"Hello, Woman. It’s Me, Jesus.": Jesus, Mary, and Martha

This is part “three” in a four part series. For the introduction to the series, […]

Lauren R.E. Larkin / 8.20.09
This is part “three” in a four part series. For the introduction to the series, the first part on creation, and the second part on the Fall, click here , here , and here respectively.

The Gospel of Luke. One of the major themes of Luke’s Gospel is the reality of the restoration of the marginalized and the oppressed of society (1:52), offering a new lens through which to look upon the world (Green 11). Through Jesus, God actively intervenes within the world; not simply making an entrance, but—through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension—actively restoring humanity to Himself. Simeon’s blessing, in Lk 2:29-35, is an allusion to the Septuagint (Is. 49:6) and is being used to verify that the restoration of Israel to God is through Jesus (Tiede 285). The book of Acts (13:47, 26:23, and 28:28), also composed by Luke, uses the same allusions to Is 49:6—first to the twelve (Acts 1:12-26) and then to all nations under heaven (Tiede 286). In Acts 15:16 and in Luke 13:13, when talking about the rebuilding of the tent of David and the healing of the blind woman, respectively, Luke uses the Greek word translated as get straight, which is typically used to denote the concept of Restoration in Christ1. To read the Gospel of Luke is to read about the temporal/physical manifestation of restoration of humanity to God through Jesus.

Bearing in mind this theme in Luke’s Gospel, it is important to notice the way in which women are given a significant place in the narrative—not just as interesting characters in a story, but as direct participants with Jesus and the disciples and recipients of His abundant, overflowing love. “In the first century, women were kept very much in their place. But Luke sees them as the objects of God’s love and he writes about many of them” (Morris 41). The Gospel illustrates Jesus radically departing typical social conventions while extending God’s mercy to women (Culpepper 24-5). “…[H]e specifically includes women among those for whom the coming of the kingdom is good news and points to the inauguration of a new community in which freedom, dignity, and equality may be realized” (Culpepper 24-5).

Mary and Martha and Jesus (Lk 10:38-422, 3, 4). In this passage, Luke tells of a specific interaction between Mary, Martha, and Jesus and points out the two differing actions of the two women—Martha welcomes Jesus into their home, and Mary sits at Jesus feet while he teaches. An important aspect of this passage is the Greek word that is translated as, “who sat at…”, which not only describes Mary’s actions but also describes her directly—“the one who is at Jesus’ feet.” Mary—as this “one”—sits in the place reserved for disciples. “That a woman has this position is somewhat unusual… Jesus’ ministry breaks molds…” (Bock 1040).

The picture is that of a rabbi instructing his pupil. The extraordinary feature is that the pupil is a woman. Judaism did not forbid women to be instructed in the Torah. But it was very unusual for a rabbi to “lower himself” to this. In the social system of the time women were a ‘rejected’ group, and Luke pays considerable attention to the acceptance which Jesus accords them (Ellis 162).

In Luke 10:39, we have an image of the in-breaking/restoration event for women: Jesus stooping so low to teach Torah to a woman.

As Mary sits, Martha is dutifully fulfilling her culturally assigned role, but too distracted to focus on Jesus, the incarnate Word of God (Culpepper 231). Jesus lovingly addresses her (“Martha, Martha…” v.41), and expresses his concern. Yet, just at the moment when one might expect Jesus to tell Mary to help her sister, He doesn’t. Rather, he subverts the traditional social role (v.42a). The love of God and harkening to his Word trumps everything else. Mary exemplifies what it means to be so enraptured by Jesus and so consumed with His love that her love for Him pours out—not from her own source of love or striving, but in response to the One who is the Source of all love. Mary, in love, can do nothing else but listen to Him and be in His presence—this is the “good portion” (v.42b). She placed herself at His feet, and disregarded the typical role first century Jewish society had carved out for her. Green writes,

What is this ‘one thing,’ this ‘better part’ Mary has chosen? She is fixed on the guest, Jesus, and his word; she heeds the one whose presence is commensurate with the coming of the kingdom of God. With Jesus’ presence the world is being reconstituted, with the result that…Mary (and, with her, those of low status accustomed to living on the margins of society) need no longer be defined by socially determined roles…(437).

Jesus affirms that this choice will not be taken away from Mary (v.42c), and simultaneously affirms Mary’s “radical violation of Palestinian social roles” (Culpepper 232). This is not a one time event.

Sin disrupted humanity’s relationship with God and nature and disrupted the relationship between man and woman (Gen. 3:14-17). The in-breaking of God’s kingdom through Jesus, restored what sin destroyed. Jesus, fully God and fully male, reaches down and grabs the hand of the woman and lifts her up. She is taken out of the subjection to man and returned to his side; and this restoration is sealed with a promise that it “will not be taken away from her.”