by Megan Jane Jones
Some of us are natural risk takers. Others among us are a little more reluctant. But large and small, risk is part of life. It represents opportunity: to take a stand; to learn a skill; to initiate change; to build relationship; to embrace a truth. It can fill us with great excitement and deep fear, all at once.
Risk becomes an option when we see that potential outweighs our fear. Risk can be invigorating and life-giving and is sometimes born out of the unexpected. Well-made plans turned upside down can bring us to our knees wondering, now what? Sometimes we come face to face with an injustice that so moves us that failing to risk is far less palatable than taking a risk.
The Bible is full of stories of women and men who took bold risks for the sake of their own sense of vocation and purpose, faith and community. It is with intention that I share the stories of women here because they are the lesser told. The risks they take are very different but they come from a place of deep conviction, strength of character and a call to faithfulness to God and God’s people.
The story of Shiphrah and Puah (Exodus 1:18-21)
Out of fear of the Messiah, the Egyptian king ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all baby boys born to Hebrew women. Shiphrah and Puah were called to bring life. In a time when child birth was particularly dangerous, they were called to care for both mother and child, to do everything within their means to deliver babies that survive to mothers who do the same. Very few women had been set apart in such a way. Midwifery passed from generation to generation of women who were seen as gifted and called for this role.
They could never have imagined such a command as the Egyptian king had given. It caught them completely off guard and shook them to their core. It was so abhorrent, so antithetical to their own sense of vocation, their own sense of right and wrong that they could not go through with it. At great personal risk these women did not kill a single son. These two bold women were faithful to their people and their faith and their call as midwives.
So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. Exodus 1:20
Few of us will ever face a challenge like this. Most of us know injustice from a greater distance and the risk for us to name it and confront it not nearly as dire.
The story of Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1)
Naomi lost her husband to famine. A widow with two sons married to foreigners, she relied on these daughters-in-law to care for her, to give her a home. When both sons died, she and her two daughters-in-law were at great risk. Women on their own with no men to give them a name–to lend them legitimacy–lived outside of community and their safety and survival were in real jeopardy.
Naomi urged the younger women to return home to their own people. She thought they might be able to find new husbands, and she had no such hope for herself. Orpah did just that, though it caused her to weep. Their futures were unknown and this choice was also a risk. But the other daughter-in-law, Ruth, would not leave Naomi’s side. Ruth could not know what would await them. She was defiant in her loyalty and her commitment to rebuild their lives in the community together. She remained faithful to Naomi and to God.
Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you do die, I will die–there I will be buried. May the Lord do thus to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you.
Mary Anoints Jesus (John 12:1-8)
Jesus gathers with his friends for dinner at the home of Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha. In an act of true extravagance, Mary anoints Jesus with a whole pound of expensive perfume, filling the room with fragrance. The intimacy and seeming excessiveness of the act is a risk she is willing to take. Mary risks breaking social taboos and she risks the judgment of others, including Jesus. She risks spending lavishly and she risks showing such devotion, love and even a sense that she knows what is to come.
Mary pours herself out in this fairly public, incredibly tangible way. She saves none of it–she empties the vessel and she empties herself. Though she is still unsure of what it all means, she prepares Jesus for his anointing as king and for the anointing at his burial. She is his witness in the midst of community, modeling what real faith looks like.
1. What risk(s) is God calling you to take in your life right now? What are your fears around that risk? What excites you about the possibilities? What is the cost of failing to risk?
2. What are the ways in which you might nurture community in your own place?
3. How has community been a gift to you? What difference does community make in your faith, in your life?
God of Wisdom, make us bold enough to take risks and vulnerable enough to love for the sake of your whole creation.
The Rev. Megan J. Jones is a child of God living in Chicago. She is a lover of books and dogs and is praying for the courage to take more risks for the sake of God’s kin-dom.