On Being an Outcast

Has it ever occurred to you how many of the women mentioned in the Gospels are outcasts — people who do not conform to the norms of polite Jewish society but are, in some sense, rule-breakers? Even the Lord’s own mother came dangerously close to being ‘put away’ for the sin, as it might appear, of unchastity. The household at Bethany was unusual, to say the least, with Mary daring to sit at the feet of Jesus among the men, and Martha taking charge of rather more than the dinner arrangements. Then there is Mary Magdalene, from whom seven demons had been cast out; Joanna and the other women who broke with the usual social norms to follow Jesus and his disciples and provided for them out of their own resources; the woman with the issue of blood, who broke the rules of cultic purity; the notorious sinner who washed Jesus’ feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee; the woman taken in adultery; the Syro-Phoenician who dared to ask a favour of a Jewish rabbi; and the Samaritan of today’s gospel, who has done more for our faith than many who led lives of blameless orthodoxy.

One could argue that the presentation of women in the Gospels merely reflects the prejudices of the men who wrote them, but I find it interesting that so many of the women are portrayed as courageous, insightful and much more attuned to Jesus’ message than many of his male disciples. There is a challenge here for the whole Church. It has nothing to do with questions of ordination or non-ordination; nothing to do with power or ecclesiastical politics, but everything to do with discipleship, how we follow Christ. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to go to Jesus ‘outside the camp’. I think we could all usefully reflect on what going outside the camp might mean for us today. To be an outcast, to be outside the conventionally respectable limits of society or Church, may not be what we thought discipleship would mean. Reading through the gospel passages where these women feature would be a very good way of asking ourselves how we measure up to the Lord’s command, ‘Follow me!’ For isn’t following Jesus what Lent is all about?


8 thoughts on “On Being an Outcast”

  1. Thanks for this Sister Catherine. I found it very clear & thought provoking. I also found your comment about the purpose of Lent very helpful.

    God Bless

  2. Two thoughts occur to me as I read your blog:
    Firstly Jesus was anything but a male chauvinist in his attitude towards women. One of the attractive features of his character,I think, is in seeing how he gave women respect and dignity,irrespective of their circumstances,and inspite of the mores of his own culture.
    His attitude towards women continues to inspire.( I wish more men supported the feminist cause as I try to,even though it has an unfortunate image.)
    Secondly, His ministry was not primarily directed towards the respectable. Rather he came to seek and save the lost, and to that end he never treated anyone as though they were an inferior.

  3. One thing struck me today for the first time hearing the Gospel and that was that the Samaritan woman HAD been married five times already and presumably five times bereaved and/or divorced. She was therefore deeply wounded, as well as at that moment living with a man outside of marriage. My previous superficial male reading was that she was a woman ostracised because of her loose morals. Jesus would have seen the deep truth about her and put his finger on her wound. She was thirsting for an answer to her grief and hurt – and finding it, as you say, “has done more for our faith than many who led lives of blameless orthodoxy.”

    • Yes! Fortunately, we can read John on many levels, e.g. the 5 husbands are the 5 kingdoms with which Israel had profaned her covenant with the Lord, etc. The important thing always is to be aware of the personal application we must make for ourselves.

  4. I have always thought that Jesus treated women better, probably, than any other man of his time. Jesus was a radical in his views, intelligent enough not to push too far at a time to a degree that would provoke a backlash. I believe that he would have treated women better still, as full equals if he could, if not for the possibility of a backlash from society, potentially actually lowering a woman’s status instead of improving it.

  5. Thank you Sister Catherine. Your reflection on this most wonderful of Gospel stories has given me a lot of nourishment and challenge for this Lent. Because this story is about Jesus in dialogue with a woman who is herself so open to what he is saying it gives me insights and courage to be open to what you have suggested. I am too prone to think of myself as an ‘outsider’ in Church terms because I am a woman who wants the official Church to be more open to what women bring. But this can easily become a reason for not thinking more deeply about what it might mean for me personally to be an outcast for the sake of the Gospel. Despite knowing that God sees the whole me with all the ‘buried’/cast out’ parts that I don’t put on show, being a visible outcast for the Gospel would be a different challenge altogether.

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