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Mary, Martha and the Masters

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In her article, "What Would Jesus Do at the Masters?" Maureen Dowd laments a week when the exclusion of women from the Masters tournament is just one example of gender bias at play in the world today.

From the Pope's Easter message to the snub of Saudi Arabian officials against women athletes, these GWOW moments Dowd names are ongoing acts she calls the "Global War On Women." She concludes with the words of a progressive priest turned Episcopalian, Alberto Cutié, who argues,

"They say women can't be priests because Jesus only called men to be apostles, but the women close to Jesus were the first witnesses of the resurrection. When the men were afraid and hidden, the women went to the tomb and said, 'Jesus is risen!' If Easter is the most important part of Christianity, the first to proclaim the message were women. Who could make more effective preachers?"

Dowd's important question -- "What would Jesus do at the Masters?" -- can be answered with a single biblical story that is all too often misinterpreted. That is, the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. All too often domesticated, the encounter between Jesus and Mary and Martha is a fascinating case of reception history gone awry.

The story goes that Martha is upset in the kitchen regarding the demands of hospitality in a day before Keurigs and Kenmores. While she frets and works in the kitchen, Mary sits contentedly at the feet of Jesus displaying true worship. If only we could all have a "Mary heart in a Martha world," as one of many books on this biblical text implores.

Even worse, in a book entitled "Mary's Prayers and Martha's Recipes," a recipe for "submission stew" is concocted whereby a woman should consider the amount of energy given to obeying a boss, respecting elders in the church and honoring her husband.

Luke would lament the misuse of this key moment in his Gospel. Luke believed in the leadership capabilities of women and structured his Gospel accordingly.

According to Ken Bailey, author of "Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes," for every story Luke tells of a male character, he partners that story with a female example. The Gospel opens with pairs of characters: Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna. The pattern continues throughout. For every parable Jesus tells using a masculine image, Luke partners that example with an image relatable to women. The parable of the lost sheep is paired with the story of a coin lost by a woman. Dozens of times through his Gospel, Luke crafts characters and context to clarify that not only is the Gospel intended for all people, but also that men and women both have a role to play in leadership of this new movement.

What would Jesus do at the Masters? For Luke, the story of Mary and Martha is the answer to that question. While the reception history of this text has relegated it to the kitchen, the original intent of Luke was much more revolutionary.

For Mary to sit at the feet of Jesus was an image common to the culture of a person being mentored in leadership. Folks sat at the feet of a teacher as they became trained as disciples. Martha's anxiety in the other room was not because the roast had toughened, but because she recognized the fact that this Jesus was calling them into leadership and that would change their role in society.

The story of Mary and Martha is not a text to be interpreted as either/or. Too often the tale is told that either a disciple is focused like Mary or frazzled like Martha. This is not an either/or story, but a tale of both/and. Both Mary and Martha are being called into leadership for this new movement and their lives will change drastically as that call unfolds.

To make his point perfectly clear, Luke includes this text at the conclusion of Luke 10 as an endnote to where this chapter began. The calling and sending of the 70 is the dramatic backdrop to the story of Mary and Martha. When these two women accept the call, the 70 will increase by two.

Jesus understood all too well the concept of a boys club. Martha and Mary were the first two women he invited in. Unfortunately, we domesticate the text and make it about Martha's faults instead of our possibilities. Isn't that all too easy a reading of this revolutionary story?

Unbelievably, our culture is having this conversation once again. Why is our energy stewarded toward this issue when Jesus is commissioning us and sending us all out the door to serve?

What would happen if we left tees and teas in their respective arenas and instead considered what would happen if men and women, paired as in Luke's Gospel, served the only master together?