Summary: Mary was willing to leave the role society expected of her. She's a great example to us: Jesus calls all of us, in one way or another, to leave.
This talk starts with a very short sketch, done online. The person who plays Martha will need an apron, a rolling pin and a few pans.
[Members of the cast first introduce themselves.]
Simon-Peter: Hey, Andrew, we’re quite close to Bethany, aren’t we?
Andrew: Yes. Mary and Martha live there, don’t they? Why don’t we drop in on them? What do you think, Jesus?
Jesus: Sure, why not?
Narrator: Half-an-hour later…
[Knock on the door.]
Martha [pretends to open the door]: Jesus! Simon! Andrew! How nice to see you! Come on in!
Andrew: Hi Martha. Hi Mary…
[At this point Mary and Martha simply have to remember as many of the names of the disciples as they can as they enter the house.]
Martha: Hi Andrew, hi Simon, hi James, hi John, hi Philip, hi, um…
Mary: …Bartholomew, hi Matthew, um…
Martha: hi Thomas, hi James, hi Simon, hi Judas and hi Judas. Great to see you! Come on in! Make yourselves comfortable. You must be hungry after a long journey…
Mary (to Jesus): Lord, it’s great that you’re here. There’s a whole load of things I want to ask about!
Jesus: OK, no worries. I’ll do my best!
Mary: D’you mind if I sit here?
[Martha puts on her apron, picks up her rolling pin and disappears. Various banging sounds. Martha reappears.]
Martha: Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!
Last week we started a new series in Luke. In last week’s passage, Jesus and his disciples began a journey to Jerusalem. In today’s passage Jesus and his disciples continue their journey and arrive in a village called Bethany where there’s a family they know: Martha, Mary and their brother, Lazarus.
I think there are two main lessons we can learn from this story. The less important one, in my view, concerns gender. The more important one is about the nature of Christian discipleship. That's the basis for my title for today’s talk: ‘What Mary Got Right.’
I’m going to start with gender and then go on to What Mary Got Right.
In the passage, we read that Martha ‘had a sister called Mary, WHO SAT AT THE LORD’S FEET LISTENING TO WHAT HE SAID.’ In that time and context, the fact that someone sat at a teacher’s feet it strongly suggests that they were the teacher’s disciple. For example, in Acts Paul says ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, EDUCATED AT THE FEET OF GAMALIEL…’ [Acts 22:3]. What Paul means is that he was educated under Gamaliel; he was Gamaliel’s disciple.
So, when Luke tells us that Mary ‘SAT AT THE LORD’S FEET’ he probably has more in mind than where Mary was physically sitting. We may look at this scene and think, this looks A BIT strange, a woman sitting among 13 men. To us the only thing that is uncomfortable is the fact that the woman is outnumbered. We wouldn’t see anything wrong in Mary being one of Jesus’ disciples. But this would have been a big deal in Jesus’ day.
Earn Ellis, in his commentary on Luke wrote:
“The picture is that of a rabbi instructing his pupil. The extraordinary feature is that the pupil is a woman. Judaism did not forbid women to be instructed in the Torah, but it was very unusual for a rabbi to lower himself to this. In the social system of the time women were a rejected group. Luke pays considerable attention to the acceptance which Jesus accords them.”
By accepting Mary into the group of men, Jesus showed that she was absolutely welcome as a disciple. Jesus clearly stepped away from convention.
Mary also stepped away from convention. She might have had a traditional view of what her role should be. She was also rejecting a stereotype, that a woman’s role was to look after the men, not to join them.
Jesus and Mary BOTH rejected gender stereotypes and because they did that, I think they’re great examples for us WHETHER WE ARE MEN OR WOMEN. I’m a man, specifically a married man. I need to watch out for a gender stereotype and not allow my wonderful wife to wait on me. And women need to be careful that they don’t simply retire to the kitchen.
Does this passage tell us anything about the role of women in church leadership?
The matter of women in church leadership has been controversial. It’s also a rather tricky issue for me personally, as I think my own position is probably not quite as intellectually solid as I would like.
By and large, FIEC churches have taken a conservative approach. They consider that the primary leaders and teachers of a church should be suitably qualified men. That doesn’t at all mean they see no role for women: they see men and women as having different but ‘complementary’ roles. The traditional denominations, such as Baptists, have generally taken an egalitarian position.