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Is God Male or Female?

Sunday, November12, 2023Year A, Proper 27, RCL, Track 2

Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16Psalm 70Matthew 25:1-13

 

mural by Artist Robert Lewis Reid (1862–1929). Photographed 2007 by Carol Highsmith (1946–), who explicitly placed the photograph in the public domain., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Wisdom

“Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her and is found by those who seek her.” When we read about Lady Wisdom in any of the wisdom literature, we get a sense of her power and majesty. Lady Wisdom seems available to all of us, especially those who seek her. We may ask who is this lady? We know she’s not part of the Trinity. She is clearly more than a human being. Is she some sort of deity an angel, or possibly a metaphor? 


Some may not like the answer I’m going to give. And though there is no one answer many theologians would say Lady Wisdom is one of God’s attributes, personified. Wisdom with all her feminine qualities and sensual characteristics is God. 


For some of us, this is hard to understand, and we may even profess that God is a dude. But I believe there are two reasons we tend to think of God as masculine. First, we tend to impose the first person of God, God the Father, onto God or the Godhead. We conflate God the Father with the God head, making little to no distinction between them. Secondly, in English, we do not have neuter pronouns. Until recently, people were either he, him, his or she, her, or hers. They, them, and theirs are usually recognized as plural pronouns and when used in written language they are easily confused when used as a pronoun for an individual. I believe the is especially true when Christians are trying to image the three persons of God into one being. God is one, period and using they or them could make it look like God is a plurality of beings.


The word God, in Hebrew and Greek, is neuter, there are no male or female attributes associated with the word god. Though often associated with male attributes, God in the Old Testament is rarely called father. In the Hebrew Bible, God is often referred to with female attributes when the quality being expressed is carrying or nurturing. For example, Isaiah 66:13 “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” In Luke’s Gospel account, God is clearly equated to a woman in the parable of the woman who lost ten silver coins.


In the Trinity, we have three persons of one God. God the Father is referenced commonly with attributes of strength and high position. Attributes that have historically been associated with men, though most scholars would say this language is metaphorical in nature. The second person of God is  God the Son, Jesus the Christ, who is male. I don’t think there is much argument here, even though he has been associated with female attributes such as caring for people as a hen broods over her chicks. And then we have God the Holy Spirit, who is generally characterized as female.

This likely comes from the Hebrew and Greek words Ruach and Pneuma, meaning breath, wind, or spirit, both of which are feminine words. When I say feminine words, think Spanish or French, languages that have inherently feminine, masculine, and neuter words. Seeing God as neuter, may be best recognized in Genesis 1:27 “So God created humans in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” God created men and women together in God’s image. From this pasage God is neith male or femail but both and neither.


The point I’m attempting to bring to light is that in the Trinity, we have male, female, and neuter persons all making up a neuter Godhead, whom we generally just call God. God is the title of the being, which is beyond time and space, beyond gender, beyond just about any way of our thinking. And so, in my sermons, I generally and incorrectly call God him, but I have occasionally and equally incorrectly called God her. Yet today in a Hebrew text, we are hearing a female portrayal of God as attributed to Lady Wisdom. She is radiant and unfading. She makes herself known to all those who desire her. And because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, she graciously appears to them in their paths and meets them in every thought. 


This is a sensual, even sexual image of God of which I pray we all can relate to. God is like the most beautiful person you have encountered. A person we should lust after and be beset by her beauty. This image isn’t very different from that of the bridegroom in our Gospel in which ten bridesmaids or traditionally translated virgins, come out to witness the glory of the bridegroom. They are there waiting with bated breath, imagining the day in which they will be married. It’s easy for us to imagine this scene of swooning young ladies. But this story is a continuation of the judgment discourse we have been reading for weeks. It’s a portrayal of Judgment Day. 


I think we should recognize that Matthew comes to this picture from a different angle than other Gospel writers. In other Gospels, we hear stories in which we are to stay alert, don’t fall asleep, the thief comes in the middle of the night. Yet for Mathew, being prepared is not the same as being vigilant or awake. 


We open with ten bridesmaids who are seemingly identical. They have all come out to greet the bridegroom. They all brought their lamps. And they all fall asleep. We know that 5 are foolish and five are wise, but at this point, we do not know who is who. Since all ten fall asleep we know that sleeping is not what makes one foolish or wise. 


For Matthew, the ten indistinguishable bridesmaids are like the people in our community or even within our pews. We can look closely at one another, yet we cannot tell who. Only on Judgment Day will God judge some worthy or not. For we all look like good, pious, Christians, sitting in church. I think it is especially important to notice that even the bridesmaids at the beginning don’t have a clue who is wise or foolish. The difference between the two isn’t revealed until the bridegroom arrives on the final day. At midnight, a rather inconvenient and unexpected hour, Christ comes. It is only in this moment that the bridesmaids know who is prepared, who is wise or foolish. Obviously, those who brought extra oil are considered wise. 


Like a good scout, preparedness isn’t about staying awake, it’s about having what you need, or doing what you should have done, in preparation for the unexpected. But we are not scouts, and what we are preparing for is not unexpected. We are preparing for the coming of Christ. The only thing that is unexpected is the hour in which this will happen. 


The Jar of oil symbolizes what we are to carry with us. It is a sign of our preparedness. I think we all understand that we cannot physically carry anything to the next world. Nor can we buy our way into heaven. This story would even imply that we can’t quickly prepare at the last minute, for those who tried were not admitted. It is here that I think we can turn to our Psalm for some enlightenment. 


The Psalmist is speaking openly about life. He speaks about people who want to kill him or take pleasure in his misfortune. Though most of us do not have people seeking our lives, all you have to do is turn to Instagram and realize there are plenty of people who will relish in our misfortune. Yet, I’m not sure that the pain this person is feeling is coming from other people. Like us, much of our pain and sorrow comes from life, living in a broken world. Each day we experience some sort of pain and suffering. The well-being of a loved one, our own ailment. Even the pain or hurt received often unintentionally by someone else. Most of us have experienced the general frustration of bureaucracy, electronics, and robo-assistants who can’t direct us to whom we want to speak. Yet for the Psalmist, none of these things matter. He says, “Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; let those who love your salvation say for ever, ‘Great is the Lord!’”


Even though our faith may wax and wane, the Psalmist knows that he is insufficient. Maybe he feels he does not have enough faith. Maybe he feels he is not good enough. Maybe he has done things that he believes are unforgivable. So, he cries out “I am poor and needy, come to me speedily. You are my helper and my deliverance. For us Christians, we should be able to relate to his pain. This pain is Christ's Cross. It is the pain that we pick up daily and carry onward with our eyes set on that heavenly prize, life eternal. It is our ability to follow Christ and have a relationship with him and all our neighbors that fills our jar of oil. This jar is all we can carry with us. All we can bring is our hopes and joy of Christ and show this love to one another.

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