Thursday, March 23, 2006

mary & martha

christy at dry bones dance has a great post on mary & martha today and it has jogged loose some thoughts i've been having as i dig up this garden of theology i've been raised with.

she writes:
I’ve been hanging out with Mary and Martha lately, and they are a lot more interesting then I was raised to believe. Martha gets a lot of crap over the story where Jesus is visiting and she’s trying to get the food all ready to serve everybody. She’s preparing everything while Mary is seated at the feet of Jesus listening to his teachings. She starts to wonder why she is the only one working and tells Jesus what to do. “Yo, Jesus! (because when I hear Martha speak, she sounds like she’s from Brooklyn) Didya notice I’m doing all the work here? Tell my sister to get up and help me already.”
i have found that asking new questions and looking at everything differently gives me fresh perspectives that jump out at me in bold. i have been a gospels junkie for the past year (at least) - it's the only part of the bible that has life for me presently. the old testament with it's war mongering and dysfunctional relationships just make me angry, and the epistles clang with the distorted theology from my past and tie me up in knots right now, so i've been playing it safe in the gospels. i have been spending a lot of time with the women that jesus spent time with and watched how he treated them. so i too have been hanging out a lot with mary & martha.

this kitchen story has been clanging around in my head so loudly lately. very different thoughts than what i was raised with are coming to light and instead of being afraid of them i'm just gonna blog it. i've not thought it all through, but i have to put this into words to see if my theory holds any water. if it doesn't that's okay, but i need to see if this marked a change in history, a pivot point that may have been overlooked or cast aside.

i'm just gonna plop down my new perspective and see if it resonates with anyone. be gentle please, these tender plants are new, they might be weeds, and if they are i'll pluck them up, but i've tended them for awhile now and i'm new at this gardening thing, so your footprints will leave marks in the soil. tread lightly please, i would LOVE your feedback.

you all know the story, martha is cooking, mary is at jesus' feet. the questions i have are about the culture - we know they reclined at meals, there probably weren't chairs for everyone like a dining room at davinci's 'last supper'. i think that is a big distortion - it wasn't like the italian renaissance, everyone on chairs on this long table. i think the people would be reclined on the floor - holding their heads up with one arm and eating with the other, their feet stretched out and they made a circle around the food.

so even if they weren't eating yet, even if there were a couple of chairs most of the others would have been on the floor too and everybody else would have been sitting on the floor (even possibly jesus). so the 'subservient' way we describe mary being at jesus' feet would be said about all of the disciples, not just mary because she's a woman, right?

and if they were eating that means that mary is right next to jesus in the circle (possibly at his RIGHT HAND which we know is a place of honor...) so in either scenario the way i have always read 'mary at the feet of jesus' as a frail, wilting flower wouldn't be the truth. if my questions hold water then mary has some chutzpah here - women weren't allowed to learn, or to dine with men up to this point in history.

i think in this passage that martha is possibly ticked, not only because she's doing 'all of the work', but because mary is stepping outside of her 'female role'. men and women didn't dine, worship or learn together in that culture - their society seperated the men from the women. mary was breaking with the norm. rabbis didn't teach women. they were not a part of the schooling process. here mary is becoming a disciple (no, not one of the 12, but a discipled one, nonetheless).

she is acting outside of any jewish norm that has happened before in history. i think she decided that if jesus didn't have a problem with her learning with the men then she was going to be there at his feet like all of the other disciples.

i wonder if in this story that martha was trying to re-enforce the traditional role, remind both mary, and jesus, just in case they had forgotten, that a woman's place was in the kitchen. i wonder if when jesus confronted her he was breaking that role wide open - 'martha, it's okay, women have brains and they can learn too. you were created to be together, not seperate. come join us.' and i think she did. they were sitting with the man who had just fed 5000 people, made all of the food (women's work) and gave the bread of life and the living water, he was right in their midst. i think they all chose the 'better way' that day.

i wonder if that's why martha can go toe to toe with jesus after lazarus dies. she is no longer a voiceless female - she has a new role, and she can look jesus in the eye and tell him her truth, and he hears her and doesn't shame her back into the kitchen.

1 comment:

phyllis said...

I think this is brilliant, and not just because I came to the exact same conclusion myself a while back! It's obvious if you do exactly what you did - look hard at the text, see the scene, and put it in context, without all the echoes of past teaching. It just leaps right out. I wonder if Mary had to make a conscious decision to plant herself in the place of controversy, or if Jesus made it so safe, it was just a natural thing to do.

I think Jesus' words to Martha were a message (a warning?), a statement to everyone in the room, and to the generations after that day - what she has chosen will not be taken from her. And I think you're right, Martha wanted permission to join in as well.