Today’s Old Testament reading really shaped how I read both the Gospel and the Epistle. It was the last bit of the story of Samson’s parents and how they came to know that they would not die childless.
Though familiar with the story, it was the glaring absence of Samson’s mother’s name that stared back at me. She is described and known as a woman of God who when visited by an angel of the Lord hears the whisper sent and knows that God’s intention, God’s will, is that she is to become a mother. I feel her open heart and steadfast faith. I don’t need to know her name to see God at work in her life, anymore than I need to know Samson’s father’s name but I wonder if there is a deeper meaning that alludes because of her nameless identity. Is there more to the story because she is nameless?
And with this thought I moved into the Gospel reading where another infamous yet nameless woman is visited by the Lord; the ‘woman at the well.’
And then to the Epistle, where we meet Stephen, a very well know, beloved proclaimer of the Gospel, and after whom millions of Christians have named their sons.
This sharp contrast – the nameless women of the bible with the specific naming of men, today, Stephen – has me thinking about naming in Scripture. And I’m wondering if the scribe’s omission of the names of so many women of God established a type of theology that suggests women are a rather generic gender.
I don’t believe God omits Samson’s mother’s name. It is just not important anymore than inserting Manoah’s (Samson’s father) name – or Stephen’s later in the Epistle – is important to the story. These omissions or inclusions have more to do with the scribe than the author.
Though troubled by the disparity between named men and named women in Scripture, at the same time I am not inclined to get in a huff about it or conclude some theology is behind the disparity. No. I just don’t think there’s any deeper meaning to be had by reading either Samon’s mother’s story or the woman at the well story with a chip on my shoulder that those two wholly, holy women were not named by the scribe.
But I’m left thinking about how others through the ages have not only huffed and puffed but determined significant theological meaning and intention in the presence of nameless women in the bible, on both ends of the spectrum and everything in between feminist theology and patriarchal orthodoxy.
Does a name matter? Mother of Samson? Woman at the Well? Stephen? Yes and no. Always yes and no. Both and. I so frequently come back to this understanding of Scripture and what the Spirit is saying to God’s people. I am not able to ever settle in the absolute, appreciating so very much the subtlety, nuance, vastness of God’s hand as author and editor.