39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
She was sitting in the front of the bus. It’s that simple. Mary was sitting where she did not belong. And even when Paul has to tell the wives in Corinth to be silent in the meetings (lest they shame their husbands), they are still sitting in the front of the bus. They are present in worship where they could not have been before. Women are leaders and prophets and one is even called an apostle. “There is neither male nor female,” writes Paul to the Galatians, “we are all one in Christ Jesus.” The misogyny of the Bible has become one of those falsehoods “everyone knows” – everyone except Jesus. And the scriptures.
Mary was sitting in the position of a disciple. Her cultural obligation was to be at her sister’s side. You can even make an argument that “love of neighbor” should have placed her at her sister’s side. But she is at Jesus’ feet.
Maybe Martha only wants help. But if Jesus had conceded to her request there would be no church today. Women would have been kept in the back of the bus. The Gospel would have been reduced to a reform of the moral life. The dawning kingdom of God that brings all the earth under the gracious governance of God would not have been proclaimed or made visible in healed lives. The baptism of Samaritans, of the Ethiopian Eunuch, of the Roman Cornelius, and the gathering of the nations (all those excluded from the presence of God in the temple) would not have occurred. Those few followers of Jesus would have disappeared when the Romans crushed the rebellion in Judea. Had Jesus conceded to Martha’s request, he would have been lost to history.
But the kingdom of God is at hand in Jesus, God’s reign of grace and life beginning. Joel’s promise of the Spirit of God poured out on all people, men and women, young and old, slave and free is fulfilled. Our debts to God are released. Sinners and outcasts are restored to the community. All the earth is gathered to worship God. And all are commissioned for ministry. Satan’s kingdom crumbles – like lightening fracturing the sky.
The women were not sent to the back of the bus. There is no back of the bus. Jesus has carried it to the cross and left it there.
Mary has chosen the good portion. She has chosen the banquet of Jesus’ teaching. She has chosen the fountain of life. She has heeded the call of the Spirit. She understands that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Churches look pretty old-fashioned sometimes. But they are telling a radical story. Like Mary we come to hear the story.
PS I understand the Rosa Parks did not sit in the front section of the bus, but it is a shorthand description we all understand. Ms. Parks was seated in the middle section which was open to African-Americans until the front section was filled and a white person needed a seat – at which point the whole middle section was redefined as an area for “whites only” and any African-American in the those center seats had to get up and stand in the rear. Ms. Parks’ “crime” was to refuse to vacate the section in which she was seated when a white person arrived. It shouldn’t have taken Christians 2,000 years to figure out this was wrong. But we often get the “who serves whom” thing backwards. We accommodate Jesus to ourselves rather than accommodating ourselves to Jesus.
Mary’s boldness was not refusing to get up – it was daring to sit. And Jesus told her to stay.