by Ashtyn Adams
Mark 12:28-31 (NRSV)
It invites the question, how do we become a second Eve and offer companionship to creation? The lovers treat one another and the entire land with tenderness and respect. If this is a picture of redemption, of restoration, then a harmonious creation is at the center of it along with an egalitarian relationship between the sexes.
Trible, Phyllis. God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1986.
Pardes, Ilana. Song of Songs: A Biography. Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2019.
20 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” 22 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.
There is a deep kinship between women and the Earth which witnesses to a central theme in Genesis: many creations, one Creator. Women’s menstruation is one among many ecological cycles, and, for example, most notably mimics the 28-day lunar cycle. Here, the intimate interconnectedness between our bodies and the earth from Genesis 2 is on full display: the Adam from the Adamah, the Earthing created from the Earth.
Understanding Jesus’ body as one of porous femininity is essential to our insight on the meaning and significance of the incarnation. While we ought to hold in tension how God does choose to work and love in specific, non-generic ways, this account helps us deemphasize the particularity of God becoming flesh as a Jew rather than a gentile, as a man rather than a woman. As one of my professors Dr. Chris Doran has observed, the Greek word for flesh, sarx, which appears in John’s gospel to speak of the incarnation, has its roots in the Hebrew basar, which refers to all living creatures, not just humans. I think the encounter with the bleeding woman uniquely underscores this idea in narrative form, allowing us to see how God indeed took on the stuff of living creatures, becoming a member of creation, and in this instance, a feminine, bleeding one. The incarnation is thus cosmic in scope and speaks to the goodness of creation as a whole. God is not anti-flesh or anti-world. In his book, Hope in the Age of Climate Change, Dr. Doran writes that the incarnation fully affirms that “God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being as fleshy, earthy creatures.”
Jesus does not avoid, but shares in the woman’s flow, becoming a body also marked by porosity.
There is more to be said. Mark and Luke are rich for theological discussion and research. Matthew’s redaction, in contrast, renders the woman passive and saves Jesus from the disordered and embarrassing presentation of porous femininity. We are given three short verses. Yet, attention and questions about what’s not there is as much of an important exegetical practice as to what is there. I find this month’s lectionary text in Matthew concerning the bleeding woman to still be quite pertinent to today in the sense that it testifies to a historic and tragic tendency to see female gendered blood as taboo, to look away, to forbid it in the sacred realm. Christian artwork has reinforced this gender binary time and again, with, for example, the classic images of Bathsheba bathing, presumably a ritual bath after her period has ended, but only showing her naked without any traces of blood. Mary’s priesthood is also denied in images as artists avoid showing Jesus’ birth. This is relevant because tampon and pad companies market their products on these patriarchal taboos around menstruation. Annie Dillon and Hannah Black have highlighted how disposable products dominate the industry and reinforce the status quo by promoting products as “antidotes to the shame and embarrassment women must feel about their periods. They almost always depict blue liquid rather than red blood, and avoid realistic imagery of menstruation by portraying women dancing or swimming. Some even suggest the need for women to accommodate male desires during menstruation.” The 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons in the U.S. alone that fill up our landfills and contribute to ocean plastics cannot be separated from the messaging that women must hide, conceal, and quickly get rid of any evidence that they are experiencing their period. This is antithetical to the Jesus who freely bleeds on display and chose solidarity with the oppressed on the cross. It is well known that one of the key issues of environmental justice is that those who contribute the least to climate change suffer the most. The production process of menstrual products generates significant fossil fuel emissions, which communities of color will disproportionately bear the cost of. Promoting and providing alternative sustainable products, such as reusable menstrual cups, pads, and underwear, which have minimal impact on the planet, women’s bodies, and their wallets, may be one lasting solution that can save creation, women, and usher in the abundant life Jesus wills for us.
The 12 billion pads and 7 billion tampons in the U.S. alone that fill up our landfills and contribute to ocean plastics cannot be separated from the messaging that women must hide, conceal, and quickly get rid of any evidence that they are experiencing their period. This is antithetical to the Jesus who freely bleeds on display and chose solidarity with the oppressed on the cross.
Although traditionally concealed, menstruation is a form of participation in the divine life, a process which the God-man himself takes on. Like the ecological cycles of the Earth, it points to the Creator. It is an experience which speaks to our place within the created order, to the incarnation, and to the atonement itself.
Doran, Chris. Hope in the Age of Climate Change. Eugene: Cascade Books, 2017.
Harris, Melanie L. Ecowomanism: African American Women and Earth-Honoring Faiths.
Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love. Translated by Barry Windeatt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Moss, Candida R. “The Man with the Flow of Power: Porous Bodies in Mark 5:25-34." Journal of Biblical Literature 129, no. 3 (2010): 507–19.
Rogers, Jr, Eugene F. Blood Theology: Seeing Red in Body- and God-Talk. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021.
Soskice, Janet M. The Kindness of God: Metaphor, Gender, and Religious Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Matthew 10:40-42 (NRSV)
40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous, 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”
Key to these three verses in Matthew though is the designation of prophets. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel talks about how prophets are “highly disturbed individuals.” Anyone who has read the prophets might laugh at the ironic language of reward if it is equated to a modern conception, because the prophets were ostracized, exiled, and killed. You do not want to be a prophet, the one who tells the truth about the moral state of the people, who says that few are guilty, but all are responsible, who delivers judgments of God’s wrath (which is only ever a wrath against injustice and for the purposes of restoration). The ceaseless shattering of indifference is the primary task of the prophet, and that is never something encouraged among a comfortable, gluttonous people. Today in the Anthropocene, the undertaking of the prophet will still include no fringe benefits. The message that our rhythms of production and consumption mean that land, water, plants, livestock, and people are being abused will be resisted for the purposes of convenience and indulgence. Yet, the truth remains that we are failing to give the time or affection to properly nurture the gift of creation. We must cling to the promise of the prophet which has always been the same: a promise of presence, of Immanuel, God with us.
This command might hold even more significance to us in our modern age with our particular disregard for abundant and clean water. We must remember that God is not somewhere up in the clouds, but the one providing manna in the wilderness, calling prophets to critique and restore our socio-political institutions, shifting our eyes to the ones without water.
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This blog shares the activities of Creation Justice Ministries. We educate and equip Christians to protect, restore, and rightly share God's creation.