Setting the Stage
The text this week is Luke 10: 38-42. This sees Jesus in a village visiting a woman named Martha and her sister Mary. Like many sisters (at least the one’s I have seen) they are pissy towards each other. Martha is being the good host and engaged (distracted says the text) in many tasks. Martha is a good host that is, until she chides Mary in front of the guest about not doing her part in the tasks.
These tasks are typically, in this 1st. century society, female tasks. “Women’s work” if you will. It is to be expected that Mary would help with these tasks. Other than being snippy in front of the guest, Martha seems within her rights to be upset and to ask Mary to pitch in. Jesus for his part seems not too empathetic to Martha, as he clearly sides with Mary. Therein lies the lesson.
Breaking Apart Gender Roles
Jesus may seem less than empathetic, but he is really making a stunningly radical point in a very casual manner. First, there is a larger, obvious point being made here. Jesus notes Martha’s distraction and reminds her that you only need one thing (Verse 42). This one thing is, of course, Jesus. Jesus is not saying that what Martha is doing is unimportant, it is important. But anything to the point of distracting calls forth the need to recenter our focus on our Lord and Savior. This Jesus does.
The radical part of all this is that Mary is conversing with Jesus at all. She sat at Jesus’s feet and listened to what he had to say. In short, Mary was being taught. This is genuinely stunning, given the society they are in. Women had a secondary (at best) role in this world. They were to perform menial tasks and in fact were not to be taught the law because that would cause her to be responsible for her actions and perhaps sins. This was a non-starter in this world.
Jesus turns this upside down. I would note that there is evidence of Jesus doing “women’s work” in Luke 12:37 and John 21: 9-14, where Jesus prepares food for the disciples after the resurrection. So, while Jesus may seem dismissive of Martha, what he really is doing is lifting Mary into a place equal to that of men by offering her the same teachings he would a man.
That Jesus does this in a casual setting in a random village with a pair of sisters is testament to how firmly he wants us to understand that this is alright. It is utterly normal. The deep lesson is in the complete normality of this situation. This, (and many other) texts should teach us to reject the historical stereotypes that have been imposed upon marginalized people. We are all of us invited to sit at the feet of our Lord and learn and be fed his grace and teachings. The kingdom and all that it entails is available to all of us, every day, in the most casual manner.
We are all called to this same casually radical way of treating one another, especially those who have historically been considered outcasts. We can indeed do this if we but believe and then obey.
Praise Be to God