Sunday 18 July 2010

Bible Book:

"Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her." (v.42)

Luke 10:38-42 Sunday 18 July 2010


In today's passage, Jesus is welcomed into the home of Martha,where her sister Mary is too. The Gospel-writer Luke doesn't namethe village but we learn from John's Gospel that these two sisterslived with their brother Lazarus in Bethany (John12:1-8). This village was on the top of Mount Olives, just ashort walk from Jerusalem.

In the 1st century AD people were usually identified by theirfamily relationships, men most commonly by their father. Simon, sonof Jonah, for example (Matthew 16:17). Women were defined by theirrelationship to their husbands or sons. Mary, the wife of Clopas,for example (John 19:25). But Lazarus is only everidentified by his place of residence (John11:1) and Mary and Martha are only ever identified by theirrelationship with their brother. It seems this is a household ofthree siblings, with no parents or partners. It's the nearest weget to a 1st century student house!

This passage is often interpreted as contrasting the active and thecontemplative life. Jesus commends Mary, who has chosen to listento him rather than help Martha with her tasks. But this is also astory about social standards and the freedom that Jesus brings.Mary sits at Jesus' feet - the usual position of a disciple whenbeing instructed by a rabbi or teacher (Acts22:3). Women were excluded from the study of the Torah, themost important part of the Jewish Scriptures. Rabbi Eliezer - afamous but notoriously strict Jewish teacher of the 1st and 2ndcenturies AD - said, "Anyone who teaches his daughter Torah, it isas though he has taught her lechery." Women attended some religiousassemblies, but their role was to listen rather than debate. So therabbi interpreted the command, "Assemble the people - men, womenand children" (Deuteronomy 31:12) to mean that the men shouldstudy, the women should listen and the children should "receive thereward for those who bring them". Women were expected to know thelaws which related to the kitchen and the household, but nomore.

Martha's complaint against Mary then is that by choosing to listento Jesus she is forgetting her place. But Luke shows us that Jesus'ministry is to the marginalised: women, Samaritans, non-Jews andoutcast Jews like Zacchaeus the tax-collector (Luke19:1-10). Jesus has come to free people from the rules andregulations that bind them.

To Ponder

Have you ever allowed the expectations of otherpeople to define who you are? How might Jesus be challengingthis?

Are there rules and regulations that arenecessary for the Christian life? Who decides and how?

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