There are ‘hot potatoes’ amongst those of us that believe the bible, subjects where we disagree. We all agree on the main things, those questions were resolved centuries ago, but these ‘hot potatoes’ remain. Views on creation, the end times, predestination and the role of the Holy Spirit are deeply held and have caused churches to split in the past. Then there is this subject, currently the hottest potato of all, the role of women. It is a subject that is very close to my heart and I’m sure anyone who knows me will be aware of my views. However, this is not a platform for me to lecture everyone else (one of the reasons we have guest contributors), my prayer is that every one of us will humble ourselves before the word of God and ask for the help of his Spirit.
Whatever your view, there is one thing that is certain, this is not a dispute over who peels the potatoes, it’s highly significant. The passage can be read here.
Martha and Mary are well known figures in the gospels. They were sisters, had a brother, Lazarus and a home in Bethany. They were close friends of Jesus (John 11:5) and we learn from John’s Gospel that later, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and from Matthew, Mark and John, that it was Mary who anointed the Lord with expensive ointment a few days before his death. Luke’s description of the sisters in this passage fits in well with John’s in John 11:1-44 and 12:1-8. Martha is hospitable and kind, serving the guests in her home. During his time in Jerusalem, Jesus stayed in Bethany so it seems fair to assume that Jesus stayed in Martha’s home. Mary is perhaps quieter but also worshipful and loving. I like the thought that this Mary is also Mary Magdalene, but there is no way to be sure.
In this incident Martha is hospitable, opening up her home to Jesus and his disciples. Martha is busy serving and making preparations. It would have been expected that Mary would also be involved in the work; after all, it was hardly fair to leave it all to Martha. Mary was not hiding in an attempt to avoid work; she was sat at the feet of Jesus. Martha, it seems, was incensed by Mary’s lack of movement and appealed to Jesus.
Martha’s objection seems fair enough but we are looking at it as if the incident was occurring now. Mary, in sitting at Jesus’ feet was taking the position of a disciple (see Acts 22:3 where the literal translation is ‘at the feet of Gamaliel, I was thoroughly trained’). The Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary states;
“The way Martha is mentioned seems to give her the role of hostess. It is Mary, however, who takes the place of a disciple by sitting at the feet of the teacher. It was unusual for a woman in first-century Judaism to be accepted by a teacher as a disciple.”
Jesus did not condemn Mary, rather he commended her. For me, I don’t believe Martha is rebuked either, remember, he loved the members of this family (John 11:5), but he does gently and lovingly challenge her. The passage is about women and the revolutionary way Jesus treated them but it is also about discipleship. It shows us that it is possible to be immersed in serving the Lord rather than hearing his word and responding to it.
Lord we pray that you will help us to respond to people in a way that is appropriate and not to make judgements based on appearances. We pray that we would be true disciples and not so involved in the busyness of the church to spend time with you.