Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Subordinate Status

Daily Readings
Proverbs 11 + Numbers 30 + Deuteronomy 23 + Romans 5

Quote of the Day
For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Romans 5:10

Daily Text: Numbers 30:1-9

Then Moses said to the heads of the tribes of the Israelites: This is what the LORD has commanded. 2When a man makes a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
3 When a woman makes a vow to the LORD, or binds herself by a pledge, while within her father's house, in her youth, 4and her father hears of her vow or her pledge by which she has bound herself, and says nothing to her; then all her vows shall stand, and any pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5But if her father expresses disapproval to her at the time that he hears of it, no vow of hers, and no pledge by which she has bound herself, shall stand; and the LORD will forgive her, because her father had expressed to her his disapproval. 6If she marries, while obligated by her vows or any thoughtless utterance of her lips by which she has bound herself, 7and her husband hears of it and says nothing to her at the time that he hears, then her vows shall stand, and her pledges by which she has bound herself shall stand. 8But if, at the time that her husband hears of it, he expresses disapproval to her, then he shall nullify the vow by which she was obligated, or the thoughtless utterance of her lips, by which she bound herself; and the LORD will forgive her. 9(But every vow of a widow or of a divorced woman, by which she has bound herself, shall be binding upon her.)

Subordinate Status
The making of a vow is binding. Whether civil or religious, a vow, a solemn promise is an issue that becomes a religious matter. Presumably this is so because it involves integrity, telling and living out the truth, and whenever the truth is at stake, the nature of God is at stake, because God is truth and truth is one. I cannot say one thing and live another and be having anything to do with the truth. Another example of this is Proverbs 11:1 “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord.” Lying or failing to carry through with a vow is an abomination, not just to those betrayed, but to the Lord.

It is thus that religious matters are entangled thoroughly with civil behavior. It is why they cannot be separated. It is why being religious on the Sabbath alone is not only impossible, it is anathema, and shameful.

In Numbers 30 men and women were required to live out valid vows. But for women the validity of their vows was limited by their subordinate status to men. Their fathers or husbands validated or invalidated their vows as they wished. Only a mature unmarried woman did not have this limitation when it came to vows. The Torah was moving toward equality in the sexes, but not very quickly. It continued to reflect the patriarchal, male dominated culture of which it was a part. In fact, it is probably fair to say that women were expected to obey all of the negative commandments, but were subject to men’s permission in following the positive ones. A good example of the movement in the Torah is that of the daughters of Zelophehad who we met in Numbers 27. They were given the freedom to inherit their father’s property, but only if they married within there own tribe. Men could not leave their own tribe no matter who they married. Women were the ones to leave. This remains visible today in Western society in the matter of names. Men keep their father’s or mother’s surname, the women change theirs to that of the husband. This male orientation is both blessing and bane. Blessing in the sense that it reflects that there must be a social order or chaos will result. Bane because in the present order women are almost always the subordinate ones, even though valiant efforts are made and will continue to be made to move toward their legal and religious equality.

Perhaps the status of women is one place where religion is not totally entangled with the civil life. For in the bible women do stand before God on their own responses. Ethical behavior, dignity, and matters of faith place women and men equal before God. However, as soon as one moves into the civil society, the civil rules apply. At a very deep level this is a violation of the integrity that God represents in our lives, and every person should work assidously at removing that conflict in their own and others lives. Whether all of the anomaly is correctable is a question. Like addressing the issue of poverty and wealth, to simply give all of ones wealth away to the poor neither corrects the imbalance or changes the social order. One simply has a newly impoverished person. Now poverty may be a religious issue for the one involved as it was for the rich young ruler in Jesus time, but as a corrective for the social imbalance it is useless. That is not to say that a government should not do all in its power to reduce those imbalances through just taxation, as our government generally has done until recent times, but the social is not correctable by private parties except by bringing about effective legislation. So with the matter of women’s subordination.

I Sit and Look Out
From “Leaves of Grass”
Walt Whitman

I sit and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;
I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful
after deeds done;
I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate;
I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer of young women;
I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid—I see these
sights on the earth;
I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;
I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be kill’d, to
preserve the lives of the rest;
I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor,and upon negroes, and the like;
All these—all the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon,
See, hear, and am silent.


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