The #MeToo movement is intent on recasting our collective view of history into a narrative that highlights the silencing and subjugation of women through the centuries. The recent movie, Mary Magdalene, was inspired by the #MeToo movement. One of its stated aims is to “rescue” the title character by retelling the Jesus story from a feminine (and feminist) point of view. Movies like this seek to highlight the manner in which men have objectified, demeaned and silenced women, like Mary Magdalene.
Although #MeToo originated in the United States, mistreatment of women by men is as big an issue in Africa as anywhere else. Here battles rage on over polygamy, child brides, rape, prostitution and the sex trade. Most of us would condemn such behaviour. But we are often reluctant to look at our own cultural and social environments that birth these activities. What is a Christian response to the cry of this movement and related message of this movie? What do they miss?
The subjugation being talked about is seemingly evident at the start of the story in John 12:2-3, “They gave a dinner for [Jesus] there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at the table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.”
Men in the selfish pursuit of their own gratification, comfort and convenience too often force women into silent subservience. Christian men must not simply dismiss #MeToo as the latest cultural trend of progressive ideology
Through the lens of the #MeToo movement, Martha serves two men “reclining” at a table. But worse, Mary engages in a thoroughly demeaning act. She cleans Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair! Jesus continues to recline, enjoying the treatment and the fragrance of perfume filling the house!
Acknowledgement of the #MeToo message
Through this lens, Martha and Mary are simply subservient, silent agents to the wishes of men. They appear as symbols of the ongoing mistreatment of women. And, yes, we cannot deny the overwhelming evidence today of such subservience in households across our continent. Men in the selfish pursuit of their own gratification, comfort and convenience too often force women into silent subservience. Christian men must not simply dismiss #MeToo as the latest cultural trend of progressive ideology.
As believers we need to be willing to acknowledge sin in ourselves and our society, regardless of our cultural background. Our way of life or culture can never be considered beyond reproach. After all, God describes every intention of the thoughts of man’s heart to be continually evil (Genesis 6:5). If God sees our hearts like this then we should too. The #MeToo movement highlights details of that which we should have repented of long ago. In fact, it is embarrassing that movements like this highlight sin that our God has spoken about for centuries.
As believers we need to be willing to acknowledge sin in ourselves and our society, regardless of our cultural background. Our way of life or culture can never be considered beyond reproach
Acknowledgement of Martha and Mary’s worship
But the #MeToo movement also misses the bigger picture by only looking for what must be condemned. It has no notion of anyone that might actually be worthy of the sort of honour demonstrated by these two women. Worship or honour, even subservience and humiliation, are in themselves not right or wrong. The identity of the person that is being so treated determines the appropriateness. We need to truly understand the significance of this Jesus before we pass judgement too hastily.
these two women had chosen to honour Jesus precisely because he is worthy unlike any other. The #MeToo movement in effect robs them of that choice
This Jesus recently raised Lazarus from the dead after he had been in the tomb for four days (John 11:38-44)! Give that some thought. Jesus was the man who had served the family in this truly remarkable fashion – he had raised their brother from the grave. This staggering event had turned this home from grief to joy. As a result, these two women had chosen to honour Jesus precisely because he is worthy unlike any other. The #MeToo movement in effect robs them of that choice! As J. I. Packer wrote in Knowing God, “Whether being a servant is a matter for shame or for pride depends on whose servant one is.”
Acknowledgment of Jesus’ right to be worshiped
But even more than the raising of a man from the dead – as awe-inspiring as that is – six days from this meal, Jesus would voluntarily die for the sins of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He was to pay the ultimate price that we could not pay. He paid this by dying on the cross for the sin of you and me and all mankind. Then he rose again, to ascend to heaven to prepare an eternal place for us with him.
This is the Jesus that Martha serves and Mary worships. It is Jesus, and no other, who deserves to be honoured in the Martha and Mary fashion. Our mistake is not giving Jesus his rightful place. The honour that is displayed here should never be accorded to any other man. When we start to view Jesus as just another man, then we start to view ourselves as worthy of such treatment and give free reign to the cravings of our evil hearts. Why are we surprised at the flourishing of prostitution and the slave trade?
Jesus cannot be viewed as just another man. Far from being demeaned, as Mary and Martha worship Jesus they discover their dignity and worth
Jesus cannot be viewed as just another man. Far from being demeaned, as Mary and Martha worship Jesus they discover their dignity and worth. This man, who gave his life for men and women, deserves all the honour he is given—as well as the worth we regularly fail to ascribe to him. He is a man like no other man, anywhere or at any time in the history of our world. He is God who always everywhere deserves all our honour and praise. This is what the #MeToo movement misses.