I hope this article will whet your appetite to read more.
Men and Women Working Together for Good
In the wake of the 2008 economic crisis, New York Times op-ed writer Nicholas Kristof reported that at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, financial experts were wondering out loud whether the economy would be in the same mess if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers and Sisters.
What has the ring of something innovative and progressive is actually a remnant of humanity’s forgotten ancient past—an idea with primordial biblical roots that can be traced back to the Garden of Eden.
The notion that things work better and human beings become their best selves when men and women work together is found on page 1 of the Bible. When God was launching the most ambitious enterprise the world has ever known, the team He put together to do the job was male and female.
Adam and Eve faced a challenge of Mount Everest proportions that required a solid connection between themselves and their Creator. As His vice-regents, together they were charged with looking after things on His behalf—wisely to steward and utilize the earth’s resources. Their goal together was to build His gracious kingdom on earth. No square inch of earth is excluded. No arena of life is beyond the parameters of their joint rule.
God designed the world to stand on two load-bearing walls. You don’t have to be an engineer or a building contractor to know not to tamper with load-bearing walls. Knock down the load-bearing walls, and you’ll bring down the roof.
The first load-bearing wall is God’s relationship with His image bearers. Without this vital relationship, we are cut off from our life supply—homeless stranded souls in the universe, left to guess at who we are and why we are here.
The second load-bearing wall is the Blessed Alliance between male and female. Having created his male and female image bearers, “God blessed them,” then spread before them the global mandate to rule and subdue on His behalf. According to Genesis, male/female relationships are a kingdom strategy—designed to be an unstoppable force for good in the world.
This means the enemy’s first assault in the Garden was beyond brilliant. One lethal blow and both load-bearing walls collapsed. God’s image bearers were cut off from their Creator and divided from each other.
God never abandoned His vision. Instead of washing His hands of us, God pursues His errant image bearers. Trillion-dollar bailouts to rescue a flagging economy are nothing next to what God has expended to recover the Blessed Alliance. Jesus came to rebuild both load-bearing walls. He is the connecting point between God and us. He is the glue that holds the alliance of men and women together. He mobilizes His male and female followers together to join this rescue effort. Given that fact, it should come as no surprise to discover flashpoints along the way where the Blessed Alliance shines like a beacon in a dark world.
Ancient Blessed Alliances
Two Blessed Alliances—one from the Old Testament and one from the New—offer wisdom for 21st century living. One story comes from the center of Gentile world power; the other from Israel’s heartland. The former story is of cousins—Esther and Mordecai; the latter, a husband and wife—Mary and Joseph.
Esther and Mary were Jewish and young, unmarried teenagers when we meet them. Puberty made them marriageable. Both were immersed in cultures where women embody powerlessness and men command power and authority over them. Neither of them dreamed God would call them to a higher role.
Esther and Mordecai were stragglers who remained in Persia (Iran) after many Jewish exiles returned to Israel. Esther was trafficked—rounded up for the king’s harem with all the beautiful young girls—and chosen (after he sampled them all) to be his queen. She existed for one man’s pleasure. For six years, Esther survived on standard feminine virtues—beauty and compliance—keeping her Jewish identity below the radar. All the while, anxious Mordecai (the authority figure in her life) was issuing directives from the sidelines to an obedient Esther.
Mary was betrothed to Joseph when she first appeared on the pages of the Bible. Legal arrangements were made between her father and Joseph, money changed hands, and a deal was struck that was as binding as marriage.
Both stories turn on a crisis that jars everyone out of the status quo. Overnight, existing paradigms for relationships between men and women become unworkable. These crises can only be understood within the context of their cultures. Both women’s lives were in danger because they had committed capital offenses.
For Esther, the peril was double. As a Jewess, her life was under threat because a plot for genocide against the Jews was moving forward. As a wife, her life was in danger from her husband. In Persia, an edict established the rule of men over their wives. By law, unsolicited meetings with the king were punishable by death. She was trapped by cultural conventions, the law and her own long history of compliance.
Mary had an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and a wild story to go with it. Her pregnancy was an appalling betrayal and an affront to family honor. In a shame-based culture, the immediate threat to Mary was death, divorce or being cast out. For both young women there appeared to be no way to wriggle out of these jams.
After calling the shots for Esther’s whole life, Mordecai called Esther to risk her life to prevent the genocide. To do this, she had to stand up to the two most powerful men in the world—King Xerxes and his evil prime minister, Haman. To top it off, Mordecai told Esther, “Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
In an act of unprecedented courage, Esther threw down the gauntlet: “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16)—this in anticipation of a conversation with her husband. Drawing on God’s strength and everything she’d learned from six years as a palace insider, Esther strategized, summoned courage and acted. She took the lead. She directed Mordecai to call the people to pray and fast; Mordecai obeyed.
By the time Mary collided with Joseph, she already had thrown down the gauntlet. “I am the Lord’s servant, and I am willing to accept whatever He wants” (Luke 1:38). Pretty Christmas cards make it easy to think the problem Mary faced was the awkwardness of telling Joseph, knowing how the truth would hurt him; but this is to misunderstand her culture. In patriarchal shame-based cultures, a betrothed girl who turned up pregnant was in danger of honor killing, and the person Mary had most to fear was Joseph, for her presumed actions brought shame on him. Her fate was in his hands.
Matthew described Joseph as “a righteous man” (Matthew 1:19). This was not good news if Joseph bought into the Pharisees’ exacting definition of righteousness. However, this was where Mary’s story changed, for Joseph’s brand of righteousness foreshadowed Jesus, for whom righteousness meant doing right before God no matter the cost. Before the angel exonerated Mary, Joseph already decided to deal privately with her instead of publicly vindicating his honor.
I am not sure from our cultural context that we can grasp how radically self-denying this was for Joseph. It was certainly not the manly thing to do. Joseph didn’t stop there. When the angel finally corroborated Mary’s story, he shut down his carpenter shop, got behind God’s calling on Mary’s life, and adapted himself to his wife. These two Blessed Alliances changed everything.
The Blessed Alliance in Action
In both stories, members of the Blessed Alliance were kingdom minded—caught up in something bigger than themselves. Kingdom mindedness both compels and frees them to set aside their personal agendas to embrace a greater one. The magnitude and seriousness of God’s call on their lives outweigh everything else and demand an all-out effort from everyone.
Esther and Mordecai were called to rescue their people from genocide; Mary and Joseph were mobilized to rescue the world. Kingdom mindedness centers them on God’s purposes and summons forth from everyone a different way of living and different way of working together.
In both stories, the Blessed Alliance calls for gospel living, which means putting the interests of others ahead of yourself. Lives are poured out for the sake of others and for a greater cause. This is the gospel. This is the life Jesus modeled.
Esther and Mary put their lives at risk. God’s call pushed them out of their comfort zones. They had to defy the norms of culture and social conditioning to become bold risk takers. Both had terrifying encounters with powerful men. Both knew this could cost them their lives.
Both men had to give up the right to lead. If they didn’t, they would obstruct God’s purposes. Mordecai and Joseph put their full weight—their male authority and power—behind the women and God’s calling on their lives.
Huge role reversals were evident in both stories. Women took the lead and were the rescuers. The men were counting on the women to step out and succeed. Mordecai’s life depended on Esther’s leadership. Joseph’s salvation depended on Mary’s success. There’s no tug-of-war, no discussion of who was the leader and who was the follower. Leadership is everywhere. It is, after all, every image bearer’s calling to accept responsibility and take action.
No one was demanding equality or justice for themselves. Equality and justice are serious biblical concepts, but they are not the issue here. Deeper issues were at stake, which call for a different—a gospel—paradigm and a full effort from everyone.
Perhaps most surprising, the Blessed Alliance resulted in mutual flourishing. This wasn’t a win for the women and a loss for the men. Instead, by working together, all four flourished to become their best selves. I can’t fully explain it. It’s just the way God works.
Without question, the women shine. Scholars marvel at how Esther evolved from a passive, compliant member of the king’s harem to a courageous political leader at the apex of world power. Of course, Mary received worldwide admiration for her self-sacrificing choice; but the men flourished, too.
Mordecai was an adept politician in his own right, but he rose to prominence because of Esther. The win for Joseph was more subtle. We’ve been walking past Joseph for years—eclipsed by Mary and Jesus—but Joseph was the lead story in Matthew’s Gospel for embodying true righteousness. Joseph lived out Jesus’ gospel before Jesus was born.
God’s tactics were counterintuitive in our male-centered world, but therein lies the surprise for the enemy, for the world and for us. For when men and women are allied together, richer discussions result in better decisions, the elimination of blind spots and a greater kingdom force in the world.
Wall Street, banking and the financial industry are paying a price for the lack of women in their ranks; but the benefits ripple out in all directions when God’s sons and daughters unite to serve him together.
Originally published at Youth Worker Journal.