To illustrate this I want to take us to the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus: it would seem that they were personal friends with Jesus – and that he often stopped here to rest.
Jesus has been training disciples – sent out 72 of them, and received their reports from the work they have done.
Now he needs a break – and goes to Bethany.
And at this point the story gets interesting: because we see Jesus taking on the culture of the day:
Luke 10:38-42 Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus culture was patriarchal: there were clear rules for men and for women.
The men hunted, fished, did business, and discussed the political and religious affairs of the day: In fact it was commonly thought that women were not able to comprehend the complicated things of God – so they were not allowed to lead prayers or read the scriptures in the temple.
The women had children, cleaned the house, cooked the food – and stayed out of the business of the men.
And then Luke tells a story that contradicts this:
Martha is in the kitchen preparing food for their guests – as was expected of a woman.
Mary, on the other hand, went to sit at the feet of Jesus: She took the place normally reserved for a disciple of Jesus. Mary ignored her cultural role – and stepped over the cultural boundaries of the men: she sat in the circle of the men, and discussed religious beliefs with the rabbi.
Now: normally the rabbi would rebuke this woman and tell her to know her place. But we have to assume that the only reason that Mary she did this is because she knew Jesus – and she knew that he welcomed women into his circle.
• Mary knew that Jesus had sat with a woman at Jacob’s well and discussed religious belief with her.
• Mary knew that Jesus had protected a woman caught in adultery
• Mary knew that Jesus had healed a women in a crowd, and had prayed with a little girl who was ill
And so she had confidence to sit at his feet and trust that he would not chase her away.
This is the good news of Jesus – both men and women are welcome to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Want to stress this point – because somehow, 2000 years later, Christians still have not got it!
There are many, many people who follow Jesus who want to separate men and women at the feet of Jesus:
Men assume that their place is in the pulpit while the place of women is pouring the coffee and providing treats after the service.
Some compromise this – and allow women to speak to women’s meetings…but never to the whole church.
And even for us liberated Methodists who have women pastors, perhaps somewhere in our unconscious prejudices we still think that a male preacher is better than a female preacher!
Be clear – Jesus said that Mary was welcome to sit at his feet:
Luke 10:42 Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Let me add one more thought:
Jesus did not say that Martha was wrong for being in the kitchen.
Jesus does not condemn Martha’s call to be hospitable.
When Martha complains that Mary should be helping her – Jesus speaks about calling:
In effect he is saying: “Martha, you live out your calling – but beware of hearing Mary’s calling. You are doing what you are called to do – let Mary do what she has been called to do.”
Think about it – Martha was not complaining that she needed help: she had other help available to her: she had her brother Lazarus who could have helped her: but she specifically wanted Mary! You see Martha had discerned Mary’s tasks, based on the culture of the day.
Allow me to speak bluntly: Every woman is designed by God: and God has placed specific skills in her. And she should be able to hear the call of God on her life to become what Jesus calls her to be.
And she should be able to do this without us being like Martha and talking her out of the dreams that God places in her: Can I wonder aloud?
- What is your reaction when you hear that a woman drives an 18 wheeler truck?
- Or how do you react to a woman being nominated to be the president of our country?
Beware of the temptation to be like Martha: where we allow our history and our culture to limit what a woman can do.
And if you would allow me to digress for a moment and speak about the way men have made decisions about the reproductive rights of women:
We men would protest if a woman governor should pass legislation to sterilize men who father unwanted babies.
We men would be very uncomfortable if a woman legislator would call for men to be castrated for rape or for incest
So let us men pause of speaking about whether a woman should be forced to give birth or not. Instead of trying to take over the voice of God, we can encourage women to hear the call of God in their life choices.
Both Mary and Martha were loved by Jesus…each living into the call of God on their lives. Our task is to encourage each person to discover God’s call and to obey it.
Let me take you back to the text for today: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, 1 Peter 4:10