Saturday I posted the statement, “the maleness of Jesus has no ultimate significance.” This statement is not my own; it was penned by Rosemary Radford Ruether, a feminist theologian (I know, shocking) in her book Sexism and God-talk. I haven’t read the book myself. I came across this quote in another book. When I first read it, I definitely had to pause. Pre-seminary, I don’t think I ever considered issues of gender too intently. Now they seem to be cropping up everywhere. Seems I spend a lot of my time thinking about the significance of those little x’s and y’s…
Was the gender of Jesus significant?
From a cultural perspective, let me offer a resounding YES! In that culture, there is no way a female Christ would’ve been accepted or even acknowledged. Of course nothing is beyond God, but culturally, it just wouldn’t have been an acceptable situation.
But let’s look at this theologically. Does it matter that Jesus was a boy? I actually read one argument that Jesus was physically neither male nor female but simply projected a male image based on the cultural constraints. I don’t know if I can go for that… I really don’t think God made flesh was a shim. (But maybe that’s my own cultural constraints speaking… hmmm.) If he was truly going to experience our humanity, I think he needed to be fully human which, in my opinion, would require his fully embracing one gender or the other, not dancing somewhere in between boy and girl or shunning both options. Assuming then, that Jesus was in fact physically, biologically male, does that imply that maleness was a requirement of the Redeemer?
I’m gonna say… No.
First, he was the all-encompassing God, the Diety beyond our very comprehension who holds the entirety of the universe and galaxies in the palm of his hand yet in his magnitude still crafted the intricate details of the smallest creatures… that is the God who became flesh. That God crafted a plan of redemption by which his shed blood would cover my sins. I don’t think it really matters if that divinely human blood was xx or xy. It’s not the DNA that matters; it’s the fact that this freaking huge God condescended to become one of us, lowly, wretched creatures that we are. Creator became creation. Is it even possible to wrap our minds around that?! How did he manage to squeeze his baffling immensity into a human form?
And not only did he become like us, he died… for me… because I am wretched and hopeless on my own. There are no words.
To assert that the God of the universe had to become male to achieve his mission of redemption puts limitations on God that I believe are at odds with the very nature of God’s infinite self and power. Ruether makes the argument (in the little section around this quote that I did read) that Jesus’ status as redeemer did not rest in his maleness but in his actions: in denouncing the systems of oppression and embodying a new understanding of community. Here’s my second point of consideration and I’m gonna go out on a bit of a limb here… please don’t consider me a blasphemous heretic. But, if we are called to follow Christ, to take up his cross, embrace his mission, aren’t we essentially called to offer the message of redemption? Isn’t that the calling for all Christians, male and female? So, how can it be that gender is an important factor in the fulfillment of redemption? If the Redeemer was fundamentally male, wouldn’t that exclude nearly half of us from taking up his mission of redemption? (Please note: I am not saying we have the power of redemption in our own right.)
How can the Redeemer be limited by gender, limited to gender?
These are just my little thoughts, based not on vigorous study or deep theological pursuit, just a few days rumination on a quote that stopped me in my tracks. And I’m quite sure there are flaws to my logic or points at which one or more of you will wish to disagree/argue/prove me wrong. Fell free to do so, just be nice about it.
How I see it… Redeemer does not equal male, unless you’re really stuck on that whole knight in shining armor/damsel in distress bit.
But God is bigger than a knight on a white horse and we are way more lost than a mere distressed damsel.