Wednesday, May 1, 2013

“Woman, Know Thy Place”

English Worship Service at Gaepo Methodist Church
Reflection from Luke 10: 38-42

I live in a household where men are the minority. Even when my father was alive it was always only the two of us and my mother, two sisters and more recently my wife and my daughter. Having strong women in my family, who are all active feminists or supporters of women’s rights, my father also became a strong supporter of equal rights for women. I have been nurtured and steeped in feminism or this strong understanding of equality for both men and women since my childhood, witnessing the struggles of the women in my family to claim not only equal opportunities in society but also equal responsibility.

Often we hear the letters of Paul or some passages from the Old Testament quoted by some people who would want us to accept for some reason that women must come second in family and society. They use Eve’s eating of the apple and causing Adam to sin as an example, or Paul’s directions for women to be quiet in church only have a role of serving within the home or church.

However, as Christians, it is important that we find our first directions on living from Jesus who came to not only save us from sin and death, but to also restore our relationship with God and fulfil the Law – to show us how to best live according to God’s will. In the

The theme I would like us to reflect on this afternoon is, “Woman Know Thy Place”.
Together we will explore the text and what Jesus words to Martha mean for us in a society where a woman’s place is traditionally still in the home.

My first point -Martha is a homer owner.
Martha and Mary are not strangers to Jesus, their brother Lazarus is a close friend of Jesus and the Gospel of John tells of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) and of Mary’s anointing His feet (John 12:1-11). In our reading, however, Lazarus is not mentioned and it is Martha to whom the home belongs to. She is the head of the household and it is she who opens her home to Jesus. Women had it pretty bad in 1st century Palestine, with none of the rights we advocate today afforded to them in the patriarchal Jewish society. Yet we have Martha, seemingly a woman of independent means as there is no mention of a husband and her brother, according to John, merely lives there. Martha is the head of this household and it is she who invites Jesus in.

This is a complete difference to many of our traditions where women while often in charge of the running of the household are still required to submit to their husbands as it head. While this may have originally been due to the role of the husband as the sole breadwinner, today, through economic necessity rather than any change in the view of society both husband and wife and even children of working age all must contribute to the household.

However, while accepting the equality of responsibility for the family, many women continue to be denied an equal share of leadership in the home. Jesus, by accepting Martha’s invitation, acknowledges her as the head of her household, thus recognising the equal right of women to ownership and leadership in the home and society and provides us the opportunity to do the same. As a man accepting a woman as hostess, Jesus also liberates us from the notion that it is the man who is to provide for the woman and that as a man, our masculinity is safe, even if it is our spouse, mother or sister that takes on the role of provider.

Once I gave up my career as a TV and film producer, and became a theological student and now as a minister or pastor, I had to accept the fact that my wife will always earn more money than me. While this is a reality, and in fact necessary in order to provide for my family, the fact that she provides most of our family’s income means that she is responsible for managing our family’s finances and takes a leading role in planning and directing family life. I cannot simply claim authority because I am the husband and father.

In the book of Genesis we read that in the creation of the world, God says:

“Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

So, when God declares, “Let us make humankind in our image…” the term man refers to both male and female. Both man and woman are God’s image-bearers.

My second point - Mary sits at the foot of Jesus listening while Martha is distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.
While our text of scripture is very short, I have read children’s books where Martha is described in great detail, cooking up a storm in the kitchen as she, covered in flour and sweat, prepares a feast for Jesus. Her expected assistant in this endeavour is not with her but sitting and listening to Jesus.

In my family all the men must not only know how to cook but must practice this skill on a regular basis. The first reason for this as you can see from my shapely figure is that we enjoy eating the fruits of our labour in a very literal sense. We love to cook and eat and all subscribe to the creed, “If you want it cooked the way you like it, cook it yourself”. However, there is another and perhaps more ethical reason behind this. Everyone in the family not only has both the right and responsibility to work, but also to serve. So it is not uncommon for all the family to be out at meetings or still at work when dinner needs to be prepared. Household chores are divided not along gender but in terms of who is available. Over the winter break – I went home spent a lot of time in the kitchen as I was on holiday – or in front of the barbecue.

Often I have been to prayer meetings and other gatherings, where while men take prominent place in worship or discussion, women are in the kitchen and miss out on the opportunity to participate in worship, and hear, share and join in discussions that affect community. The emphasis is placed more on the role of host and hostess, than participant, audience or congregation. This is another failure by men (perhaps deliberate) to acknowledge Jesus’ advocacy for full participation by women in family, community and religious life. By placing woman in the home, male-dominated society has in effect eliminated her leadership roles from all the spheres of community, delegating her to catering, cleaning and serving positions. Many women have become trapped in this cycle, unconsciously perpetuating it as Martha does when she asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her in the kitchen.

My third point - Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her
This story is primarily about the distractions that keep us from God; Jesus also uses this event to speak to us about the role of women not only in society and home but in the church as well. As Christians we are called to place God first. Love of neighbour and service to others is not done for its own sake, but because it is how we express our love for God and serve a creator that made us, male and female, in the image of God.

The Church – that’s us, the body of Christ is called to commit to action towards the elimination of all forms of violence against women and children in church and society. We are to give a voice to the voiceless and be agents of transformation in our societies.

For that to happen, our traditional or stereotypical views of women and men need to change. Jesus recognised the individual need in each person He met. So we must also look beyond the physical and recognise the same spirit within each of us. We must realise that when it is said that, “a woman’s place is in the house,” it means the business house, parliament house, as of last year even the presidents “Blue house” but most importantly the house of God.

Those of our sisters here today have chosen, like Mary, to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to him. We encourage our both our sons and daughters to also sit at the feet of Jesus. But we must also encourage both of them to go forth and bear witness with their lives. We must ensure that they have an equal sense of God’s love and what that means for them in living a life according to the kingdom as shown by Jesus.

My prayer is that the women of the churches in Korea will be allowed one day to be senior pastors of churches and not just be assistant pastors; to be elders and seen as equal partners in working for God’s kingdom. For on that day we will have come closer to recognising that of all the disciples who were witness to the crucifixion and the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, it was the women who stood closest to him and saw him first. We will remember that the first evangelist and person to share the good news of Jesus was not one of the disciples but a Samaritan woman who had experienced the liberation offered by Jesus at the well and ran and called others to hear the good news.

Jesus teaches us, both men and women that the Marthas of the world are important. But so are the Marys.


Today we invite the women of our group to share their experiences of being a woman and a Christian in their society or community.
Men may respond after.

Next Sunday: Matthew 25: 31-46 “If not now, when?”

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