Pentecost 8C. 2010
Luke 10:38-42

A Liturgy is also available


I remember shortly after arriving in my last Congregation Placement,
I was invited by the Adult Fellowship group
        to talk about biblical storytelling.

‘But don’t talk about Mary and Martha,’ president Margaret said to me.
‘Every minister talks about Mary and Martha to women’s groups!’
        I didn’t.
        Margaret could be persuasive when she wanted to be!

Indeed, checking the last 15 years of sermons,
especially those years allocated to Lukan stories,
        I find I have only ever preached on that story once.

Well, up until now, that is.  So here goes No. 2!


The person we call Luke is an imaginative (and fairy-tale) storyteller.
All the popular biblical stories we remember,
are the ones we usually find in this collection of stories.
        The birth of Jesus
        The 'Good' Samaritan
        The Man who had two sons
        The sower
        The lost sheep and The lost coin
        Mary and Martha

In all these the storyteller begins with the familiar.
And, especially so with Luke’s Jesus it can be said
“no sphere of life is outside God’s realm: the political, social economic, ecclesial, and theological are all intertwined.” 
(Reid 2000:7).

Of course, it also helps that many of these stories are also the subjects
of stained-glass windows in our older church buildings.
        So it is not surprising that we should find stories
        about women in Luke’s collection.

One of my mentors in the area of biblical scholarship is the late Robert Funk
of the Jesus Seminar fame.  In his book A Credible Jesus, Funk says:
“As a friend of those on the margins of society, it is easy to believe that [Jesus] had women in his public retinue.  We cannot be certain, but it seems likely that some women followed him about
”.  (Funk 2002:48)

Not much is it!

But remembering that the movement which established itself around Jesus
was both Jewish and Palestinian, it would have been only natural,
        I reckon, that the makeup of those people would also reflect
        the cultural diversity present in the Greco-Roman world and first century Palestine.

Let me toss this in by way of illustration.
When Dylis (my wife) celebrated one of those ‘big O’ birthdays,
a cousin gave her a book called Pioneer Women of the Bush and Outback.

In that book about women in the Australian outback, author Jennifer Isaacs wrote:
“The[se] women… are pioneers more because of a state of mind.  In remote areas of Australia these women pioneers, battlers in bonnets if you like, suffered isolation and both physical and emotional hardship.  They invariably knew what it was like to cope with little, to make things from scraps, bags, tins and boxes, and to cook a big dinner over an open fire…  They far outnumbered their more genteel sisters, and could be found as overseers, house-keepers, cooks or domestic workers in the homes of the better-off”.   
(Isaacs 1990:9).

The stories of the Australian bush are made up of stories
of the courage of both women and men
as they encountered and responded to the realities of the bush
and the culture of the small country towns.

Likewise, the stories around the Jesus movement are stories of people
as they encountered and responded to this Jewish, cynic-like sage
in the midst of their everyday worlds, as
“shopkeepers, butchers, innkeepers, weavers, waitresses, shoemakers, prostitutes, professional mourners and musicians, or fishers” 
(Corley 2002:33).

Which has led biblical scholar, Kathleen Corley, to take all this one step further:
“While it seems likely that Jesus associated relatively freely with women, the pervasive presence of women in Jewish, Roman and Hellenistic societies generally serves to undermine the contention that this is a special characteristic of Jesus' movement or an outgrowth of his message of the Kingdom of God”.  
(Corley 2002:26).

Now that’s different.
Even radically different to what we are used to!

So how can we hear this story today, remembering as President Margaret said,
every minister talks about Mary and Martha to women’s groups!

Well, again, let me offer the comments by Kathleen Corley:
“… Jesus does encourage Mary, who is seated at his feet.  However, although such a position does indicate that Mary is receiving instruction, her posture reflects a more conservative, matronly role, and she remains silent throughout the scene.  The more radical stance would have been to invite Mary to recline with him like an equal on a banquet couch…  In these Lukan stories Jesus does not appear radical in his relationships with women; it is the women who are bold, not Jesus.” 
(Corley 2002:60)

It is the women who are bold, not Jesus!  And I reckon Corley is right.

Let’s take another story… the story of the woman
who had been continuously menstruating for 12 years.
She is not a timid character, but extraordinarily courageous.

By being present in the crowd and by touching Jesus,
“she is taking a great risk.  She steals her healing because she is not free for it openly...” 
(Lee 1993: 66).

And take the storyteller Luke.
The story of Mary and Martha immediately follows the story of the so-called 'Good' Samaritan.
It is a Samaritan and not a Judean who acts boldly.

So we have people from the so-called fringes of society
who are acting out of character, acting boldly, by refusing
        to live according to someone else’s rules.

The shame of it all is that, for various reasons, the church institution has sought to interpret,
or allowed others to interpret, the story of Mary and Martha,
       as about the virtues of being passive.

Not so!

Mmm.  I’m a bit sorry Margaret isn’t with us any more, to hear this,
because I reckon she might well have rightly asked:
        why didn’t ministers tell that to the women’s groups?


Luke is an imaginative storyteller.
But the stories told are not to entertain us, but to empower us
and to transform us by inviting us to re-imagine our world.

Likewise there is a another controversial bloke, John Shelby Spong by name,
who’s stories and theology also seeks to empower and transform us.
        He does this by inviting us to live life to the full,
        to love wastefully, and
        to be all that we can be.

Now why didn’t ministers tell that to both the women’s and the men’s groups?

Corley, K. E. Women and the Historical Jesus. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.
Funk, R. W. A Credible Jesus. Fragments of a Vision
. Santa Rosa. Polebridge Press, 2002.
Isaacs, J.
Pioneer Women of the Bush and Outback. Sydney. Landsdowne Press, 1990.
Lee, D. & A. Honner, J.
Wisdom & Demons. Meditations on Scripture. Melbourne. Aurora/David Lovell Publishing, 1993.
Reid, B. E. Parables for Preachers. The Gospel of Luke Year C. Collegeville. Liturgical Press, 2000.