On March 7, 2012, the PBS NewsHour ran a piece with this title about women in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Food for the Hungry (FH) has been working there since the eastern part of the country’s descent into hell in the mid-1990s. For women in the DRC, March 8th, International Women’s Day, is far more than a politically correct day to think good thoughts about women. Appropriate for the day is the story in Luke 7:36-50 about a woman who could be in any of many communities in the DRC where FH works.
“Your faith has saved you …”
According to the account in Scripture, Jesus says this to a woman who “had led a sinful life.” The story is a fascinating one. She enters the home of a man named Simon where Jesus has been invited for dinner. Weeping, she wets Jesus’ feet with her tears, wipes them with her hair and pours perfume upon them. We are not told why she is weeping. Nor are we told what was behind her “sinful life.” She was obviously looked down upon in the town where she lived. The hopelessness of ever changing her situation alone is enough to explain her weeping. Jesus acknowledges her “many sins” but doesn’t say a word to her about amending her ways. He pronounces her “saved,” commends her love for Him, defends her against Simon’s judgment of “what kind of woman” she is and forgives her, raising the eyebrows of all. During the entire encounter the woman never says a word.
The realities of today in the eastern DRC are poignantly portrayed in the Pulitzer Prize winning play “Ruined.” It powerfully depicts the horror of sexual violence there. It is estimated that 1,000 women and girls are sexually assaulted every day. 400,000 were victimized in one of the two years I served there as country director for FH. This widespread, brutal sexual violence is a weapon of mass destruction. It ruins everything – the women who are victims, their families and children, especially their girls, and their men (both perpetrators and victims). In a patriarchal society when a man cannot protect the women in his life it is the ultimate failure of manhood. For the women, it is even worse. With no rights, no education and no resources, many are driven into prostitution as the only way to survive. The best they can expect from their ruined communities is some version of the label “sinful women.”
Women, girls and poverty
The link between the treatment of women and girls and poverty is incontrovertible. Not surprisingly, the DRC is one of the most impoverished countries in the world despite its immense wealth in natural resources. Astonishingly, even here, a Gospel that is proclaimed and lived brings hope. It is why the story of the sinful woman in Luke’s Gospel is so compelling to me.
For Jesus, the magnitude of her total need, not the magnitude of her sin, is what matters. The identical Greek phrase, in its precise translation, “Your faith has saved you,” is used four times in Luke’s gospel (here in Luke 7:50, Luke: 8:48, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42). Though it is variously rendered “made you well,” “made you whole,” and “healed you,” it is literally “saved you.” It is said to a woman of questionable character whom Jesus forgives, to an “unclean” woman suffering from constant hemorrhaging, an “unclean” Samaritan leper and a blind beggar, each of whom Jesus heals. All of the persons to whom it is said are on the bottom of the social/religious heap.
The point is that biblical salvation includes elevation of the lowly, physical restoration, internal wholeness and forgiveness … not just forgiveness. Salvation is about the whole person here and now as well as in the life to come … “on earth as it is in heaven.” Our moral neediness, our sin, is part of the problem, but not the sum of it. Will you join us as we at FH, in word and deed, by God’s grace, seek to live out the Gospel among the world’s most vulnerable people?