Originally published March 11, 2016
You remember the story. Jesus comes to Mary and Martha’s house. Martha’s Pinteresting up the place while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet to listen to Him teach. Martha gripes to Jesus that Mary should help her and Jesus says no because it’s better for her to listen to Him than fold napkins into the shape of swans or whatever. Moral of the story- Martha needs to relax and not let other things distract her from Jesus.
That’s a good, true, and important takeaway from this passage, and one that we would all do well to heed.
But did you ever stop to think that Mary and Martha aren’t the main characters in this story? Jesus is. Jesus is the main character in every Bible story, so our primary focus should always be on Him: what He said and did and was like.
What was Jesus teaching that day at Mary and Martha’s house? The passage doesn’t tell us the topic He was speaking about, but we are privy to a very important lesson He imparted through the scenario with Mary and Martha. A lesson about the way God loves and values women.
Remember how women were generally regarded at that time? They didn’t have much more value than livestock, furniture, or a man’s other possessions. They were considered intellectually inferior, they weren’t formally educated, and their legal and social standing were often tenuous at best. They could not go beyond the Court of the Women at the temple for worship. There was even a traditional prayer Jewish men recited in which they thanked God for not making them a woman, a Gentile, or a slave. Women were low man on the totem pole, so to speak.
And that’s where we find Martha. She wasn’t doing anything wrong that day. In fact, in her culture, she was doing everything right. If anything, Mary would have been the one viewed as being in the wrong because the teaching was for the men, and it was the women’s job to bustle around taking care of all the hospitality duties. Martha knew this. Mary knew this. Jesus knew this. Everyone else present knew this. Martha must have wondered why someone hadn’t yet shooed Mary out of the living room and into the kitchen. So her statement to Jesus in verse 40, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me,” was probably not just, “I need another pair of hands,” but also a bit of, “Mary is forgetting her place. This isn’t what proper women do.”
Oh yes it is.
Whatever else He might have been lecturing about that day, that was one of the lessons Jesus taught Mary, Martha, the rest of their guests, and Christendom at large.
Women aren’t second class citizens in the Kingdom of God. We are precious and valuable to Him. He has important, worthwhile work for us to do – His way – in the body of Christ. And He wants us trained in His word in order to carry out that work.
How did Jesus teach that lesson?
First, He allowed Mary to stay and receive His teaching (39). (We see this echoed in God’s instruction to the church in 1 Timothy 2:11: “LET a woman learn…”) It hadn’t slipped Jesus’ mind that she was sitting there. He could have told her to leave, but He had no intention of doing so. Jesus wanted Mary there. He wanted to teach her and to have her learn God’s word from Him.
Next, when someone tried to take Mary away from hearing and being trained in God’s word, Jesus – God Himself – answered with a resounding NO. This “will not be taken away from her,” Jesus said. Mary, and Martha too (41), could arrange centerpieces or turn a cookie into a work of art any time or never. But this, the teaching of God’s word, was urgent. Vital. Jesus didn’t want either of them to miss it by focusing on the trivial things they thought they should be pursuing.
And He doesn’t want us to miss it either, ladies.
Is the women’s events page on your church’s web site filled exclusively with painting parties, fashion shows, ladies’ teas, and scrapbook sessions?
Does your women’s ministry do canned “Bible” studies authored by women who offer nothing but personal stories, experiences, and false doctrine?
Are the Marys in your church who want to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear His word rightly handled and taught being scolded by the Marthas for not staying in their place and embracing the banality the women’s ministry is doling out?
Let’s have our women’s ministries train women in the full scope of biblical womanhood. Let’s be serious students of God’s word by picking it up and studying it like mature women. Let’s get equipped to teach and disciple other women who are babes in Christ. Let’s share the gospel with the lost. Let’s learn how to train our own children in the Scriptures and be the ones to raise the bar for what the kids at our church are being taught. Let’s roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty ministering to those who are ill, in prison, lonely, poor, elderly, considering abortion, experiencing crisis; who have wayward children, problems in their marriages, a parent with Alzheimer’s, or have lost a loved one.
Women are worth more and capable of more than the bill of goods they’re being sold by “Christian” retailers suggests. More than cutesy crafts and fairy tales masquerading as biblical teaching. Let’s put the “ministry” – ministry of the Word and ministry to others – back in “women’s ministry.”