Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Seventh Sunday after Trinity
Text: Luke 10.38-42
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
Do you ever wonder what it would be like to hear Bible stories for the very first time? For their familiarity to be taken away? To be as surprised by them as the first people who ever heard them would have been? To be shocked, even?
A Window on the Text
We should be shocked by what Luke is saying in this little domestic drama about two sisters and their priorities. He is not saying that the contemplative life is better than the active one. He is not saying that we shouldn’t be hospitable and welcome guests into our homes and look after them. He is not saying it’s OK for someone to get out of doing their share of the housework if they are doing something religious. What he is saying is something far more challenging for the culture of his time.
Here is Jesus in the house of Martha, by invitation. The only other person who seems to be present is her sister Mary. Jesus is not married to either of them, nor is he a relative, as far as we know (although John’s Gospel tells us he ‘loved’ them both, together with their brother Lazarus (John 11)). For a man to be welcomed into a house by a woman and then spend time alone with two women in this way in such circumstances is deeply shocking – it still is in many Middle Eastern cultures today. It would bring shame and dishonour on the family for such a situation to take place.
And not only is Jesus in the home of the women, he has already encouraged one of them to sit at his feet in the manner of a rabbi’s disciple, except that the disciple would always have been a man. Women were not thought worth teaching – but here is Jesus with one sitting at his feet, and inviting another to join her! Something very new and very disturbing is happening in this familiar little story. Something so new and special that the catering arrangements can wait – women need to hear about the Kingdom too. Perhaps Jesus also suggested that the men folk could take over the cooking – but if he did, Luke certainly didn’t record it!
Responding as a community
- Luke tells us that our God is a God who cares about every single person, everywhere; who wants all of us to reach our full potential, men and women, because we are all special to God. What can your community do, nearly 2000 years later, about the fact that women are still second-class human beings in some parts of the world, and the world is ruled mainly by men?
- How is your church responding to the Millennium Development Goals? These policy statements were put together by the UN in 2000 on poverty, education, women’s rights, maternal & child care, health, environmental issues, and partnerships for development. They are Goals that are supposed to be achievable by 2015. Do you see their achievement as an integral part of the church’s mission? Consider how they relate to the 5 Marks of Mission – telling the Gospel; baptising and teaching new believers; providing loving service to those in need; challenging the unjust structures of the world; and caring for God’s good creation.
- The third goal is to promote gender equality and empower women. How do you feel about the fact that some of the main Christian denominations still discriminate against women within their own structures?
- Try to imagine what it must have been like to be a woman in first century Palestine, like Mary and Martha. What were their lives, thoughts, fears and hopes – and what was the impact that knowing Jesus had on them? Many of the women whose lives could be improved if we managed to meet those Millennium Development Goals live in ways far more similar to those of Mary and Martha than ours. They are in rural areas with pastoral economies, often under the heel of foreign powers, with high levels of poverty, disease and illiteracy. Like them, Mary and Martha weren’t able to read – were not even allowed to learn to read. Jesus wanted everyone to live life in all its fullness – women included.
Have a map of the world spread out on a table, and place tea-light candles on it for countries that need us all to work towards achieving the Development Goals. As each candle is placed, say one of the “beatitudes for a globalised world” below. They were written by Bishop Christopher Gregorowski of Cape Town, to see the MDGs as Jesus might see them.
Jesus said, “You are blessed when you are merciful: you will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:5)
- You are blessed when you seek bread for the hungry: you will be filled.
- You are blessed when you provide schooling for all girls and boys: you will see God’s light.
- You are blessed when you support women and girls in their quest for empowerment and equality: the power of God’s Spirit is yours.
- You are blessed when you bring vulnerable children to health and strength: you will be healed and strengthened.
- You are blessed when you seek the health of pregnant women and young mothers: you will be called God’s children.
- You are blessed when you strive to combat HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and other diseases: you will receive mercy.
- You are blessed when you care for my creation, and seek clean water and sanitation for all, and a better life for slum dwellers: you will inherit the earth.
- You are blessed when you open your borders to fair trade and your budgets to sound development: you will be richly rewarded.
- You are blessed when you are persecuted for being just and seeking justice in the world: you are members of my family – for just as you do these things for your sisters and brothers in need, you do them for me.
- See http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/ for more detail about the MDGs. The first MDG is about eradicating poverty and hunger. As we all know, there is enough food grown in the world to feed everyone adequately, but we are not very good at sharing it. Women actually produce half the world’s food, do two thirds of the physical labour, earn about 10% of the cash income, and own 1% of the property; and of the one billion people living in extreme poverty, 70% are women.
- The second MDG is about primary education. Two-thirds of the world’s 800 million illiterate adults are women, as education for girls is not seen as a worthwhile investment in many countries. Oxfam says that for every year that a girl is educated, the chances of her own children surviving childhood soar.
- The Mediterranean culture of Jesus’ time had sharply divided roles and expectations for men and women. The household was the domain of the women; a closed sphere with inviolate boundaries. Women had little contact with men other than their immediate kin group. A woman’s honour was determined by i) her virginity at the time of marriage and ii) her loyalty to her husband. Any breach would shame all the members of the kin group, especially the men who represented the family in public. The ties between the women of the household would have been stronger than those between husband and wife. Women worked as hard to keep the men out of their world as the men did to prevent the entry of women into theirs. For more information on the cultural context of Jesus’ day, see Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, by Bruce J Malina and Richard L Rohrbaugh.