Things Kindergarten Cop Taught Me

Remember the classic Schwarzenegger comedy from 1990? And that shcoking scene that had primary schoolyards ablaze with new found info from the scene where the kid Joseph stands up and apropos of nothing at all declares:

Boys have a penis, girls have a vagina!

I have carried that data close to my heart all these long years and this Wednesday, when no one cares to celebrate World Women’s Day even though the UN go to the trouble of throwing the party, I will be pretty sure how to distinguish the genders from anatomy. I was brought up in a house where the equality of the genders is just taken as a given. All my siblings are very smart, but the DNA mix was especially good for the eldest, my sister, who is the cleverest of our hexagonal clan. My mom raised 6 kids and worked full time as a teacher. My dad did housework and cooking. My dad ran a business and my mom took care of accounts. My dad fixed things around my house but my mom helped solve the problems. They were a team. Without them having to use any words, they preached the good news of gender equality to me.

So when I came face to face with this Jesus fellow when I had all but grown up, one of the things I was attuned to was how he reacted to women. I was thrilled to find out that Jesus was the first feminist. Seriously. Jesus was a radical believer in the equality of the genders. That means a lot considering he invented them and all. Maybe this issue doesn’t get your blood pumping quite like mine. In that case, turn off your computer, walk outside and keep walking until you reach Senseland. It is somewhere in Scandinavia.

Luke tells a seemingly trivial little story about Jesus visiting friends. I am sure that those of us familiar with it see it as a lesson about hard work and taking rests. That is not why Luke included it in one of the official biographies. Mary, Martha and Lazarus were siblings who seemed to be very good friends with Jesus. Bethany was a lovely little town a little outside of Jerusalem that features quite a lot in the Gospels. But the story is usually understood as a simple moral tale about the life of devotion on one hand and the life of active service on the other.

If you don’t care to click on the link and don’t know the story, the plot gets going when Martha complains to Jesus about Mary not helping out with the washing up. That is usually where our understanding of the story ends but the problem of the day wasn’t that Mary was so enthralled with Jesus’ teaching that she forgot to empty the dishwasher. The problem was that she was in the room with Jesus at all. Who was this woman who felt she could ignore all the social teaching of Judaism by sitting in the room with the men as the Rabbi taught. That she is sitting is even shocking. You sit when you are ready to listen to and accept teaching. Who is this harlot who thinks she can receive teaching. Doesn’t she know she is a woman! Men and women belong in different parts of the building. She has broken that rule and now she assumes the position of disciple in front of the great teacher.

So when Martha complains that Mary isn’t sweeping the floor, she is really just politely asking Jesus to deal with the shameful transgressions of her sister. She isn’t being a busybody so much as trying to sensitively and subtley remove her sister from a situation she’ll live to regret. We often read her as being rude to Mary but really, the one she is being rude to is Jesus. She would have held him responsible for overturning their social world. Mary, after all, is just a woman. Maybe she doesn’t know any better. They take notions, you know? So Martha is reproaching Jesus and trying to save Mary.

Jesus is quite plain in his response, as usual. Mary has chosen the better route, he says. With that he explodes a major social taboo and quietly and calmly leaves his hearers open mouthed with shocked amazement. He has dismantled a stronghold of misogyny. He has undermined centuries of accepted wisdom. He has claimed once again that he has the right to turn the world upside down. But most importantly, he has said that women can sit in classrooms with men, that women do not always need to have their home at home, that women and men must be equal. And Jesus says that will not be taken away.

Your Correspondent, Wonders has sex ever moved us to another place?

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