My friend and colleague Sarah Howell is the lead Pastor of this awesome worship service called Roots Revival. For lent, this worship community is reflecting on Matthew 25:31-46, each week hearing a sermon about the hungry, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner, etc and each week they are reflecting on how to realize in everyday life Jesus’ call to be compassionate to “the least of these.” I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the sermon series, my verse was “Matthew 25:36 “When I was naked and you clothed me:
Fixing Her Hair
I was naked and you clothed me.
When Sara, her team, and I began to think about the naked, we were inspired by Ani DiFranco’s song “Fixing Her Hair,” you will be lead in worship to this song at the conclusion of my message but I’d like for you to hear the words now, especially the last stanza:
She is still playing the martyr I am still praying for revolution
And she still doesn’t have what she deserves
But she wakes up smiling every day, she never really expected more
That’s just not the way we are raised
And I say to her, You know, there’s plenty of really great men out there
But she doesn’t hear me, she’s looking in the mirror
She’s fixing her hair.
The song is about a person talking about her friend who is in an abusive relationship. The song addresses the way that violence toward women is rationalized,
“she has a way to rationalize, says he don’t mean what he does,”
“she never really expected more, That’s just not the way we were raised.”
And the song discusses the feelings of frustration and helplessness and hope of a person attempting to be present to a woman in a violent situation,
“I am still praying for revolution, And she still doesn’t have what she deserves.”
This song made us think about Matthew 25:36 when Jesus said, “I was naked, and you clothed me.”
When I think of naked bodies, I think of Genesis 2 when God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden, and walked with them in the cool of the evening and the Bible says “they were naked and not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). But nakedness has become a symbol of feelings of shame, and pain, and violence. It was ancient practice to strip prisoners, and slaves, and debtors of their clothing to inspire shame and to strip them of their dignity. Jesus preached these words during a time when it would not have been unusual to see a such a naked person in public. Although today it would be considered quite unusual to see a naked person out in the community, we yet live in a time where many people’s naked bodies are bound, inextricably bound to shame, and violence, and pain.
All over the world, naked bodies are being abused and violated. And worse still, in many cases it is a normal and accepted part of life.
In Burma, a country in South East Asia, a little village girl is sold by her parents to a brothel in the city at the age of 7. The brothel sells her virginity to the highest bidder and because she is so young they can get away with selling her virginity again and again throughout the day. When the little girl is asked how she feels about the selling of her virginity, she articulates a source of pride because that day her virginity was sold for the highest price of all the prostitutes in the place. When the man is asked why he paid a record high price to have sex with this girl, and why he chose this girl out of all the other women in the brothel, the man responds, “because she looks like a child.”* Violence of this sort is rationalized and normalized in many parts of the world.
Burma is on the other side of the world, but the issue of sexual violence and exploitation hits much closer to home.
Here in the US 1 in 4 female students have been the victims of rape or attempted rape on college campuses. A startling 25% of female college students will experience violence and abuse to their naked bodies before they graduate.**
This issue hits even closer to home:
Here in North Carolina, the Department of Homeland Security has named NC a hotbed of human trafficking because the international airport in Charlotte in conjunction with all the different interstates that cross NC, it is easy to bring in women from all over the world and maneuver them to different parts of the country undetected.***
This issue hits even closer to home:
In our churches, in our families, we all know a mother, a sister, a friend, a coworker who is enduring life in a domestically violent relationship. Her naked body bespeaks the beatings, and battering, and bruising inflected on her by her romantic partner.
All over the world, in our nation, in our state, in our churches, in our communities, in our homes naked bodies are being abused. And this text suggests that Jesus can be found in these bodies.
Jesus’ broken but beautiful body can be found in the 7 year old girl who will sell her virginity to the highest bidder 7 times today.
Jesus’ broken but beautiful body can found in the college student who will begin her night at a frat party and end her night with a rape kit.
Jesus’ broken but beautiful body can be found in the woman from Brazil, Thailand, East Africa who, moments ago, just arrived to the Charlotte-Douglass International Airport and is about to head up Highway 77 to meet her fate as a slave in a prostitution ring.
Jesus’ broken but beautiful body can be found in our sister, our friend, our neighbor who is fixing her hair in an attempt to hide the black eye, the swollen lip, the red cheek of violence.
Theirs are the naked bodies in which Jesus can be found and if we listen we can hear Jesus whispering to us, “When I was naked, you clothed me.”
But the question that you have been asking every week is How? And we ask today, how can we clothe the naked?
There are three ways: we can Fight, we can Face, and we can Befriend.
First, we can support organizations that are on battlefields fighting the presence of domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual exploitation in the world. They need our resources and our support. Here are just three organizations nearby that you can support:
- Triad Ladder of Hope- it’s a NC based organization that works to eradicate human enslavement and human trafficking locally and abroad.
- The Winston-Salem Family Services Shelter- it is a shelter that helps women and their children to escape violent and abusive living conditions.
- RAIIN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network)- it is the nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization.
We clothe the naked by helping to fight these systems of shame, violence and abuse.
Second, we must face it. We must face the ways in which we participate in and rationalize a worldview that supports and even promotes violence, especially violence toward women. For example, the ways in which we blame the victims of violence.
I hear it all the time when a woman says that her mate hit her, the first question is almost always, “well what did you do to make him do that?” I’m sure you all remember the Ray Rice incident when he attacked his then fiancé in an elevator, it was all over the news, all over ESPN. And I am sure you heard the loud rationalization in response to the violence, “women need to learn to stop provoking these men.”
We can clothe the naked when we ask ourselves what are the ways in which we are participating in this structure of violence and abuse?
We have to face the ways that we participate in and rationalize a worldview that supports and even promotes the sale of sex and sexual violence. How are we perpetuating the sex industry? When you think about supporting the sex industry and purchasing sex you may think of strip clubs, porn, buying prostitutes but there are more subtle ways that we support the multi-billion dollar sex-industry:
We support it in the music we listen to.
We support it in the books we read.
We support it in the movies we watch (I almost entitled this message, “Why I will never watch 50 Shades of Grey”).
We clothe the naked by facing the ways that we support and promote the sale of sex and sexual violence.
Finally, we clothe the naked by befriending the victims. The interesting thing in the Matthew text is that Jesus said “you fed me, you clothed me, you visited” he never said, “you saved me.” Jesus is not calling us to be saviors but calling us to be present to “the least of these” in profound and transforming ways.
Jesus says “when I was naked, you clothed me” it sounds to me like a call to get near enough, to draw near enough to the naked body without reflexing in terror, in horror, in shame. Be present. Befriend.
In my line of work, I have met prostitutes and even call friends people who have been prostitutes at some point in their lives. The stories that they tell could make you weep. I have a friend who still to this day participates in prostitution because she feels it is the only way to provide resources to her children. And as I sit with her, holding her hand as she cries, Ani DriFranco’s song rings true,
“I am still praying for revolution, And she still doesn’t have what she deserves”
I am still praying for a time when she believes that she has more to offer the world than what’s in between her legs.
I am still praying for a time when we do not live in a world where women are excluded from the distribution of resources in such an extreme way that they have to take such extreme measures in order to have the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter.
I am still praying for a revolution. But in meantime, I call her friend.
We clothe the naked by befriending the victims of sexual violence and exploitation.
I knew of a woman who once worked at a church and she noticed that around the corner from the church there was a community of prostitutes being sold by their pimps. She decided one day to go over there. She started visiting everyday. She got to know the prostitutes. She would check on them, check in with them and she began to distribute condoms and clean needles to them. She said that was her ministry to them, passing out condoms and clean needles. She did it for years before she died.
And you know, they say that in all of the years that she hung out on this corner, getting to know the prostitutes and passing out condoms, only a handful of women ever asked her to assist them to get out of the situation. Only a handful ever told her “I am done. Please help me to get out of this.” She overwhelmingly did not clean up the streets of prostitution. But I believe with great conviction that when she faces Jesus on that promised Day of Judgment he will say to her,
“I was naked and you clothed me.”
She will likely respond, “When Jesus, when were you naked and I clothed you?”
And Jesus will look at her, with the light of heaven in his eyes, and say to her,
“I was a prostitute, and you gave me a condom.”
Whatever you do to the least of these, you have done to me.
* Because She Looks Like a Child.
Bales, Kevin. “Because She Looks like a Child.”Global Woman. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2002. 207-29. Print.