Yesterday, I met with a friend and shared this story with him and felt inspired to share it here. About five years ago, I was on a plane with my teenage son headed for Germany. Before takeoff there was a man to the right of me standing at the aisle seat. He looked over me and asked my son to switch places with me so that he could sit next to him instead of me. My son, horrified that this stranger would make such a request sat silent. This man kept persisting and when my son did not reply he started to plead and beg my son to switch seats. My son finally leaned over to me and whispered, “Is this man a child molester? Why does he want me to sit next to him? He is scaring me, please make him stop.” I turned to the man and asked why he wanted me to change seats with my son? He did not respond, I then said he is not changing his seat to which this man began to make a scene. He started to bang his chest as he yelled out loud, “This plane cannot take off!! Stop! Stop! I have to change my seat!! I have to get away from her!! He was being so dramatic and loud that people were staring at us wondering what is going on. I asked him what the problem was, but he refused to look at me. Finally a stewardess came over and with irritation asked him what was wrong with his assigned seat? I couldn’t believe what came out of his mouth. He screamed I cannot sit here, because she is a woman! and I will not sit next to her, she may talk to me, touch me, look at me, put me next a man!
It seemed for me at that moment that time stood still. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I have never been treated so disrespectfully in public before, he acted as though I were tainted and needed to be segregated for being a female. They did eventually find someone to trade seats with him, although I must say, it wasn’t easy and as he left the crowd clapped and sneered at him, which made me feel slightly less embarrassed, but still confused. It wasn’t until I learned in my Hebrew Scripture class that to Orthodox Jewish extremist it’s not proper to speak to a woman that is not your wife. They believe “all her conversation will be nothing but words of adultery,” and whoever talks to her too much “causes evil to himself and will end up inheriting hell.” And the fate of someone “who even looks at a woman to long is worse” if there is worse and that explains why he would not look at me as well as not speak to me. This new information helped me to understand his behavior and his culture. This incident took place in the 21st century, so imagine what it was like for women in the first century in Jesus day. How bold of an act the woman bleeding for twelve years was, for reaching out and touching the hem of Jesus’ garment, they could have killed her, especially for touching him while she was menstruating, in their ritual practices that would make him unclean and is therefore forbidden. Can you imagine the scene of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well and how scared she must have been to have him do so and with others watching. This was unheard of and the experience I had on that plane really helped me to see these scriptures differently.
It’s so important that in our beliefs we do not lose our compassion and respect for one another, that we not reject and neglect the marginalized in our society. We serve God when we serve one another with Love. To quote Wendell Berry, “The work of redemption is a long and painful work, but it is also the only real way to save anything, and it is in the very ties of bondage to real people and real circumstances that we find the freedom of joy, healing, and happiness of human flourishing.”