Call Me Ezer
I find that most people are confused by me. “Hold on, you’re a Catholic campus minister,” they reply after I’ve introduced myself, “and you’re a woman? ...Is that allowed?” they ask, always trying to appear polite if a little nonplussed. In academic settings it goes something like, “Wait, you’re Catholic but you study the Bible? And you…like it? As a woman?”
To be honest, I get it. A lot of people, even a lot of lifelong Catholics, are confused at the difference between ordained ministry by (male) priests and lay ministry (mostly by women). The old stereotype that Catholics don’t read or know the Bible is alive and well, and even more evergreen is the idea that the Bible is a misogynistic and anti-feminist text.
So I understand the confusion.
But oh boy, do I also love the explanation, because it is deeply related to the first reading from today: Genesis 2:18-24, one of the creation narratives (yes, there are two) where we read how the universe came to be. In Genesis 1, we read about the crescendo of Creation; God creates land and sea, day and night, the sun and stars, plants, animals and so on. With each act of creation, the universe gets more complex and more beautiful.
And what is placed at the absolute climax of this crescendo?
What is God’s final, crowning act of creation?
Here in Genesis 2, we get another perspective. “The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.” (v18) This is the verse that has inspired a million homilies on spousal support and domestic harmony, because it uses the word “helper”. The trouble is, “helper” is a pretty poor translation of the Hebrew word here: ezer.
Translation is a tricky thing. It can broaden the reach of a text, but it can also narrow that text when the language you’re translating into isn’t as dynamic as the language you’re translating from. Such is the case between English and, well, pretty much any other language. Indigenous languages have hundreds of words for different types of snow or rain, and English has…one. We love God and our partners, but we also love…mochas?
Gen 2:18 falls victim to translation here, because “helper” sounds quaint.
“Helper” sounds hierarchical.
“Helper” sounds lowly.
Ezer, on the other hand, is endlessly intriguing. Ezer shows up 22 times in the Hebrew Bible--twice in this reading. Any guess how it’s used the other twenty times? I give you a hint: it isn’t to discuss laborers or maids or houseworkers. Every time it is used, ezer describes desperately needed help sent directly from God.
Ezer appears in reference to the Hebrews being saved from Pharoah (Exo 18:4), as a plea for help in the Psalms and the Prophets (Ps 20, 22, 70; Hos 13:9, and more), and as a reminder to hope for God’s help (Ps 115, 121, 123, 146, and more).
So, Woman being called an ezer in today’s First Reading is not a statement of her inferiority or submission or “helpfulness” to Man. Instead, it is a powerful statement of the necessity and the God-given nature of what she brings. Adam needs an ezer. And God sends Woman.
So yes, I love and study the Bible. And yes, I minister on behalf of the church. Because that’s how God made me: as an ezer.