Saturday, January 10, 2009

Martha and Mary: Luke's Social Concerns


Grudem’s response to this egalitarian claim is the following: “Jesus overturned some expectations, but the text does not say He overturned all expectations…I am thankful that Jesus taught women and conversed openly with them about theological questions (as in John 4)…but that does not mean that Jesus overturned all Jewish beliefs and customs about the roles of women and men!” (162)

The following response by Wayne Grudem does one major thing: it assumes that there are “roles of women and men.” Grudem’s response fails to address the story of Mary and Martha. In addition, it also fails to consider the theme that runs throughout Luke’s Gospel. I will first address the theme throughout Luke’s Gospel, and then we’ll conclude our study of the Gospel with the text in question (Luke 10:38-42).

All through Luke’s Gospel, there seems to be the theme of unexpected twists. In chapter 5, Jesus calls Matthew (known as Levi) to be His disciple. In verse 30, the Pharisees criticize Christ by saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” To the Pharisees, the elite of the day, the tax collectors and sinners were the “moral filth” of society, the people whom no one wanted to associate with. The Pharisees, claiming to be “the separated ones,” wanted to maintain their distance as far away from such immoral people as possible. But Jesus’ answer presents an unexpected twist to the Pharisaic train of thought: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Lk. 5:31-32, ESV). Jesus’ statement made it clear that the people the Pharisees wanted to shun and stay away from were the very people He came for. We see here that the Pharisees had a very averse train of thought from Christ—He came to heal the sick, not place them in a corner with a “stay away” sign.

From verses 33-39 of the same chapter, Jesus responds to the Pharisees on the issue of fasting. The Pharisees said, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink” (v.33). Jesus’ response? “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?” (v.34) Jesus tells the Pharisees that His disciples are eating and drinking because the current time is the proper time to do so, for “the bridegroom” (Himself) is with them, and they are the “wedding guests,” those who are to participate with Him. While Jesus is with them, they will celebrate His time on earth—but a time would come when He would be taken up from them, and, once gone, they would then fast (v.35). Jesus’ purpose for His response was to show the Pharisees that there is a proper time for fasting; and fasting is not to be done just for the sake of fasting. Fasting has a time and a purpose.

Luke 6 concerns the disciples picking grain out of the fields on the Sabbath. Once again the Pharisees come to criticize: “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” (v.2) This time, Jesus was violating a law on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath, it was against the Law to do any form of work—and picking grain out of the fields was constituted as work. Jesus has another twist up His sleeve: He throws the Law back on the Pharisees—“Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” (vv.3, 4) Since the Pharisees resorted to the Law to attack Jesus, He did the same to attack them. What is interesting about His reference to the Law is that He mentions David, who ate the bread of the Presence, the bread reserved ONLY for the priests! David and his men were no priests—but they ate the bread anyway! Jesus was showing them that if David could unlawfully eat of the bread of the Presence, and he was “lord” over a kingdom (lowercase, that is!), then, surely, Jesus Himself could do that which seemed unlawful on the Sabbath—He being Lord over the day itself.

In verses 6-11, Jesus confronts the Pharisees again about the Sabbath: “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” (v.9) Jesus once again made it clear to the Pharisees that it was the spirit of the Law that they should have been upholding, not the letter—“for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6, ESV).

In verses 20-26, Luke records his version of “The Beatitudes.” In contrast to Matthew’s, which mentions more of the heart and issues of the heart, Luke’s “Sermon” emphasizes social concerns: “Blessed are you who are poor…hungry…weep...” (vv.20, 21). However, what is interesting about Luke’s Sermon (in addition to his social slant) is that he declares blessings on those who are unfortunate, but doom on those who are fortunate—“Blessed are you who are poor,” but “woe to you who are rich”; “blessed are you who are hungry” but “woe to you who are full now”; “blessed are you who weep” but “woe to you who laugh now”. Luke’s Gospel, as I mentioned earlier, shows us unexpected twists at every turn. On every page of his Gospel, we see a reversal of fortunes, where those who are fortunate become those who are LESS fortunate; and those who are less fortunate become MORE fortunate.

Verses 36-50 of Luke 7 concern a sinful woman forgiven by Jesus. The woman is described as “a woman of the city, who was a sinner” (v.37). When she discovered that Jesus was sitting at the table of a Pharisee, she “bought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment” (v.38). This woman, what we would call “a woman of the night,” honors Jesus by wiping His feet with her tears and kissing His feet, not to mention anointing His feet. The Pharisee, who invited Jesus to his home, responds to the sinful woman’s actions: “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner” (v.39). The Pharisee saw this woman as something immoral, dirty, filthy, not worth his time—and similarly, believed that if Jesus really was who He claimed to be, He would have had nothing to do with her as well. She was the corrupt of society, and Pharisees (or good people) stayed away from such “wicked” influences. Jesus addresses him, telling him a story and then going for the jugular: “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (vv.44-47).

In response to the woman’s reverence of Christ, Jesus forgives her of her sins. Jesus promotes her at the table—yes, she who had no seat at it! However, those who had seats at the table were not praised; instead, they were told to learn something from this “woman of the night,” a woman whom the Pharisee (Simon) believed Jesus should have made no time for.

I will continue my study of Luke’s “reversal theme” in the next post. Finally, I will tie Luke’s reversal theme in with the egalitarian claim as well as Grudem’s response to show why I disagree with Grudem’s conclusion.

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