Saturday, May 31, 2008

Mary & Martha Revisited

I've been reading a book on Junia, the female Apostle. It's been eye opening into how women's roles really were in the time of Jesus and and the Apostles and how it's changed in the church through the ages. There was just a little blip of information referring to Jesus teaching Mary when suddenly I had one of those "aha" moments.

The story of Mary and Martha has usually been told to me that it was a sister vs. sister exchange. If you don't know the story, you can easily find it by googling. The moral has always been relayed to me that Martha has lost focus and got into too much busyness instead of listening to Jesus' voice. Yes, I'm simplifying it a bit, but that's it in a nutshell. So many ladies luncheons, retreats, women's workshops, refer to this sisterly squabble and all mostly with the same moral. This story has been distilled into an application of how women get too busy with their homes and lives and lose focus. Was that what Jesus was really doing all those years ago? Saving this story for us so in our modern day, we can see who we identified more with?

But tonight, I saw it differently. This isn't to say that there aren't valid points to Martha losing her focus or being too busy. But perhaps, there is a greater point to the whole story. Mary wasn't merely sitting at Jesus' feet listening, she was a student of Jesus, learning just like the disciples and other men. Perhaps Martha wasn't the only one annoyed by Mary's presence, this wasn't where women were supposed to be. Men in the room may also have given her chastised looks. They were most likely waiting for Jesus to say something to her. In this time, women were silent, they didn't mingle with men. This wasn't only not the right role for a woman, it probably wasn't completely proper.

Martha's objection wasn't merely because she was stressed and busy with preparations. She was frustrated that Jesus was allowing her sister to be in a man's role. A woman's place was serving, not learning from a Rabbi. By her voiced objection to her sister's action, she was allowing Jesus a tactful way of putting Mary back in her place. Either that, or she was verbally chastising her sister in front of others when she felt she had no other choice to voice her discontent.

The argument here is about the role of women. It is expected that they cook and serve, it's not expected that they learn as a man would. Jesus did not bow to the cultural expectations and tell Mary that yes, she ought to go into the kitchen and help out. Instead, he affirmed her desire to learn at his feet and that it was a better thing to do. Mary could sit with the men and learn as they did. Though this may not have been a first, it was a rarity especially as he was a guest. Mary desired to learn from Jesus more than her duty as hostess to serve him. She was bold in her move to stay and listen with the men and guests. She knew that if food was needed, he could supply from their stores. She was an equal to the men learning from Jesus.

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