Coming back from York, after the joyous consecration of our new female bishop, I couldn’t help but reflect on attitudes held towards women regarding the notion of “Taint” and the so-called breaking of the “line of apostolic succession”. Apart from the deep offence both of these views hold for women, particularly relating to taint, serious questions need to be asked. I pondered, “Who was it Christ actually laid hands upon?” It certainly wasn’t to ordain men as priests or bishops was it? No! He laid his hands on lepers to heal them. He was touched by the woman with the issue of blood and, aware of her touch, turned and cured her. He touched and raised the dying and the dead, girls, boys, and adults. He spoke to the woman at the well, asking her for water – an act that would have involved her in touching the bowl from which he would have taken a drink. He accepted the touch of the woman who bathed his feet and anointed him with oil. Did he draw back from being touched by this woman? Did he wonder if she was menstruating at the time? No! He commended her, blessed her and rebuked his disciples for disapproving of her act of generosity and love. He told them, “I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” (Mat 26 v13). Jesus understood about generosity. He was rebuked for picking wheat on the Sabbath and not washing his hands. He had much to say to the Pharisees in response to their criticism; much that that they didn’t want to hear. We need to ask, “Who is the tainted one in all these stories? Whose hands (and therefore very Being) would have been thought unclean? Jesus, by his actions, in accordance with the religious, social and cultural customs of his time, would have been regarded as contaminated, tainted, unclean, breaking the mould, and yet, he repeatedly touched and healed those who needed him, male and female. I wonder, then, “What he is saying to us today”. “What is he trying to get us to understand?” “What are we meant to learn from this man who tried to turn upside down constructs we have created throughout time that seek to exclude those who are regarded as outside the Ecclesiastical and Social norms?” But then my train drew into Kings Cross and I ceased to wonder – just for the time being.
Sally Barnes January 2015