame or stigmatize them.
And to us, he asks:
What circumstances of our neighbours are we using against them? Their body, gender, race or even sexual orientation?
Today Christ tells us, daughter, son, courage! What God created, no one should call unholy.