Challenging a Woman’s Role
Some of you know that I am reading N. T. Wright’s Commentary, “Luke for Everyone”. Wright says that the radical nature of what Jesus is doing with Mary and Martha is often lost in translation. Some commentaries have the women competing for Jesus’ attention because of romantic infatuation, others have Mary gazing with star-struck wonder at the rock star of her day. Wright asks whether the real issue is that Mary is behaving like a man. In many places in the world today a woman’s role is clearly defined. This role is demarcated by space. A woman’s place is in the kitchen and the bedroom and the man’s place is in the living-room. When I was in Pakistan, if I was invited to a Muslim’s house to meet with him, the women of the house would not be present. It would not be appropriate.
The implication is that Jesus is teaching and training disciples. Mary is behaving like any of the other male disciples by learning at the feet of Jesus, but the disciples were male. Mary has chosen to follow the path of the rabbi which would hint that she thought she could be a rabbi in this new way that Jesus is laying out. She might become a preacher and teacher.
I was raised in a church where women’s roles were distinct from men’s, especially in the church. Women were to be silent in the assembly. They could ask their husband at home if they had a question and they could suggest to their husband any hymn or song if they wanted it sung in worship. There were certain ironies that occurred and also problems. What if an older woman was single? Was it appropriate to have a woman play the organ and lead the congregation in singing whilst at the same time prohibiting her from requesting a song to be sung? The aim was to create a strong male role of leadership in the church. Ironically, in a number of cases, what the church tried to create in public worship was a facade covering female dominance in the home.
Some have said that our society has been feminized and men have become overly effeminate. I would be inclined to agree. A distinctly male role seems less talked about than the need for women to define their roles and assert themselves. Both sides of the conversation are needed. When I was growing up I heard a lot of talk about the sameness of the genders, but science has been catching up with theology and realises that men and women are distinct and have distinct needs and callings.
However, women are to also learn at the feet of Jesus. They are not just to concern themselves with their children’s packed lunch, the husband’s laundry, and the cleaning of the dishes. Whilst men need to participate in the daily running of the family, every individual is responsible for developing a sound theology. Men and women need to continue the discussion about their roles, but any way forward is as a devoted disciple of Jesus with all the learning that entails.
How are you developing your theology and following Jesus regardless of pressures to give up?
Jesus, you values men and women equally. You had intimate times of teaching with both. Let us not exclude people based on gender bias. Let us also find what it means to be truly male and female whilst not using it as a measure of worth.
- Where is Mary?
- What is the problem?
- How is the problem resolved?
- What is a woman’s responsibility in life?
- How do women pursue theological training today?
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”