Is the devotion of Mary better than the service of Martha in Luke 10?

The short stories told by and about Jesus in the gospels are both attractive and challenging. They are attractive because they are easily memorable (and there is a basic neuroscientific connection between story and memory), because even in their compressed retelling they include compelling characters, and because we are drawn to Jesus’ pithy summaries of what we are to learn from these narratives (‘Go thou and do likewise’, ‘Mary has chosen the better part’ and so on). Yet they are also problematic, since the stories are set in a culture that has, in many respects, a different outlook from ours and a different set of values, and the lessons are often implicit rather than explicit. This means that we can easily misinterpret what is being said; we can get locked into a tradition of interpretation which isn’t actually faithful to the text; and we can use the story to suit our own agenda. (I read a sermon last week on the Parable of the ‘Good’ Samaritan, and it turned out that the point of the narrative was to be inclusive and liberal, rather than being like those unpleasant narrow biblical scholars; you might be able to infer from that the beliefs of the preacher!).

This is especially true of the lectionary gospel reading for Trinity 5 in Year C, the very short narrative of Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha. The Wikipedia entry on this story nicely summarises the dominant interpretive tradition:

Mary chose listening to the teachings of Jesus over helping her sister prepare food. Jesus responded that she was right because only one thing is needed, “one thing” apparently meaning listening to the teachings of Jesus… To simplify, this is frequently interpreted as spiritual values being more important than material business, such as preparation of food.

There are many practical problems with this reading (who is going to move the chairs and tables after the Sunday service?) as well as personal ones (can I really justify my laziness by saying I was listening to Jesus?) and there has been some push back against this idea, one of the most interesting being Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Sons of Martha‘ which celebrates those engaged in practical service, which concludes:

And the Sons of Mary smile and are blessed — they know the angels are on their side.
They know in them is the Grace confessed, and for them are the Mercies multiplied.
They sit at the Feet — they hear the Word — they see how truly the Promise Runs:
They have cast their burden upon the Lord, and — the Lord He lays it on Martha’s Sons.

Moreover, there is good research evidence which shows that Christians both feel they are expressing their faith most clearly when involved in practical action, and that this helps them learn and grow as disciples.

And Joel Green, in his NIC Commentary on Luke (p 433) rejects this tradition, since ‘the interests of this brief narrative unit lie elsewhere’ and Luke’s narrative is ‘manifestly concerned with the motif of hospitality’. There are, in fact, textual, contextual, and canonical reasons for reading the text differently.

The passage begins with ‘Now, as they went on their way…’. We need to infer who ‘they’ are, and some ETs (such as TNIV) make this explicit (‘Jesus and his disciples’) even though Luke’s text does not specify this. The idea of being ‘on the way’ is typical of this long section of Luke’s gospel, until the entrance into Jerusalem on Cloak Sunday (no palms in Luke!) and connects back to the beginning of this material in Luke 9.51. But there is also a connection with the preceding episode about the Good Samaritan, where the practical context was the danger of journeying and the importance of help and hospitality.

As is typical of many gospel stories, the disciples rapidly disappear from view as ‘he [ETs supply ‘Jesus’] entered a certain village.’ We know from John 11.1 that this village was Bethany, which is near Jerusalem, and there is no reason to think that Luke’s and John’s descriptions of Mary and Martha and their household are distinct, contradictory or imagined. The different characterisations of the two sisters in the quite different episodes actually correlate well. Neither is there any need to be concerned about the selective nature of each story (where is Lazarus in this account?), since we know that each gospel writer is highly selective in what they recount (why does only Luke tell the story of the raising of the widows’ son in Nain?). But what is clear is that Luke is taking this event out of order; we are a long way from Jerusalem in Luke’s narrative of ‘the Way’, and yet Bethany is only a couple of miles from Jerusalem. For Luke, the controlling theme is questions of discipleship, rather than an interest in chronology. The idea of ‘entering a village’ whilst involved in the proclamation of the kingdom is reminiscent of the sending of the 12 and the 72 in Luke 9.6 and Luke 10.8.

The name ‘Martha’ comes from the Aramaic marah meaning ‘mistress’ or ‘lady’, and is the feminine form of the term mar meaning ‘Master’ or ‘Lord’, as in maranatha (‘Our Lord, come!’ 1 Cor 16.22). It is therefore not surprising that she is mentioned first, before the much more common name of Mary (I think Richard Bauckham suggests that about 25% of women that we know of in the first century were called ‘Mary’, Miriam). As would be expected in this culture, welcome and hospitality comes at the initiative of the one doing the welcoming, rather (as we might assume) in response to the initiative of the one seeking hospitality. Luke here uses an almost technical term for ‘welcome’, one that recurs when Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus into his home in Luke 19.6. Martha here is functioning as the ‘person of peace’ (Luke 10.6) in receiving Jesus in this way. Luke has a particular interest in hospitality, as we have already seen in Luke 7.36; it occurs frequently in Acts, where hospitality and the welcoming of others into the home is not only a normal part of culture, but is also the way that the gospel spreads and grows.

Martha’s sister Mary is introduced abruptly, and in ‘sitting at [Jesus’] feet’ she is adopting the posture of a disciple in relation to a rabbi; being seated is the traditional Jewish posture for teaching (Matt 5.1–2), hence bishops having ‘cathedrals’ name after the kathedra, the seat from which they teach. Although this is not completely without precedent, it contradicts the normal first century Jewish expectations of the role of women; they would learn the Torah in relation to their domestic roles, but that learning would usually come through other women, in particular, their mother. Jesus welcome of women as well as men into the circle of his disciples is distinctive and counter-cultural; it is a feature of Luke (who emphasises the role of women, see Luke 8.1–3 and the role of Priscilla in Acts 18) but it is also found in the other gospels, most notably Jesus’ description of ‘his brothers and sisters‘ as those who listen to his teaching and obey it in Matt 12.50.

Jesus is referred to three times as ‘Lord’ (in verses 39, 40 and 41); again, this is a distinctive of Luke and has important Christological implications, since the term is not simply one of respect (‘Sir’) but implies that Jesus’ teaching is the teaching of God which must be heard and obeyed. The contrast is commonly inferred between Mary’s listening and Martha’s activity in offering practical hospitality, but that is not really the contrast that Luke is pointing us to. After all, in the preceding parable, Jesus has emphasised the importance of practical care as the test of love of God and neighbour. And in the text, the issue is not the activity so much as the focus. Luke tells us that Martha is ‘distracted’ and Jesus observes that she is ‘anxious and troubled’, and we can begin to see why in her request. Her concern is with ‘me’—’Mary has left me…tell her to help me‘—rather than her focus being in attending to her guest, Jesus. The real contrast here is between distraction caused by the ‘many’ rather than focus on the ‘one’.

Mikeal Parsons (Paideia Commentary on Luke, pp 182–3) notes:

It is difficult too imagine that the authorial audience would understand Jesus’ praise of Mary to be an implicit criticism of Martha’s hospitality, a point underscored by the repetition of Martha’s name..a rhetorical device used to indicate compassion or pity…

The saying is less a condemnation of Martha’s frenzied activity and more a commendation of Mary’s posture as a disciple.

And Joel Green concurs (pp 434, 437):

The welcome Jesus seeks is not epitomised in distracted, worrisome domestic performance, but in attending to this guest whose very presence is a disclosure of the divine plan…

With Jesus’ presence the world is being reconstituted, with the result that (1) Mary (and with her, those of low status accustomed to living on the margins of society) need no longer be defined by socially determined roles; and, more importantly in this co-text (2) Mary and Martha (and, with them, all) must understand nd act on the priority of attending to the guest before them, extending to Jesus and his messengers the sort of welcome in which the authentic hearing of discipleship is integral.

There is a rather nice reflection on the consequences of this on the Catholic website Aleteia:

So how will I treat Jesus when he sits at my table this holiday?  Will I ignore him in favor of basting the turkey?

I hope not. I hope to sit down and take in his beautiful face. I hope to spoon him the mashed potatoes that have been sitting in my crockpot since that morning because even if I’m not a natural Martha or Mary, I’m faking it all the way. Of course, “Mary chose the better part when she chose [Christ]” but since I want food on the table when my guests arrive I’ll agree with Cardinal Anastasio Ballestrero, the former archbishop of Turin:  “In our house there is room for Martha and room for Mary, and we must occupy both places. We must be Mary because we are welcoming the Word, and we must be Martha because we are receiving the Son of Man.”

So the chairs and tables do still need putting away, and the practical help of neighbour needs to be done—but they all need to focus on the One in whose name we do them.

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52 thoughts on “Is the devotion of Mary better than the service of Martha in Luke 10?”

  1. Thanks Ian… we must be both Martha and Mary. I like that. I understand the reluctance to see any criticism of Martha in ‘Mary has chosen the good portion which shall not be taken away from her’ but to my mind it’s hard to resist the conclusion that here Jesus is urging learning from him. Martha is distracted by many things but has need of one; it seems this one is listening to Jesus. Having said that I enjoyed the Cardinal’s words ‘ “In our house there is room for Martha and room for Mary, and we must occupy both places. We must be Mary because we are welcoming the Word, and we must be Martha because we are receiving the Son of Man.”

    Mary’s taking a disciple position at Jesus’ feet does point to Jesus’ desire for both male and female to be students of his word. As someone who supports patriarchy (in a form that seems appropriate to our culture) I nevertheless see the central place women have in the history of the early church.

  2. It may be perhaps that there is a reminder of the distinction between the food which is temporary versus that which endures forever. This is a theme that we often find in the gospels.

    Women being elevated to a position of greater prominence under the new covenant is exactly what we would expect to find, since the new covenant is the ‘bridal’ fruition of the old. Luke in particular highlights the presence of women both at the birth and at the death and resurrection of Christ, linking the two events and portraying the resurrection as a kind of new birth.

    Of course, this all exists alongside the continuation of a hierarchy; Jesus still chooses twelve male apostles to lead the church and this gives a continued ‘patriarchal’ foundation to the new covenant. Yet the elevation of women is not without significance in this scheme. Both kinds of symbolism exist alongside one another.

    • Chris, I am with you when you affirm “the new covenant is the ‘bridal fruition’ of the old”. However, given the recent debates on this blogsite, how would you reconcile your assertion re “women being *elevated* to a position of greater prominence” with your affirmation of a *hierarchical and partiarchal foundation*; and how, in real terms, do the two actually “exist alongside”?
      While being broadly in sympathy with your final paragraph, I am not so sure that John Thompson’s appeal to a New Testament “tension”, though possibly an adequate description of NT teaching, hardly does justice to the realities of contemporary Christian life and witness.

      • Colin,

        I’m not aware of these “recent debates”? I may not have been involved in them, though I do comment from time to time. Was that on the “translation of man” article?

        You seem to agree that there is a tension since you describe it as “adequate” even if you don’t think it’s sufficient. I don’t have all the details worked out, but I do think certain societal roles should be closed off to women, particularly those involving the exercise of violence. And certain roles should be closed off to men, especially those involving the process of childbirth. That would best symbolise and reinforce the importance of the complementarity of the sexes in a way fitting with the biblical pattern. It also happens to be consistent with virtually all cultures throughout history.

        • Chris, I had in mind “Spoiling the beautiful difference” (June 24th) and with specific reference to the contentious issues invloving “complimentarity” and “egalitarianism”.

  3. PS. I can see that women would learn through their mother or other women but would they not also learn through the priest and their local synagogue where men would be teaching?

    The reversal of approved roles perhaps feeds into Luke’s reversals reversal of expectations theme.

    • In OT terms, young children would have learnt at home. In the second temple period there was the development, not only of the synagogue but of education outside of the home in a beth midrash – for boys only I think. I have read that younger boys would learn the Torah by heart.

      However, there is a world of difference between this kind of instruction and that of an adult being a disciple of a rabbi. It seems akin to tertiary education today. It is very significant that Mary was permitted by one who was a rabbi (and more) to sit at his feet.

  4. “Mary has chosen the good portion” echoes the OT passages where the greates possession is close fellowship with the Lord as one’s “portion” in life…and it “will not be taken away from her” neither now,..nor for all eternity”
    ESV Study Bible- Luke – scholars Grudem and Schreiner

    And for those who will not take any notice of either of those scholars, one/ both note this:
    “Who sat at the Lord’s feet”..a disciple’s proper place; unlike some in his culture, Jesus encouraged women to study the scriptures.”

    As an aside, though the passage in context may not be conducive to this idea, would it not be ysual for a host to have prepared before hand for a guest? But it seems that Jesus could see through the immediate distraction of Martha, to the root, underlying, cause, with double emphasis, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things but…”

  5. Luke 8:3
    Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

    Reading between the lines it seems the women had the logistics well and truly catered for. It seems odd then that Martha was unprepared. All this was probably going on without the men even being aware that all their comforts didn’t just miraculously appear wherever they turned up. The women had planned ahead, moved supplies up, got the guest rooms ready. I wonder if the men even noticed? I expect they just grumbled when they saw a woman doing nothing, sitting around and insinuated that Martha should get a grip; whatever would happen if the patriarchy came into disrepute?

    • Yes – just bad planning. I do the cooking n our home and I.always keep some back up ready meals in the freezer just in a case the Messiah and a dozen or more large disciples turn up unexpectedly. I have not got caught out yet.

      • David,
        You clearly don’t have the domestic godess organising ability of a great aunt, who always had some food at the ready for anyone who may drop by. And who wouldn’t thank you for help in putting it out, serving, who took delight in it.

  6. Sometimes we need to live with the discomfort of a passage that we either struggle to comprehend fully, or which – it seems – is more alien than we like, whether alien to our culture, our susceptibilities, to other scriptural texts, more difficult too accept in its fulness.
    Within the tradition texts do get adapted – as Ian says, this is brought forward – still “far” from Jerusalem – and it is not clear quite how Luke envisages the connection to preceding sections, or to chapter 11. The history of the text suggests that this was a problematic text from early on, so we should not be surprised if we too struggle to make full sense of it.
    How do we read this passage along with the insights from John 11 and 12 where the two sisters are again centre-stage.
    Some consider the passage is coded to the early church, and disputes there, whether about service / diakonia, or about listening / teaching roles.
    Is Martha the senior sister, it seems to be her home (also in John)? Does that make Mary vulnerable?
    Should portion and serving be taken primarily literally, or as replete with double meanings, or primarily as metaphorical and spiritual?
    To what extent does Jesus’ approval of what Mary has chosen, imply disapproval of Martha, or only disapproval of her getting Jesus to reprove her sister; as Ian highlights, if Jesus is challenging Martha’s business, what exactly is it that is in focus? – cooking too many dishes (when one would do), becoming anxious and burdened in what she is doing (maybe clattering noises off stage), or actually doing stuff that was not so important (just make a sandwich and come and sit down!).
    Luke’s is the gospel of hospitality; the disciples have been told to accept hospitality in whatever house they enter. There is no obvious connection to the preceding incident with the lawyer who wishes to justify himself.
    In a church where people are more ready to make tea and coffee than pray, this might become a clobber text. Having been made most welcome at an Eid party this weekend by Syrian friends and received warm and generous hospitality, I am reminded again taht Middle Eastern hospitality is so often far more generous than the average Westerner.
    I confess I find this passage puzzling; I agree that there is space for Martha’s and for Mary’s in our churches and both have commendable attributes, but I don’t think that is what these verses are pointing to.

    And when the meal was over and Jesus had gone, what sort of conversation did Mary and Martha have?

    One thing this passage does illustrate, though it is not the primary point of it, is how people triangle when they want to complain. Martha goes to Jesus to get him to tell Mary .. when it could so easily have been “Mary, could you possibly give me a hand please..” Roundabout criticising is something that still goes on in the church and families and communities today.

  7. As a hermeneutical context, let there be some consideration of what the passage says about the person of Jesus, who he is>
    This is from Richard B Hays, Reading Backwards:
    “I would hazard the following conclusion: the *low* Christology that modern NT criticism has perceived in Luke’s Gospel is an artificial construction that can be achieved only by ignoring – or suppressing- the hermeneutical relevance of the powerful Old Testament allusions in Luke’s story. It is therefore precisely by attending to the Old Testament intertexts in Luke’s Gospel that we gain a deeper and firmer grasp of the theological coherence between Luke’s narrative testimony and what the church’s dogmatic tradition has classically affirmed about the identity of Jesus.”

    Hays again, “…Luke regularly weaves together different strands of material and that no one image identifying Jesus should be understood as exclusive of others…the effect is to suggest that Jesus status as Son entails some sort of identity both with God and with Israel/humanity,”

    Set within the arc described by Hays, the centrifugal force of Jesus statement about Mary, to Martha, as it echoes the OT (see earlier comment) carries an overwhelming significance and substance.

    Jesus is God’s portion, his people long for, desire, crave above all else.
    Do we?

  8. I think we should read this story not in isolation but as part of a series from 10:1 to 11:36 that focuses on the essentials of discipleship, i.e.: evangelism (sending out the 72); good deeds (the good Samaritan); reading God’s word (Mary and Martha); prayer (the Lord’s prayer); and exorcism (Jesus and Beelzebub). Thus, this story serves simply to remind us that reading God’s word is an important Christian discipline. I proposed this in my ThM thesis “Is There a Structure to Luke’s Travel Narrative?” which I condensed into an ebook, if anyone is interested.

  9. “To be both dutiful and dissenting at once, as Martha seems to be, is to open a dialogue on just what is demanded of Martha and of discipleship more generally. To let Martha’s emotions remain negative without redeeming them into secretly happy moods, is in fact to feel our way toward different readings and hearings. It is to open ourselves and Jesus up to a hearing of Martha’s lament such that we can affirm that from within her knowledge of life and her material attention to the things of this world we find righteous reasons to be angry. It is, therefore, not just that Martha is tied to the material, but more so that she is worried for and pissed at the matter at hand that makes her a theologically potent member of an archive of affect alienation.”

    Karen Bray, ‘Grave Attending: a Political Theology for the Unredeemed’.

  10. “…to open…Jesus up to a hearing of Martha lament..”?
    Jesus did hear Martha’s beef?
    So does Jesus let Martha stew in her distracted grievance, of her own making?
    Or does he correct her? How so?
    Is Martha corrected? Her emotions redeemed? Yes, if she took on board what he said. Or does she continue to stew in her greivance against Mary?
    In her own self righteousness?
    There is no indication that Mary helped out?
    Was Martha’s self-righteousness, her distraction about many things? unredeemed?

    That seems like a sociological/ psychological/ political
    essay looking for somwhere to plug into scripture with a tenuous hold nor a careful reading of the text, it seems to me.
    Not something I want to spend time listening to in a Sunday sermon.
    Maybe it would fit into a new nationally proclaimed, Grievance Sunday. Or Self -Righteous Sunday.

  11. ‘ but more so that she is worried for and pissed at the matter at hand that makes her a theologically potent member of an archive of affect alienation.”

    I try to be generous about language but I wonder if ‘pissed’ is an appropriate word for a professing believer to use – someone writing as a Christian theologian.

    • `August brings more fog and mist;
      Makes you feel like getting drunk’

      (Scotland the What – song about the Aberdeen weather).

      Yes – I agree. Normal people avoid using such vulgar vocabulary items – it looks particularly trashy and down-market coming from a `Christian’ theologian.

    • An expression of unredeemed language, perhaps?
      Maybe it is an instance of, out of the adundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. Even to the extent of committing to writing, unedited, it is not transient.

      • …. well, the author (judging by the title) seems to be proud of the fact that she is `unredeemed’.

        Normal people do avoid such language.

        • Oh, do get over yourselves chaps.
          Normal people, Chrsitians, and even theologians, use such ‘language’.
          So did St Paul.
          So stop with the priggishness and attend to the theological point Bray is making.

          • Have done so.
            It is thread bare article that bares little relation to the text. It certainly seems the writer bandies around language of redemption without content, substance, without displaying even a smidgen of understanding of the whole life transformation of
            redemption and of sanctification.

            It seems that you find some virtue in seeking to belittle both redemption and sanctification.

            It is preposterous to write that Jesus needs to be opened up to hearing Martha’s lament! That’s telling him! That is somewhat revealing of some of the author’s theilogy, I’d suggest.

          • Penelope. I share your frustration. The responses here to your post are high handed, dismissive and simply gratuitously rude in places. No need for any of it. I thought we evangelicals had a love and concern for the ‘lost’. But I have to confess I am struggling to grasp Karen Bray’s point. My problem I’m sure.

  12. David

    I think she means that we should be attentive to Martha’s anger rather than eliding it in the ‘better part’ of Mary’s choice. That we should listen to her dissent and anger. That is one of the the themes of her book – that we listen to the dissent, lament and alienation of those unredeemed by the neo liberal solutionism of the Church. She writes about the queer temporality of Holy Saturday, using Von Balthasar. It’s an interesting work.


    It’s not an article. It’s a book.

    • Penelope – nobody is redeemed by the `neo liberal solutionism of the Church’ (whatever that means). We are redeemed by the blood of the lamb.

      Are you redeemed by the blood of the lamb? Do you know (as a fact) that you are going to heaven when you pass from this life to the next? Matthew 7:7 `Knock and the door will be opened unto you.’

      That’s what it is all about.

      • The abstract is far from a recommendation; an infiltrated distraction more like, that reveals a lack of care in reading the text of scripture and possibly an underlying theology relating to the person of Jesus. Neither is the obtuse reference to “queering of Holy Saturday.”
        Thanks for the heads up!

        • I perceive that there is an underlying assumption in Bray’s abstract, and it is something the passage of scripture does not address? The assumption is that Martha did not herself sit at the feet of Jesus after what seems to be a corrective invitation by Jesus to sit at his feet, also. Anger assuaged, pacified by coming to Jesus, the warm welcome by God
          So did she or didn’t she?
          Either way, the silence of scripture, in this instance, is not a platform for the launch of a criticism of Jesus. Nor the theme on which the author has embarked.
          There are other scriptures that consider anger, anxiety.

        • It’s not an ‘obscure reference’; it alludes to the Roman Catholic theologian von Balthasar’s understanding of Holy Saturday as a Wordless space, since Christ was dead, there was, as yet, no resurrection and Christ is the furthest He can be from the Father’s love. It is a time of dissent, mourning, liminality, abjection, abnegation. It is a space for those who feel unredeemed (by the Church note, not by God; so stop jumping to facile conclusions).
          Judging a book by one arresting extract about being pissed, sorry fed up, that you’re providing food for Jesus and his entourage says an awful lot about the limits of they theological reflections of those commenting here. It is not that you disagree with Bray – though you haven’t read her – but that you’re so prissy. Don’t read any Luther. He will really shock you.

          • How much space does Scripture give to the Saturday when Jesus was in the grave? Does it build any kind of theology upon it?

          • Primarily it is not sbout the language. It’s the theology revealed by it as has been pointed out more than once which you seem to trouble responding to the points made.
            What does “queering” Holy Saturday actually mean?
            And I am aware of Luther’s language, thanks. From someone whose language was redeemed following conversion to Christ as a late midult. But that is an aside to my main critique of the abstract.

          • Geoff

            I’ve told you what Bray means by the queer temporarility of Holy Saturday – it’s a time of lament and abjection. Or do you not think the death of our Saviour is theologically important in our salvation?
            Luther was always a Christian. And his salty language didn’t change when he read Romans!

          • Penelope

            My point is it is unwise to build a theological edifice where Scripture doesn’t do so.

          • Penelope

            Incidentally I doubt if it is true that in the grave on Saturday Christ was furthest from the Father’s love. It was on the cross that Jesus was forsaken and not in the grave. At the point of death he said ‘Father into your hands I commend my spirit’. Firstly, note he once again knows God as Father – the distance has gone. He securely hands his death into the hands of his Father.

            To the thief on the cross he says, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’. It seems that in death Christ’s spirit/soul went to paradise.

            The theology Bray expresses is built on sinking sands.

          • Penelope – what does `feel unredeemed by the Church’ mean?

            Because The Church does not redeem people; that is not its function. People are redeemed by the blood of Christ – by what He did in the crucifixion and resurrection.

            `Unredeemed’ isn’t a word I find in any dictionary – so I don’t know if you mean `not redeemed’ or `formerly redeemed, but no longer redeemed’. By people who `feel unredeemed by the Church’ do you mean people who know that they were redeemed by the blood of the lamb – but feel that then somehow the Church took this away from them? (and if so – how?) Or do you mean mean that the Church is supposed to redeem people, but it didn’t do so?

            I simply don’t understand the terminology – or what the author is on about.

            Of vital importance, Penelope – are you redeemed by the blood of the lamb? Do you know (as a fact) that you are going to heaven when you pass from this life to the next? Knock and the door will be opened.

          • Jock. Your continued discussion is with Penelope. But I am puzzled by your claim that ‘unredeemed’ is not word in the dictionary. A quick search and I find it in every major online dictionary.

          • David – ah ha – OK – thanks. Well, showing my ignorance – I had never heard of it.

            According to the dictionary, it means `not redeemed’ (in the sense of redeeming a voucher from a shop) – but that surely isn’t the meaning in this discussion.

            The main point remains – it isn’t the job of the Church to redeem people; Jesus did that. I wasn’t redeemed by any Church – I was redeemed by the blood of the lamb.

            How about you, David? Do you know that you are going to heaven when you pass from this life to the next? Since you describe yourself as `evangelical’, the answer is presumably `yes’. And what makes you sure of this?

          • John

            You should take that up with centuries of Jewish and Christian dialogue with scripture, rather than with me. Indeed, theology is simply that dialogue with God and with scripture, and scripture itself is a dialogue with God.

            As, for Christ’s distnaxce from God, we can, of course, quibble with Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday, but it seems to me convincing that, after giving His Spririt into His Father’s hands, Christ was truly alone and abandoned in the grave. If we anticipate the resurrection proleptically, we are losing the desolation of Jesus’ death and the meaning and miracle of Easter. (Other theologies of Holy Saturday are available – such as Christus Victor and the Harrowing of Hell.)

        • PC1 – well, if it really does depend on subsequent behaviour, then we’re all lost.
          ‘For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.’ (Romans 7:22-24)

  13. Interestingly Jesus does not indulge Martha’s frustration. He’s gentle but defends Mary. She has chosen the better portion – to learn from him.


    Don’t you think Bray is overthinking. In fact, I don’t know what she means by ‘ archive of affect alienation.’

    I think we should listen to dissent, lament and alienation of the unredeemed (I’ll leave neo liberal solutionism out for I don’t know what this means). But we must evaluate its truth. Those outside are not always right.

    You will not agree but the gospel is simple it is to trust in Jesus as Saviour and make him Lord of your life following him.

  14. For me, Mary knew Jesus loved her by allowing her to sit at his feet unlike the custom of rabbis of the day. She knew she was loved and is a picture of the Christian standing with the Lord.
    Martha is a picture of religion, trying to get Jesus’ approval. Hence the anger of religion faced with people of faith.
    Same issue of the OT siblings Abel and Cain. Abel knew God loved him. Cain didn’t. Hence the anger.

  15. Jock,
    Not sure where this will appear in the sequesnse of comments, but an illustration from land law/ property may assist if not pressed too far.
    If land is bought with a mortgage (and it may be worth looking up the etymology of the word) the land in effect belongs to the mortgagor, until the mortgage is redeemed, paid -off.
    When the land is sold by the mortgagee the redemption price has to be paid to free the property from the mortgage, debt so that the land is unencumbered for the new owner.
    In a conveyancing transaction, the redemption price is paid by the new buyer, owner.

    And that opens up a whole theological discussion! Far from the present scripture under consideration.

    • Geoff – thanks for this!

      ….. far from the discussion of Mary and Martha – which is an important discussion, nevertheless the discussion about redemption, really is vital – at the very heart of the faith.

      • It is indeed at the heart of Christianity. It is one reason that I think that, without more discussion or definition, the word was misused, or misappropriated in Bray’s abstract.

        • It’s not an abstract. It’s a quotation from a chapter in her book. It is not, therefore, her entire argument. When you have read the book, or at least a couple of chapters, you can disagree with her theology – I don’t agree with everything in the book. Some of her arguments are more convincing than others.
          Otherwise, you’re just making yourself look very foolish (and not in a good way).

          • I have confined my comments to what you cited. You have yet to make any substantive comment on my cumulative critique of Bray’s citation.
            I have no interest in the book, thank you.

          • Penelope – you have read her – you don’t agree with everything in the book – but presumably you have some understanding of what she is trying to say. If you could give your opinion of what she means by `unredeemed by the … Church’.

            You have already understood where this causes alarm bells to go off – since a priori it looks like an irregular use of a term that seems to have a well defined Scriptural meaning.

            I’m not asking you to agree with her – I’m just asking you to explain what she means.

            My apologies for the tone of earlier comments – Bray did comment on the Martha – Mary story; this is therefore relevant for the thread; we should probably be exposed to a wider range of opinions – even if we may conclude (after due consideration) that these opinions are `off the wall’.

          • Hi Jock

            I apologise. Unredeemed by the church (as if the church was the redeemer) is my mistake, not Bray’s.
            What I should have said is that the church – in its pursuit of neo-liberal solutions to deliver, growth, progress, success, leaves beind those who are ‘unredeemed’ (that is, left behind) by these neo-liberal models (and by the church’s reading of texts like the Martha and Mary story). These groups would include, for instance, the disabled (interesting speech on this at the latest General Synod) who often feel left behind and ignored by the churches. And those bullied, victims of sexual abuse etc.
            I hope this makes more sense.

          • Penelope – in haste – yes – this does make some sense – and thanks for replying. It brings up important issues.

            I’ve been on holiday (and now have to catch up on work) – and by now this thread is deceased – so we can probably continue this discussion later. It would probably fit well into the `crumple zone’ thread.

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