Hope Beyond the Hymen:A Sermon on Luke 20:27–38
Preached on November 10, 2019 at Jehu’s Table.
Note: I couldn’t have written this sermon and have the courage to preach it without the help of one of my most treasured Bible study partners, my beloved sister-friend Alisha L. Gordon. Thank you, friend, in believing in me and pushing me to follow Jesus.
Rapper T.I. recently said in a podcast that since his daughter, Deyjah Harris’s, 16th birthday, he has accompanied his daughter, now 18, to her gynecology appointments. It’s not for him to have a genuine inquiry into her health as a young woman, wondering if she’s being safe with her body, that she knows about sexual health, and caring for herself in her body, but instead he turned her into a single body part and makes the doctor report to him first, only wanting to know if her hymen was intact. The gynecologist informed T.I. that a hymen can be broken in ways other than through sexual penetration. Here’s what T.I. said: “And so then they come and say, ‘Well, I just want you to know that there are other ways besides sex that the hymen can be broken like bike riding, athletics, horseback riding, and just other forms of athletic physical activity. So I say, ‘Look, Doc, she don’t ride no horses, she don’t ride no bike, she don’t play no sports. Just check the hymen, please, and give me back my results expeditiously.’” Hm. What logic, especially if T.I. is with Deyjah 24 hours a day, seven days a week. T.I. goes with her to the gynecologist to learn about only this body part, if you can even call it as such: to know if her hymen still intact, indicating her virginity and thereby her “purity”? Because we live in a world where a broken hymen doesn’t always equate to sexual “impurity,” which gets us in dangerous territory over human bodies.
In the midst of the Internet dumpster fire over T.I.’s treatment of his daughter, there is one person in this whole mess who hasn’t said anything: Deyjah Harris herself. I already spend too much time on the internet chasing stories when I should be doing something more whatever, but the articles getting her words on the matter are pretty much non-existent.
If I were to have a conversation with Deyjah, also coming from a household steeped in patriarchy (my father attempted to arrange a marriage for me), I would want to tell her that there is “Hope beyond the hymen.” You are not a commodity to be bought, sold, traded, or valued on one part of your anatomy. I wasn’t given a say if I wanted to meet this strange man who flew from half a world away hoping I would become his property. I became a voiceless prop to serve the purpose of men. There’s more to life than using human beings, people created in the images of God, as a voiceless prop to get your point across.
Yet we get to today’s Gospel lesson, and it seems that the events of almost 2,000 years ago have followed us to today. We are all held hostage by earthly system and structures. Instead of T.I., we have the Sadducees. Instead of T.I.’s daughter Deyjah, we have a hypothetical woman with no name. Even though we know Deyjah’s name, we have yet to hear her voice on what’s happened to her body. In a way, she too is the nameless women, like the woman in Luke’s Gospel. The Sadducees, a bunch of men, mind you, are asking Jesus about a woman being passed around like property to not just two brothers, not just three brothers, but seven brothers that are using her body to unsuccessfully perpetuate the family lineage. These religious and scholarly men are wondering, when we’ve all died and are resurrected, whom does she belong to? Or more like, who owns her in the afterlife? Does God pick, or do the brothers have to rumble and the winner takes all? Because the patriarchal system at play is that if a woman is a widow, she’s to marry the brother of her deceased husband so that she can still be in a system of care. But just because this “system of care” is the way to be doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a just and equitable system for everyone involved. Just because a system exists sure as hell doesn’t mean that it’s just.
The story told by the Sadducees is meant to be awful and ridiculous; they’re trying to trick Jesus, because the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection. So a way to make the resurrection seem ridiculous is to take a voiceless woman, use her as a prop in a patriarchal system, and attempt to trick and mock Jesus into making possibly nonsensical and absurd claims to defend the resurrection in such a scenario. Yet this awful and ridiculous story perpetuates the patriarchal systems that hold women down and treat them like objects. But let’s not just limit ourselves to patriarchy, because there’s a whole host of systems and all sorts of absurd stories to make a point in this world that dehumanize all sorts of people, not just to make a point, but to maintain systems of power and injustice. And this Gospel reading is filled with unjust systems and the attempt to “put people in their place.”
And what is it to “put people in their place”? This is what it looks like when demons are at play. It happened during Jesus’ time, and it’s happening today. People in power use crappy and hypothetical theological scenarios that perpetuate demonic structures that turn human beings into voiceless props to further their diabolical causes. When the Sadducees bring this diabolical scenario to Jesus, they’re actually mocking Jesus for who he is and what he represents. He is a poor brown Jewish man from the backwater town of Galilee. And what does he represent? Jesus has been living into what he expressed was his call in the fourth chapter of Luke:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
What Jesus is proclaiming isn’t in the future. It isn’t to wait for the last day and to finally have our debts settled when this world will come to pass away. Some have already died waiting. Some of us don’t have that long to wait. But yet, those in power want to give us trite scenarios and hypotheticals. They want to say trite things like, like what we don’t hear in today’s Gospel but is the very next verse, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” Which equates to, “Jesus, for a poor Brown Jewish man from the backwaters of Galilee, you are so articulate.” Any means necessary to try to not bring good news to the poor, to keep the captives in prison, to make sure the blind have no sight, that the oppressed are still crushed, and that the year of the Lord’s favor is accessible to only a select few.
Jesus tells the Sadducees what he thinks of their hypotheticals. “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die any more, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection…. Now God is not of the dead, but of the living; for to God all of them are alive.” He tells them their hypotheticals are crap, and they don’t matter because no one is owned by anybody else. T.I. may think he owns his now adult age-daughter and the sexual choices she makes with her body. Thinking you have ownership over someone else plays into demonic systems of power; Jesus tells us there is a better way for all of us.
What God has been trying to tell us from the days of creation, what God has been trying to show to us by coming to us in the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus of Nazareth, what God is trying to show you and me today at this table and at this font is that our body, our blood, our being, all of this matters. Not just our hymens or our capacity to reproduce or to produce or to wield power or to be the biggest or best or brightest or shiniest. Because that system of productivity and ownership over people’s bodies? It’s perpetuating those systems of demonic power, and to that I say God damn it. Because Jesus did when he spoke to the Sadducees in today’s Gospel. Because Jesus did when he told death to go to hell and rose on that third day. Because Jesus continues to do that again and again and again, not through systems of bullying or power or jewels or prestige. But in the everyday ordinariness of our broken bodies. In the everyday elements of grains of wheat cracked open, skins of grapes torn with the juice flowing out. In water, whether it be still or rushing.
God doesn’t need some dumpster fire hypothetical to tell us who God is. God shows us who God is and whose side God is on in the person of Jesus Christ. Anyone who says that they’ve come to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor is not going to make those in the status quo happy and feel good about themselves. Anyone who says that they’re the God of the living and that you don’t have to wait for the end of the world to come about is going to have those sitting on those high thrones shaking in fear. And if God’s going to choose to come to us as a poor brown man oppressed by the powers of Empire in this world, God has definitely chosen a side: of living. Of humanity. Of being created to be fully us and in community with one another. We have to wonder, how do we not be a voice for the voiceless, but how do we give voice to a presence who has been forced to be voiceless? For the unnamed woman passed around. For Deyjah Harris. For so many of us who have been disregarded. Not labeling people according to one sole thing, making them props to tell a stupid story that could happen some day. But of life abundant, together, and free, today. God created us to be so much more than what other people have placed upon us, the labels, the body parts that have been bought, sold, and controlled. May we remember that our God is not some idol with crappy hypotheticals that perpetuates demonic activity, but our God calls us into the fullness of life abundant with one another.