The Agora
Bible Editorials

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How to tell a woman she's wrong

Something tells me (maybe it's 28 years of experience in the married state) that there are good ways, and then there are not so good ways, to tell a woman she is wrong! Maybe one of the not-so-good ways is to bring up all the recorded and imagined sins of her gender for the past 4 or 6 thousand years, from the far east to the middle east, to Lizzie Borden with her ax, as if to say, 'And you... why, you are just like all the others!' Maybe another not-so-good way is to suggest that her gender and her gender alone is responsible for all the evils in the world today... 'You know, we men would have had such a perfect world if it weren't for all the subtle flatteries, the sly whispers, and the wanton ways of the treacherous sex!'

Maybe a better way is first to remember that a woman is a human being, a person with feelings, who should be treated with respect, even if (stress the "if"!) she is wrong. Paul told Timothy, "Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity" (1Ti 5:1,2). I take it that Paul is saying here, 'Do not rebuke an older woman harshly, but exhort her as if she were your mother."

So maybe one rule of thumb, when preparing to tell a woman she is wrong, is to ask: 'How would I tell my mother she is wrong?' Anyway, all this is a little like: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." And that's an easy rule to remember -- even if it's sometimes hard to put into practice.

Now the question comes to mind: Did Jesus ever have to tell a woman she was wrong? Yes, in John 4 he meets a Samaritan woman by a well. And his task is to tell her she is a serial adulteress whose worship of God is all wrong. Surely a wonderful opportunity to pull out all the guns and really blast her!

But what does Jesus do? First, he speaks to her and asks a favor of her: "Will you give me a drink?" He shows her that he, like she, is a human being with needs, and suggests -- subtly perhaps -- that each of them can help the other. Secondly, the very fact that he speaks to her in a civil fashion fills her with amazement, because he is plainly a Jew and she is a Samaritan, never mind a woman. So he has treated her, already, with more kindness than most Jews would even think of; he has treated her as -- surprise! -- another human being of equal worth with himself. And he hasn't even begun to rebuke her yet.

And so their conversation goes on. He slowly draws her out with spiritual analogies that intrigue her, and then finally he mentions her husband. This elicits her response, "I have no husband." Now Jesus has the opening he was looking for. Does he pounce triumphantly? -- 'Aha, got you now!' I don't think so. He must have spoken his rebuke so gently, and after such a careful buildup, that the Samaritan woman, her sin finally exposed, is still not afraid of this strange man. Leaving her water jar, the woman goes back to the town to find all her friends. "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could he be the Messiah?"

And so Jesus' rebuke of this woman's sinful ways is carried out so carefully, so gently, and so kindly, that the last we see she has invited him to stay in the town, where for two additional days he speaks to many others who come to believe!

I think that's how to tell a woman she is wrong. Now... if I could just remember that myself.

And maybe, when I'm wrong (IF that time ever comes!), she can remember to tell me in the same way.

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