05 September 2015

Junia: Hidden

Salute Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen, and my fellow-prisoners, who are of note among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me. (Romans 16:7)

Give me no fame, o Lord.
I need no glory, no applause,
for what good is it?

let me stay hidden,
like foundations underground,
like the backstage hands,
like wallpaper no one sees
until it is missed.

Unseen, unnamed,
melting into the background,
hidden from view
but nonetheless there,
like the spices in a curry,
like stitches in embroidery,
like the threads of a rope.

Let me work in patience
for love alone,
in the shadows, unnoticed,
holding the strings.
Let me do what is needed,
though none know my name,
though no one says "thanks",
though I am ignored.

I will be satisfied,
for I seek no renown,
and my work is for you
and for your eyes alone.


[20.6. - 20.7.2012]

Ever tried reading through the "greetings" at the end of a Pauline letter? All those names... can one learn anything out of texts like that?! I think the greetings show us quite a few interesting things. They show us the relationship ties between early Christians, how they worked together and supported each other. Also, they give us a small glimpse into the kind of things Paul's addressees were up to. For instance, we find out a lot about women in ministry. People who skip the greetings don't realise that women were active in ministry in Paul's day, and Paul supported them (despite those famous "women be silent" texts which people like to quote at me when I say I'm going to be a pastor, heh...).

In Romans 16, we read about Phoebe, a female deacon (and deacons were people like Stephen and Philipp who did quite a bit of preaching and evangelising). Phoebe was involved in ministry in a way certain Christians say women shouldn't be (read Phoebe's poem here). Romans 16 also mentions a couple, Prisca and Aquila, who are mentioned together as working together with Paul for the church. Plus, Prisca is mentioned before her husband, which I believe shows she definitely was not a subdued little wife letting her husband do everything. They were a team, in ministry together.

And then we have Andronicus and Junia in Romans 16:7. This verse has an interesting story because, due to Greek grammar confusion, some people translated (female) Junia as (male) "Junias". Might also have ideological reasons because no way could there have been a female apostle! Or?! The word "apostle" has two uses in the New Testament. Often it is applied only to the 12 selected by Jesus. However, Paul also uses it to describe his own role, which gives the word a broader application. "Apostle" comes from the verb "apostello" which means "to send". In this way it means someone sent by God (not only the 12 disciples who were close to Jesus). The word "apostle" does, however, carry quite "high" connotations. And here we have a woman apostle, Junia! Why not?

I wrote this poem thinking of the many women working in the background, not fully recognised because they are women and because of the belief that women can't take on a full ministry. In the 19th century, people were still fighting over whether women should be allowed to be missionaries / evangelists at all, because "women are not supposed to teach men", or because "women should put their family first". People have told me that it's wrong for me to become a pastor, because women should not take leadership positions and whatnot. People have mistranslated Romans 16:7 and hidden Junia for centuries, and I think some would still rather have "Junias" than Junia, because they don't want to let the Bible change their theology. But it's all right - because we don't need to be acknowledged by people in order to serve God.

Picture shows (from left to right): Andronicus, Athanasius (an important saint in the Orthodox Church), and Junia.

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