Sunday I had a rare treat: a Zulu preaching in Zulu/Xhosa/English. But the best part was: Mabee is a woman. She was guest at Kayamandi Baptist Church, invited to speak because August 9 is Women’s Day in Africa and August is Women’s Month.
I cannot give you the whole beautiful talk. You just had to be there. But I gleaned a few gems in amidst the bits of Zulu I remember, Xhosa I am learning, and English that she generously sprinkled over top. Mabee pulled three, apparently random, women from the Bible to give some good advice to women of South Africa. All the advice she gave was sound, Biblical and . . . not very surprising. What surprised me was the three women she chose.
She explained up front that, although bad women can be good examples (of what not to do), and their stories were interesting, she had limited time and wanted to focus on her good advice. She chose: a barren woman, a pregnant outside of marriage woman, and a woman who needed serious gynecological intervention.
I marveled as I listened to these stories and Mabee’s envisioning of the hearts of each woman. Did she realize she had chosen women with problems that no man would ever face? The women of the Bible have all sorts of struggles and issues, but these three problems are unique to woman-kind: infertility, out of wedlock pregnancy and menstrual problems.
Hannah, Mary, and the nameless woman, forever called “the woman with the issue of blood.” Their commonalities are few enough, but they are bound by what they have that men don’t have: a womb. Women throughout history identify, personally or communally, with these problems.
Hannah was Mabee’s choice for barrenness. She could have chosen Sarah or Elizabeth, but Hannah was the one who displayed vision and a deep prayer life. Her lack of a child was a burden she carried in daily life alongside a co-wife with children. She would not be comforted by her husband’s preferential treatment or kind words: her desire for a child was her passionate humiliation--and it drove her to God.
Mary was the unwed mother. She had a choice: the angel came and asked her if she would be the mother of God’s Son. How could she have had an inkling of what that meant--theologically or rationally? She could only have known its social consequences: humiliation and ostracism. She chose humiliation and obedience. The rest is history . . .
While many women can identify with Hannah and Mary in their personal stories, I have no idea how prevalent is the menstrual problem that goes on year in and year out. This sounds like a private hell to me. While the cycle is a normal thing, when it goes haywire, we all know how defeating it can be. It must have been immeasurably worse back in the ages when that proscribed a woman as “unclean.” To have a monthly break from normal interaction with people could be welcome. But twelve years of being unable to touch someone without contamination: Mabee called it “a prison without walls” and I thought it well said.
The womb is the focus of their unity: an empty womb, a womb filled too soon, and a womb that continually shed its lining--unable to fulfill its function. In each of these “malfunctions” the women had options: resignation or vision, despair or hope. In sermons and studies we have walked through the heartfelt choices made by Mary: to blindly trust, and Hannah: to blindly plead. They had a type of vision in their blindness, a faith that is affirmed in other aspects of their stories.
But of that enigmatic woman with the issue of blood, we know little more. As Mabee dramatically entered the role, speaking the imagined words of the woman’s heart, and claiming her vision, I realize what a risk that woman took. She was going into a setting from which she was forbidden. She was touching people crowded around her. She was seeking something she did not dare to vocalize. She was expecting healing without asking Jesus for it out loud. Without even getting His attention! She was so sure of His power, that she claimed it by what she did.
This is something I need to meditate on. Her prayers and seeking had been going on for twelve years. How many requests have I prayed steadily for twelve years? What kind of vision do I have?
So many lessons to learn from her: and my favorite is that Jesus is paying attention even when it seems like He isn’t. He is aware of us sneaking up behind Him to touch His hem.