Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Kingdom Inclusion: Placing Gender On the Map. A Homily for 7.21.13 from LUKE 10:38-42, the 15th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for 7.21.13
LUKE 10:38-42
16th Sunday in 
Ordinary Time
Year C

(sorry for the late post)

The Lectionary reading for today from St. Luke’s Gospel brings to our attention what must be viewed as a most compelling description of the place of women and men in the Kingdom of GOD.

Of course, this pericope lends itself to the homiletic form, and as such has been preached as the contrast between the active and the contemplative lifestyle, as the definition of Jesus’ relationships with women, and the importance of focusing on the word of GOD as apposed to worrying with cooking and cleaning. And, while arguments could be made that would include each of these ideas in a homily, none of these touch what is really happening here, I think.

First, to get below the surface of the text we must remember that this story comes on the heals of last week’s drama known as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. There we learned that Jesus’ objective was to show the way to discover the truth of the Kingdom by understanding who is truly our neighbor.

That is, in this parable we learned, with the embrace of the Samaritan, that the Kingdom would include people not normally thought of as neighbors, that the Kingdom present in Jesus did not stop with Israel’s borders alone, but that, through the work of Israel -- and one Israeli in particular -- the Kingdom would eventually comprise the entire world. Another way to think of this is to interpret the holy land as not just some segment of land along the Mediterranean, but rather the entire world!

Or, said differently still, the destiny of the gentile nations would pivot on the fortune of Israel. As YHWH became King and renewed the true Israel, and as YHWH brought the true Israel forward into vindication by way of the new Exodus, the gentiles would see the magnificent and faithful work of YHWH, and desire to become part of this new people, this the newly restored human community. As such, Israel would then become what GOD desired all along -- a light to the nations and the salt of the earth, by being the faithful ones who birthed a new, true humanness.

Well, in today’s text we see this new humanness played out in technicolor, but this time it is not shown through the view of the hated Samaritans, but rather the socially separated gender. That is to say, through women.

Whatever else may be said about the relations between women and men in Jesus’ day, fraternizing between genders was not culturally acceptable. Men had the place of learning and the meeting room, women kept the heart-essence of the home. Both sexes were honorable and noble, but separation, except in the bedroom, was the accepted construct.

With this as the back drop the pericope displays the power of the conflict brought on by the Kingdom present in Jesus:
Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” 
Now, we know this village and we know these women, don’t we? Mary and Martha are the sisters of Lazarus, from the town of Bethany. This home and this community will become the scene of St. John’s most potent miracle depiction -- the resuscitation of Lazarus. These woman are well know to Jesus; they are friends, which is, after all, the point.

Notice the conflict as presented in the text. Martha’s anger, or annoyance, is directed at Jesus:
Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving
“Lord, do you care about me? Do you care that the place before you as a learner is not her place? Mary is not to be hearing your teaching where the men learn. Her place is to help me. Yet, you have let her stray from her place.”

Perhaps Martha’s point would have been more powerfully made had she allowed herself to sit right down beside Mary at the feet of the Master, then nothing would be done and no one would have eaten! But this response was perhaps was beyond her, even though the example was clearly before her.

The LORD’s response to the complaint is forceful:
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” 
This statement is both scolding and cryptic. Why rebuke Martha, she is in her place doing what she should do? Further, just what is the one thing that will not be taken from Mary?

Before us, I think, is Jesus’ primary concern about time, his time. That is, Jesus’ time is quickly fading. He continues to be driven to announce his message of the Kingdom everywhere so that small communities of Kingdom people will spring up everywhere. But, he surely knows that this message will soon culminate in his decisive trip to Jerusalem.

Remember, several weeks ago St. Luke told us:
As the time drew near for his return to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51) 
Therefore, choices must be made; lifestyles must be altered, social structures must be jettisoned. Those who had ears to hear the message of the Kingdom must put away all competing voices. It is is as if the LORD is saying:

There is actually but one thing that matters now, the promised Kingdom is coming, and the fact that you, Martha, aren’t ready, and the sad fact that you yet have no ears to hear doesn’t mean that Mary must stop her captivity to what absolutely matters -- the King and the Kingdom.

Clearly, this view astounds! The social structures must be bent toward the Kingdom and not the other way around. The implications from this are titanic. For example, both women and men have a place at the feet of the King and in the work of the Kingdom, which must take priority for all.

Here, we have indeed returned to the homily idea we opened several weeks ago:
Another said, "Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family." But Jesus told him, "Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God." (Luke 9:61-62)
Certainly, then, nothing must come between us and the Kingdom. Nothing must detour us from hearing the message of the King in our own day and sharing this message that Jesus is King, and then living it out in the open world. And this must include social roles and gender roles.

In fact, St. Paul drives this home when he wrote:
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal.3:28) 
Here we are reminded what we already know, both men and women are understood to be part of the new community who finds identity in the truly human person of Jesus Christ. Paul therefore asserts that race doesn’t divide, socio-economic level doesn’t divide and even gender doesn’t divide because in the Kingdom all become equal before the LORD.

Or, said differently, the Kingdom opens before the watching world the new community of both women and men. Here we have the new people founded in the new exodus. And, here we have the new humanity founded in Jesus’ victory of his cross, in the surprise of his resurrection, in the glory of the coronation of his ascension and in the promise of his future appearance.

Perhaps this is what St. Luke has in mind when he writes:
1 Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:1-3
Notice how we have the disciples and a group of women following after Jesus, learning from him and supporting the ministry. Jesus’ ministry extended to these women, and to Mary and Martha as well, who clearly were friends, sisters and helpers.

What does this mean for us? What are the “feet on the ground” implications from this text? Again, St. Paul compliments Jesus’ thoughts and reinforces them by helping understand gender in the Kingdom:
‘treat older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.’ (1 Tm. 5:2
That is, in the Kingdom – which is present in the person of the King -- relationships between men and women are that of immediate family. As fellow members of the new humanity -- comprised as it is of both men and women – the new community must moment by moment live out in reality the behavior of brothers and sisters. There must never be the taint of dishonor within the new humanity. There is no other way but purity here.

Likewise, there must be an understanding within the community of the equality of the genders. Particular fellowships will understand and assign different roles to members, but the moment that gender is used for division or repression, the fostering practices must be jettisoned and replaced with the abiding sister-brother construct.

LUKE 10:38-42
Jesus entered a village
where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary
who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said,
“Lord, do you not care
that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving?
Tell her to help me.”
The Lord said to her in reply,
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.
There is need of only one thing.
Mary has chosen the better part
and it will not be taken from her.”