Monday, March 11, 2013

Help me out?

I'm preparing a talk on Mary and Martha (Luke 10). [This passage is part of the set list for women preachers!]

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her" (Luke 10:38-42).
I'm interested in the bold bit. What was Mary doing? What does it mean to sit at a teacher's feet?

Someone I'm reading suggests that Martha's issue with Mary is partly that Mary is behaving as if she were a man. She has crossed an invisible but important divide into male territory. Sitting at the feet of a rabbi is what men did - and the men who did it were the men who wanted to be rabbis themselves.



  1. I see no evidence for that in the text, or in Luke.

    Worth noting the context: Before = good Samaritan (whose faithful action casts Martha in a good light) and after = the Lord's prayer, showing the absolute priority of dependence upon God (which Mary is demonstrating). The entire section (really from Luke 9:51) highlights what true discipleship looks like.

    It's a lovely story of the grace of Jesus in word and action.

    1. Gordon, I'm not at all interested in taking this into controversial territory - women preaching to men - or anything close. I'm just looking for insights about what it meant for Mary to sit at Jesus' feet.

    2. Sure! I didn't think that was controversial though. It's just a passage showing what the best thing is (even though Martha has done well)

    3. In a way it's a partial outworking of the parable of the 4 soils, earlier in Luke. That parable is very important for understanding much of what unfolds later in the gospel.

    4. Do you think Martha has 'done well' though? Jesus says that she's worried and distracted and that "there is need of only one thing" - that thing which Mary did.

  2. She's done well enough, but, as Jesus points out, 'could do better'. There's a stack of stuff in the previous bit about how significant it is to welcome Jesus and those who represent him. eg 9:48; 10:5-9, and the challenge to practical love of neighbour in 10:25-37.

    It's only a short incident but every word counts, including "Martha welcomed her into his house." What ruins it for her and for everyone is not that she is getting about the job of welcome, but her grouchy distracted attitude.

    The story would make a great basis for a Simone song! ;-)

  3. I heard something interesting on this story last week at a Women's Retreat. NKJV says, v38 "And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word."

  4. Ever considered that Luke is being particularly poetic at this point and seeing symbols of the old system (i.e. temple worship/Pharisaic law/'religion' = Martha) and of the new Way (i.e. listening to/following Jesus = Mary)?? Find it in the pericopes surrounding this passage too. Just a thought.