29th October 2012

The Public Room Or The Kitchen?

“Lord, don’t you mind that my sister has left me to do everything by myself? Tell her to come and help me.”
Luke 10:40 (Phillips)

I’m sure you know the story well. Martha is furious with her sister Mary because instead of being in the kitchen where she should be, according to the culture in that part of the world, she is in the public room with the men; sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to his teaching! By doing this, Mary had crossed a very important boundary within her culture—the public room was the men’s domain and the kitchen, where they would be unseen by outsiders, was the women’s.

To sit at the feet of a teacher simply meant to be his student, to listen, and receive all the knowledge that he has to impart. In the same way Saul of Tarsus sat at the feet of Rabbi Gamaliel in order to learn and so qualify to be a rabbi himself. (Acts 22:3).

The text tells us that Martha is “distracted” not “burdened” (verse 40 of Luke 10 NIV UK); with much serving, so what’s happening here is that she is upset over her younger sister’s conduct, and the fact that Mary has abandoned the traditional cultural separation between men and women. She is probably thinking, “This is disgraceful, what will the neighbours say? What will the family think? This is too much to cope with. Let me get her out of there!”

Why? For a woman to settle down amongst the men in her culture was bordering on scandalous. Who did Mary think she was? She should come back to the women’s quarters, and that’s where Martha is urging Jesus to send her. The Phillips translation tells us: “So, she ‘burst in’ and confronted Jesus with the message; ‘Send Mary into the kitchen where she belongs!’”  But notice Jesus’ reply: “Martha, my dear, you are worried and bothered about providing so many things. Only one thing is really needed. Mary has chosen the best part, (listening), and it must not be taken away from her!” (Luke 10:41-42 Phillips). Jesus affirms her right to be there, telling Martha she has chosen “the best part of all” (Knox), “The best dish” (Barclay), and my teachings! “Please, allow her enjoy this feast.”

So, Jesus is also breaking down the cultural boundaries between men and women, saying it’s alright for her to be there. In some way, Mary stands for all those women who, when they hear Jesus speaking about the kingdom, know that God is calling them to listen carefully so they can also speak of it.

Father, thank you that, as part of your family, we are all equal in your Son Jesus; without division, heirs together of the promise you made to your servant Abraham.


Study by Cliff Neill

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