38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
What I Am Learning:
Last week Jesus took on a lawyer about his question about who he could exclude from being a neighbor. Jesus ended up taking on his whole society's racial and religious bias toward Samaritans.
This week we read about Jesus acting to challenge his culture's perspective about the power difference between men and women.
Our lack of cross cultural understanding in has let to many, frankly, misogynist interpretations of the text:
- Mary is a meek woman sitting in a position of deference to a man
- Martha is doing her "womanly" duties in a resentful way
- Jesus is okay with putting Martha down for wanting help as if to say that her "many tasks" are not of worth - thus the work to support home life is not of value
NONE of these are fair interpretations of this story.
Our first clue is that the male of the household, probably Lazarus, is not named in the story. Typically it would be the male who publicly represented the household but in this case Martha is the one named.
To "sit at the feet" of a rabbi was a way to say that a person had entered into the public role of a disciple of that rabbi. To be a publicly acknowledged student meant that student could go on to be a rabbi after a time of study.
Women were not allowed to be either public students or rabbi's in the first century. It was assumed that women had a role in the private world of the household, but not a public role in religion, politics or war.
This is not to say that women did not have an important role in the house. Women were the primary teachers of children, makers of clothing, footwear, other household articles, preservers of food and to ensure that the family rationed its food and other resources to survive. Households made most of what they needed to survive. The "many tasks" that Jesus speaks of is not a put down to Martha, but rather something that everyone in that part of the world knew well. There were many tasks indeed!
So when Mary sat at Jesus' feet, both she and Jesus were breaking, maybe even shattering the expected role of women. Mary and Jesus were being revolutionaries of gender equity.
Martha knows that this was dangerous. So with courage and strength, she went to Jesus and Mary and confronted them about the danger they were inviting.
Mary did this in the way that any first century woman would do: She put the responsibility on the woman, in this case Mary, to take the blame for the situation. She did this to protect the public reputation of Jesus. This was not about some kind of weird family dynamic of abuse. I am sure there were relatively healthy relationships and also unhealthy ones in those days. She was acting out of the public roles that women and men took in that culture. Women took the blame publicly and men, representing their family as a sort of living logo of their family represented the honor or status of the family.
When she blamed Mary for transgressing these cultural norms, Jesus essentially says that hew was willing to invite the threat of punishment and danger to support Mary as a public, official disciple of Jesus.
After the events of the last week (killing of black men by police in St. Paul and Baton Rouge and assassination of police in Dallas) we have heard that some people say that the Black Lives Matter movement should stop being so public and loud about their calls for equitably treatment of black people in this country, and by the police specifically.
In this case, however, Jesus chose to do some thing extraordinarily shocking, public and loud: include a woman as a publicly recognized disciple who could later go on to be a rabbi. We see the continuation of this at Pentecost as women went out into the streets and preach in public and as women led house churches.
He chose not to back down knowing full well the consequences of his actions.
I think Jesus is joining the BLM movement, encouraging all to non-violence AND to public leadership and action.
What can we do to support and accompany them in this time?
We participated in a small public action this last week, as TCC church members took flowers to police stations. You can see more about what's happening if you search for #flowers4cops on Facebook.
Here was the message people sent with their flowers, at least in TCC:
We thank you for your continued and current work of learning with all of us how racial bias impacts how we treat each other. And we thank you for your work to deeply respect the human rights of all people. These #flowers4cops are to honor you on a day of pain, and bring you hope for a future more just. You are in our prayers.
Here are the Churches that participated in taking flowers to the Seattle Police Department.
1. Catacombs Churches
2. Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (Lynnwood)
3. Prince of Peace Lutheran Church (Shoreline)
4. University Presbyterian
5. Maple Leaf Lutheran Church (North)
6. Luther Memorial Lutheran Church (North)
7. Northminster Presbyterian Church
8. Queen Anne United Methodist Church
9. The Well,
10. Seattle First United Methodist Church
11. St. Luke's Episcopal Church (North)
12. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (Mercer Island)
13. Edmonds Lutheran Church
14. Immanuel Lutheran Church
15. Interfaith Community Sanctuary
16. Queen Anne Presbyterian Church
17. Seattle Mennonite Church
18. Lutheran Campus Ministry (UW)
19. Columbia City Church of Hope (South)
20. Shoreline UMC
21. St. Luke Lutheran Church (Bellevue)
22. First African Methodist Episcopal Church
23. Wedgewood Presbyterian Church
24. Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church
25. Broadview UCC
26. Good Shepherd Baptist Church (Lynnwood)
27. North Lake Lutheran
28. Immanuel Community Services
29. Church Council of Greater Seattle
TCC churches and several others brought flowers to Anacortes, Burlington, Mount Vernon, Arlington, Marysville, Montlake Terrace, Edmonds and Kenmore police Departments.
Jesus shocking public action to include Mary as a public disciple was not an attempt to denigrate the holy work of keeping the household fed and clothed. Nor was it a way to denigrate or diminish men. Rather it was an attempt to honor the inherent dignity, honor and capability of each human being and to strive for equity between all people - in this case between those of different genders.
I feel the BLM movement is also not an attempt to denigrate police or white people in general, but an attempt to encourage equity among all people. For this work to be successful it will require not one leader, but the leadership capacities of each of us.
We continue to have much work to do for equity among all people. Let's continue to join Jesus in that blessed work.