Opinions on faith and life

Mary, Quite Contrary

2008-02-02

No, not another post about Jesus’ earthly mother. This time it’s about the sister of Martha.

In Luke 10:38-42 we read this:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 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!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Notice first of all that Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, listening. Jesus was called ’rabbi’ by many, and to sit at a rabbi’s feet was to be identified as his student.1 Here is commentary from, of all places, bible.org:

In first-century Judaism rabbis often gathered groups of students, or disciples, who would sit at his feet to learn Torah (the Old Testament Law and its interpretation). This privilege of studying Torah under the tutelage of a rabbi was strictly for men only — and remained so until only quite recently. Men studied Torah, women did the housework — that was the way things were. Mary, by sitting at Jesus’ feet to listen to his “word,” was assuming the role of a rabbinical student, a role reserved in Judaism exclusively for men. Martha’s objection was not merely that she needed Mary’s help but that Mary had no business taking the man’s role and neglecting the woman’s role. That is why Jesus says that the thing Mary has chosen “will not be taken away from her”: Jesus is saying that Jewish restrictions on the roles of women will not be allowed to keep Mary from learning.

Even so, they quickly try to make this something less significant than it is, with the disclaimer “But we must not conclude too hastily that Jesus leveled all role distinctions between men and women. There is significant evidence to the contrary.” What is their “significant evidence to the contrary”?

First is the oft-repeated “Jesus’ 12 disciples were all men”. But there was prophetic significance to the fact that they were all males, since they were the New Testament equivalent of the sons of Israel (Jacob). It was also nearly impossible to get Jewish men to accept the testimony of women, and the first act of the new church was to be a witness of Jesus’ resurrection. (Women were actually first, but they witnessed to the disciples--- who refused to believe them!) And we can’t forget that this is all a witness to Israel, before the Church. Yes, the 12 would be the church’s beginning, but they were chosen all out of Israel, not any gentiles. Is it less significant that they were all Jews, not just all males? Why? Is it significant also that none of them were rich or famous or powerful? Why? Bible.org calls these objections “not credible”, but I find their basis for this charge even less so.

Second, they grudgingly admit that Junia “could have been” a female apostle but brush this aside as “improbable” in spite of all evidence to the contrary. They even use the form “Junias”, which is male, but which they well know is not found in any ancient literature until centuries after the NT was completed. There is not one shred of evidence for “Junias”, and even Chrysostom clearly stated that the name was of a female apostle. This, they call “inconclusive”. I would demand they present their “conclusive” or even “almost could be” evidence for the name Junias and see what happens to their hubris.

These two things are their “significant evidence to the contrary”?? I would then throw their own words back in their faces: “Unless one is driven by ideological concerns to think otherwise...”. Who is it that is driven by ideology? Who is it that is willing to turn Junia into a man on zero evidence just to avoid admitting there was a female apostle? “... it seems most reasonable to infer that women were not intended by Jesus to be apostles” is only reasonable if you ignore the evidence that exists and make up some that doesn’t. They earlier referred to Jesus’ habit of overturning social norms when it suited them but now abandon this example of Jesus when it shows him to be doing something they don’t like. Basically, they say “Jesus overturned society’s rules about a lot-- except of course for women, even though it could possibly look like maybe he sort of did”.

This is just lame: “Since Jesus nowhere in the Gospels challenges the concept of a husband’s authority over his wife...”. Arguing from silence now, are they? Jesus also never overturned slavery, or spoke out against pedophilia, or said anything about rape or torture. He didn’t even protest the Roman government or refuse to pay taxes. This means he was okay with all that?? And note the clear “authority over”; so much for “servant leadership”2.

The fact that the pejorative word “feminism” is in the title of the article says a lot about bible.org. It tells you what their agenda is before you even read a word of the article. But the ugly fact is that Jesus did treat Mary like any male student, he did choose women as witnesses, and there was at least one female apostle in the early church. Such women are just too “contrary” to male supremacists, who will defend their bias with imaginary facts and cover-ups if they must.


1One of the old Jewish sayings long predating Jesus was, “Let your house be a meetinghouse for the sages. Sit amidst the dust of their feet.” (Aboth 1:4) ... For women to listen in while a rabbi taught the men of a crowd was likely not that unusual. But for a Jewish rabbi to allow a woman to sit at his feet, as his entire audience, was a shocking and even degrading visual symbol. (Source)

2In Part 2 of a series on “servant leadership”, bible.org says this: “We are given not only an exemplar but we are given the source of power to enable us. We are also given a grasp of who and Who’s [sic] we are which gives us a significance, a security and a satisfaction that empowers us to become servant leaders.” They neglected to specify that this must only apply to males, according to their theology. Are only males to take this example from Jesus? Why? Only Jews? Why not?

P.S. (added later today): What does this account of Mary the Student do to the popular idea of the Christian woman staying at home to do domestic chores? Jesus called her educational choice “better”. What would a male supremacist have said to Mary, compared with what Jesus said?

3 Comments

tiro3

Great insights and information

Paula Fether

Tanx tiro3! Glad to be of service.

Paula Fether

I came across a good quote from scholar Linda Belleville concerning the matter of the 12 all being males:

Twelve Jewish males…represent the twelve tribes and their patriarchal heads. It is the twelve apostles who will sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30). The new Jerusalem will have twelve gates, twelve angels, twelve foundations, and on them the names of the twelve apostles (Rev. 21:12, 14). It is important not to make a leap from the twelve apostles to male leadership in the church. The leap, instead, should be from twelve apostles to the [entire] church of Jesus Christ. It is not male leaders who will serve as judges in the future, nor, for that matter, is it female leaders. “Do you not know,” Paul says, “that the saints will judge the world?... Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:2-3).

Further, the 12 apostles do not set a pattern for future church leadership. After James was killed, there was no effort to bring the number back to 12. We should not assume that the choice of 12 male Jewish apostles constituted a pattern for future church leaders— we know that it did not establish a pattern in its number or its ethnicity, so we should be open to the possibility that it did not establish a pattern in gender, either. (Source)