Biblical Women for Whom We Can Say #ShePersisted

On Tuesday evening, February 7th, Senator Elizabeth Warren took to the floor of the United States Senate to oppose the nomination of Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions to the cabinet position of Attorney General. In the middle of reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King opposing Sessions then-nomination to become a federal judge, presiding chair Steve Daines (R-MT) interrupted her, invoking an obscure Senate rule about impugning the character of another senator to, with the consent of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Senate Republicans, silence Senator Warren for the rest of the debate. Explaining the decision on the Senate floor, McConnell declared the now infamous words, “She was warned. She was given and explanation. She persisted.”

#ShePersisted has, of course, gone viral on Twitter as many people object to the paternalistic silencing of a female senator as well as the implicit silencing of a civil rights icon, Coretta Scott King. History is rife with women who refused to stay in their place or heed the warnings of overbearing men. Thus, Senator Warren is in good company. We need more people who are willing to persist in resisting injustice. Staking a righteous claim against a potential AG who has a well-documented history of using his power to advance anti-civil rights positions is indeed just.

Senator Warren joins a long list of women in history who have persisted against patriarchy. While I’d be the first to tell you that the Bible isn’t the greatest resource for women’s equality, there are a plethora of biblical examples of women who have persisted despite the limits placed on them by men. If you are looking for something to preach this related to #ShePersisted, you would do well to explore at least one of the following texts.

Syrophoenician Woman (Mark 7:24-30)

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 28But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

In this text, Jesus calls a woman who is not part of his own culture and heritage a dog, which was a well-known, much-used ethnic slur. The text is a remarkable lesson about how implicit bias and systems of oppression can infect even the best of us (see this patheos blog post for a more thorough exploration of the text). Despite Jesus operating within the full privilege of his place in the culture and casually dismissing her plea, the woman persisted because the survival of her daughter was at stake. The same faith-based insistence will always be necessary to promote justice, and sometimes that may mean challenging “good” folk who we think ought to know better.

Woman with Issue of Blood (Mark 5:25-34)

25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years.26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’29Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

In this text, a woman who had bleeding for years seeks out Jesus to be made whole. Physician after physician failed in their efforts to help her. Her condition would have caused her community and her family to deem her unclean and unable to be a full member. She risked her very life by being in that crowd, striving to reach Jesus whom she believed to be the source of her healing. Surely she was warned and told why her “uncleanliness” was a threat to everyone, yet she persisted. A good sermon would unpack the notion of “unclean” and explain why social and religious barriers that dehumanize suffering people cannot be considered “Christian”.

The Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8)

Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” 4For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” ’ 6And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

In this text, Jesus tells the story of a widow whom, day after day, demands that the powers that be grant her justice. The judge in charge of hearing her petition repeatedly ignores her demands until he becomes increasingly bothered by her presence and, to relieve himself of the burden of her presence, grants her petition. Luke uses the story as a metaphor for the need to have a sustained faith. Yet, we can also understand the message of the parable as the need for us to stand up to injustice, despite the obstacles or odds. It should motivate us to stay present and visible against forces that would deny our very humanity.

Preaching any of these texts requires a deeper, more sustained engagement than I have done in this limited space. Nevertheless, these are excellent places to begin if you are looking for biblical examples of women who persisted.

About Jermaine M. McDonald

Dr. Jermaine M. McDonald is co-founder and editor of Symposium Ethics. He completed his PhD in Ethics and Society from Emory University in the Spring of 2015.

Jermaine M. McDonald

Dr. Jermaine M. McDonald is co-founder and editor of Symposium Ethics. He completed his PhD in Ethics and Society at Emory University in the Spring of 2015. Jermaine researches interesting convergences between race, religion, and politics with the aim of analyzing how various groups bring their religious ideas of the common good to bear in U.S. society.

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