Morning Worship: Challenge systems that abuse and exploit women

“I want to talk about women in a global context, and specifically women at the Southern border,” the Rev. Daisy Machado said at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service. Her sermon topic was “A Woman of Value,” and the Scripture text was John 8:1-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery.

“This text has always moved me,” Machado said. “It is delicate and provocative, filled with mercy and hope.”

The story has three small scenes. The first one, she said, was the Pharisees bringing the woman to where Jesus was teaching.

The second one was the Pharisees calling for the woman’s death. They challenged Jesus to condemn her to death, knowing that under Roman law, only a Roman citizen could call for the death penalty. Jesus tells them that only the sinless “can cast the first stone,” Machado said.

The third scene is Jesus alone with the woman.

“Jesus is concerned with the woman and with the Pharisees,” Machado said.  “He challenges the Pharisees by calling them to accountability according to the [Roman] law. He calls the woman to accountability by telling her to go and sin no more, to enter into a new way of life.”

Jesus addressed both the present and also future situations of the woman.

“Who of us has not had failings, acted selfishly or self-righteously,” Machado said. “Jesus offers hope that there is no need to repeat the past or to live with guilt and shame. There is always hope of change.”

Machado quoted Rabbi Abraham Heschel on being open to change and surprise: “I would say about individuals, an individual dies when he ceases to be surprised. I am surprised every morning that I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil, I’m not accommodated. I don’t accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere; I’m still surprised. That’s why I’m against it, why I can hope against it. We must learn how to be surprised. Not to adjust ourselves. I am the most maladjusted person in society.”

There is tension in the Scripture, Machado said, because of the narrow focus on the woman’s sin.

“She was humiliated,” Machado said. “You know, it requires two [people] to commit adultery. In Jewish law, the man and woman are subjected to equal punishment. Where was the man? Was he allowed to quietly put on his clothes and run away while she was brought naked to the market?”

Women are vulnerable to violence in patriarchal systems, whether these systems are economic, political or religious.

“The woman never speaks; she is never given a chance to explain,” Machado said. “To the Pharisees, her humanity is wiped away by her sin.”

When Jesus addressed the Pharisees, he did not look at them; he looked at the ground.

“When Jesus said, ‘Let the one without sin cast the first stone,’ ” Machado said, “he treated them as nonpersons, so they could see how if felt to be devalued. He challenged the male-dominated system with a vision of a new humanity, with women being of equal value.”

She moved to the topic of women along the Mexico-Texas border. She asked the congregation if they knew how much violence against women there is along the 1,200-mile-long border.

Globalization threatens the unity of the family, Machado said, and the concerns of the poor are exacerbated.

“Multinationals influence the political and economic life across the world,” she said, “and the benefits of globalization are not extended to everyone.”

She described the working conditions for women in the maquiladoras, the factories owned by foreign companies that Mexico has allowed to be developed along the border since 1965. Machado said that there were at least 600 factories along the border and that in 2000, they produced goods worth more than $83 billion.

“Mexico is the first-largest trading partner with the state of Texas and the third-largest with the United States,” Machado said, “with trade worth over $400 billion.”

The young women who work in these factories, ranging in age from 16 to 24, are paid $25 to $50 per week. By the time they are 30, she said, they are considered too old to do the job. The women are sexually harassed and can be fired if they become pregnant. There is no safety equipment, and they can be fired if they are injured on the job.

As these young women migrate from rural areas to the cities on the border, they become victims of sexual predators and murderers. The Mexican city of Juarez is known for femicide, with the unsolved murders of more than 400 young women. Machado claimed as many as 3,000 have gone missing since 1993.

“The governments of Mexico and the United States have failed to accept moral responsibility for these women,” she said.

She talked about human trafficking, young women forced into the sex trade under false pretenses. She also talked about those who die in the desert or in cargo containers, left by people they hired to guide them across the border.

“This is a moral reality that needs to be continually lifted up,” she said.

Machado said that the woman caught in adultery was not a stranger to Jesus.

“She was naked, and she needed his protection and his care,” she said. “There are women of color across the globe who live in poverty and need protection.

“When they come as illegal immigrants, they are presented as interlopers, as sexually promiscuous, as criminals who are less deserving because they stand outside the law,” Machado continued. “Does Jesus reject and condemn them, or does he see them as people who are desperate, in pain and vulnerable? He values human life.”

Rabbi Heschel said, “Be sure that every little deed counts, that every word has power.”

Jesus gives us the opportunity to expand our hearts, Machado said.

“As people of faith, we answer to a different call,” she said. “Jesus welcomes the abused and condemned and gives us a chance to repent and join in his restoration ministry.”

She urged the congregation to speak out against human trafficking and sexual slavery.

“Jesus wants for us to look at those who are rejected, criminalized and exploited,” Machado said. “He asks, ‘Who, who will throw the first stone?’ ”

The Rev. Natalie Hanson presided. Rosa Linda (Rosie) Guadarrama read the Scripture. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, sang “Make a Joyful Noise,” with text by William Petricko and music by Taylor Davis.

The Harold F. Reed, Sr. Chaplaincy and the Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy provided support for this week’s services.