A few years ago I was speaking at a church and was thrilled at the opportunity to teach Godâ€™s word. As I waited in the lobby for the service to begin, I overheard the following conversation between a couple of church attenders.
Woman: â€œI am so excited that a woman is preaching today.â€
Man: â€œShe is not preaching. She is sharing.â€
To some, that may sound like a difference in semantics but I stood there feeling belittled. When the church’s pastor introduced me to the congregation that morning, I was nervous and ashamed.
Mary and Martha Revisited
In Luke chapter ten there is a passage of scripture that you have probably heard hundreds of times. For years it has been taught to women as a reminder to stop our frantic pace about the house and instead spend more time with God. While that is definitely part of the story and a good reminder (trust me, I need it) there is so much more to this powerful little moment.
â€œOn their journey, Jesus came into a village. There was a woman there named Martha, who welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Masterâ€™s feet and listened to his teaching. Martha was frantic with all the work in the kitchen.
â€˜Master,â€™ she said, coming in to where they were,
â€˜donâ€™t you care that my sister has left me to do the work all by myself?
â€˜Martha, Martha,â€™ he replied, â€˜you are fretting and fussing about so many things.
Only one thing matters. Mary has chosen the best part,
and itâ€™s not going to be taken away from her.’â€
Martha, like any good hostess, is busy in the kitchen preparing for this amazing guest and his disciples. Meanwhile Mary, it seems, is doing nothingâ€”and like any sister would be, Martha is annoyed. You can almost taste Marthaâ€™s desire to be vindicated and valued when she demands, â€œTell her to help me!â€
However, in her jealousy, Martha is missing out on the chance to be valued in a way she has never experienced before.
Like a father patiently sitting through his toddlerâ€™s tantrum, Jesus waits until Martha is finished complaining and then tenderly responds, reminding Martha that Mary, by sitting under his teaching, has chosen what is best. In the Greek Jesus literally says that Mary is eating a better meal.
The heart of this scene is not in Maryâ€™s quietness. It is that Mary, a woman, is defying cultural boundaries. She dares to sit in the “public room” of the house, a space primarily set aside for male interaction, and by sitting at Jesusâ€™ feet, she is embodying the masculine role of one being trained to both teach and preach the word of God. And Jesus is allowingâ€”even encouragingâ€”her scandalous behavior.
The meal that Jesus is offering these women is education, dignity, and a completely new status in society. Martha is missing out on the fact that in her little house, Jesus is completely shifting the paradigm of womanhood. It is no coincidence that the story of Mary and Martha falls directly after Jesus teaches the Parable of the Good Samaritanâ€”a lesson in loving the least of your neighbors. Here Jesus embodies the meaning of this parable, revealing that even women are neighbors, equals, and loved deeply by God.
NT Wright in his commentary on Luke writes, â€œWe would be wrong, then, to see Mary and Martha as they have so often been seen, as models of the â€˜activeâ€™ and â€œcontemplativeâ€™ styles of spirituality. Action and contemplation are of course both importantâ€¦ But we cannot escape the challenge of this passage by turning it into a comment about different types of Christian lifestyle. It is about the boundary-breaking call of Jesus.â€
Iâ€™m dying to know what happened next in the story. I assume Martha could not ignore the radical call of Jesus; so what did he tell her? Where did Mary and Martha go that afternoon? How was Marthaâ€™s work in the home transformed? How was the ministry of Mary empowered? Did they run around their village telling every woman that Jesus saw her as valuable?
I never want to put words into Godâ€™s mouth, but I like to imagine Jesus saying something like this: Woman, I have uniquely gifted and enabled you to cultivate, to create, to teach, to preach, to fight injustice, to prophesy, to transform your community, to serve your family, to communicate, to love, to lead, and to worship me. I went to great lengths for you, not just crossing cultural-boundaries, but carrying your shame on the cross, so that you are no longer subject to it. Your womanhood is found my paradigm-shifting love.
I often struggle to reconcile my choice to be a stay-at-home mom with my desire to minister to other believers, especially in a teaching and preaching capacity. I rest in knowing that Jesus has transformed both roles and that women are no longer defined nor limited by either. We are set free to sit at his feet and learn from him at the kitchen table, the altar, the office, the mission field, or wherever he has us. For now as I raise my children and
as I prepare for my next teaching assignment, I trust that God will transform the lives of those I serve, simply because I am woman whom He has set free.
A few years after that Sunday morning I met a young woman who was in the audience. She told me she had purchased a recording of my message and listened to it again and again, even passing it along to others. If shame had kept me from preaching that day, I would never have experienced that blessing.
As you perform whatever the task is God has for you, may you eat the better meal and be satisfied. May you be transformed by the shameless love of Jesus.
“God, I am so grateful that you are in the business of redeeming women.
You give my life more dignity and purpose than
I could have ever imagined and I praise you.
Forgive me when I do not reflect your image.
Help me, like Mary, to choose the better meal â€“
to sit at your feet, learn from you,
and be empowered by your love,
so that I can bring you glory. Amenâ€
Coming up: Shameless Woman Questions and Shameless Woman Moment #2!