Biblical Women Reflecting His Image (part 4)

How could we talk about women of the Bible who have reflected God’s relational qualities, and not include Martha and Mary, the precious sisters of the New Testament who shared a special bond with Jesus. I am particularly fond of these two women for many reasons. One reason is because I see myself in both of them. At times I’m driven by loads of work that must be finished, the good things that must be completed, and serving Jesus becomes my overwhelming focus. At other times, I’m so delighted by Him, and so wrapped up in what He is saying and doing, that I can let everything else go, and feel complete, just resting in His presence. Another reason I love these two is because of the way they interact together. It reminds me of my sister and me. The close familial ties warm my heart and I can  identify with their situation. Finally, I love Mary and Martha because of the way they relate to Jesus and how He meets each of them personally and intimately at the heart of their need.

Mary was being completely counter-cultural to sit at Jesus’ feet when he came to her house for dinner. Women in that culture did not sit at a rabbi’s feet. The mere fact that Jesus didn’t shoo her off, is worthy of noting. Again, He demonstrated that His mission is not bound by culture, His message is not only for a select group that fits what would be considered appropriate by present social standards. And so Mary found herself among a bunch of men, hanging on Jesus’ every word.

Martha, likely found Mary’s brazen behavior embarrassing. So she did something counter cultural herself. She called down the teacher in front of the class. “Why don’t you do something? Can’t you see that my sister is out of place. She should be helping me. Don’t you care that she is being lazy and embarrassing me in the process?”

Jesus’ answer to Martha was a rebuke, but of the gentlest kind. He said her name, not once but twice, in the same way I might when I’m trying to speak peace to Roman’s troubled heart. And then he gave her this nugget of truth, “Only one thing is necessary; Mary has chosen it….”

What is the one thing? Relational presence. Mary wasn’t going to miss sitting with Jesus. Her relational heart beat with the desire to know Him and be known by Him. This drove her to lay aside cultural norms, to ignore her sister’s frantic gestures, and banging pots, and sit enraptured by Jesus’ presence.

What Jesus did not do is call either woman to account for their brazen, socially awkward behavior. He didn’t ask them to develop a bit more decorum. He did not suggest they tone down their emotions or expressiveness. This is important because often even in church culture, feminine responses to a situation are looked on as emotionally driven, and therefore to be disregarded. But that is not what Jesus implied in this interaction.

A few chapters later when Lazarus had died, four days before Jesus arrived, Martha ran out to meet him, and her approach was equally brazen. “Oh, Jesus, where were you? Don’t you know you could have stopped this terrible tragedy if only you’d been here?” she exclaimed. Again, Jesus did not try to  simply calm her down by correcting her theology. Instead he met her in the midst of her grief with assurance of His power, authority and mostly His love. Mary too ran to Jesus and brokenly expressed her disappointment that He hadn’t come sooner. He did not rebuke either woman for their grief or emotionally charged questions. Instead he cried. And then he said something completely socially awkward, “Remove the stone,” to which Martha (not surprisingly) strongly objected. “Oh, Lord, you can’t mean that. Everyone will smell the stench of our brother’s rotting flesh.” How embarrassing would that be?

The pinnacle of Jesus’ miraculous ministry was wrought on behalf of two women in the presence of  friends and neighbors, in the midst of emotional wreckage. Lazarus is raised! The obvious miracle is the conquering of death. The less-obvious one is the conquering of social quid-pro-quot and relational restoration. Jesus reached into the lives of Mary and Martha and loved them intimately and personally.  These two women shout to me the beauty of His relational image.

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