To say the least, it’s ironic that, on the Sunday before the US elections, after a more than year-long campaign in which sexual abuse has been a featured issue, the gospel reading is the one in which a group of men pose a challenge to Jesus asking whom a woman should be serving in heaven, among her seven husbands who predeceased her.
Jesus answers, saying heaven isn’t like that. In heaven, he says, people neither marry nor are given in marriage.
And the conversation, for two thousand years, has mostly focused on the idea that heaven is sexless.
And never, at least not in my hearing of sermons or reading of commentaries, has anyone said that it just might be that men, in heaven, have to cook for and clean up after themselves.
The kingdom might very well require our hard work: after all, didn’t Jesus say the kingdom of heaven was like a sapling a man tended and nurtured till it was a sheltering tree? And didn’t Jesus also say the kingdom was like a housewife kneading bread? And didn’t Jesus liken the kingdom to a woman turning her house upside down and inside out to find something she lost, and like a man who sold everything to buy a field that held a treasure? All of this is work, hard work.
So maybe the point really is that in heaven you don’t get to have a servant. Never, in forever.
I don’t think this argument, between the crowd of men and Jesus, is over yet. In fact, I think this argument is very much present in this campaign.
For instance, if you dismiss Trump’s comments on the Access Hollywood tape as ‘boy talk’, which his family does, you are right in saying that a lot of Americans still think this way about women. And not just Americans. But if you say that this kind of ‘boy talk’ is harmless banter between men, you are accepting that women exist to please and serve. For the banter is about dominance as much as it is about pleasure. About women serving men.
Hillary Clinton herself is viewed with suspicion by a significant portion of the population because she defended and stayed with her husband after his very public scandal with Monica Lewinsky, and also after his affair with Gennifer Flowers when he was Governor of Arkansas. Hillary is seen by some as an inadequate servant of her husband’s sexual desires and as a merciless opponent of the women who claimed to be his victims.
These references then become translated into accusations that Hillary will be inadequate as President. Unsatisfying and untruthful, politically, as she is ‘known’ personally. These charges are raised frequently by her opponent, without any political evidence.
Trump’s references, both on that tape and in many other discussions, about the Miss Universe contests, his wife Melania, and his daughter Ivanka, repeatedly emphasize the essential quality of their beauty as the reason for their roles in his life or as their principal asset, reinforcing the values at work among the men who challenged Jesus. Women serve by feeding the eyes of men, and their egos, as well as by keeping house and offering sex.
Just look at them, Trump said dismissively of the women who accused him of groping, I don’t think so. I’m not interested.
Meanwhile, in a nation where women still earn considerably less than men for comparable work, Hillary Clinton, dressed, coiffed and made up to project a professional image, constantly reiterates her role as a wife and mother, as a loyal daughter, and as a champion of women and children’s rights.
She has to do this, to fend off the unending attacks by her opponent that she is not good enough (not beautiful enough, not charming enough, not responsive enough) to be President. She counters that Trump has no experience, and he retorts that she has experience but it is the wrong kind (not good enough).
Absent from this long, drawn out conversation, are discussions of some major issues: gargantuan numbers of incarcerated citizens, compared to all the rest of the world. Trump does threaten to thrown Clinton in jail, but does not address the issue of American incarceration, nor does Clinton. Trump did talk about ‘bad hombres out there‘ in the third debate. Clinton did not challenge him. Perhaps it took all her energy to get past his remark about her being a nasty woman.
Nearly absent is any discussion of climate change, oceanic pollution, the decimation of species. Trump’s sons, who have travelled to Africa to shoot big game, shrug off the implications of their pleasure. Trump himself questions the reality of climate change, and denies the need for changes in the way we do business, and live.
Never absent,though, from this campaign is the issue of who women should serve, and what qualifications equip them to serve.
Luke tells us the questioners are men who do not believe in the resurrection. And really, why would they believe in an eternal life in which they would have more work and less power than they do in this one? Do men today believe in that?
It is pretty obvious that Jesus is telling his questioners, in the kingdom of heaven men are not in charge. Somehow, though, we just don’t hear that when we listen to this story. We don’t hear it as a story about a world where a woman may set her own agenda, and may even lead the world.
Smile on Your Brother, by Rico Fonseca, Mural on Bleeker Street in Greenwich Village, NY. Photo by Tony Miller. Vanderbilt Divinity School Library, Art in the Christian Tradition.