FR MICHAEL’S THOUGHT ON BIBLICAL IMAGERY
(Fr. Michael Boakye Yeboah, Vice Rector: St Gregory Seminary, Kumasi-Ghana)
MARTHA’S HOUSE (LUKE 10:38-42)
[HOUSE OF GOD; LITURGY OF THE WORD AND THE LITURGY OF THE EUCHARIST]
I see an image of a household of God who welcomes Jesus to lead in a Liturgical celebration. I see an image of a new rite which seems unique from the Jewish rite of Passover. I will like to share with you my thoughts on this beautiful Gospel passage of the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
Luke presents us with a biblical imagery that depicts typically First Century household Church. The household of Martha has her brother Lazarus, and her sister Mary as the principal residents. In Jewish custom the man in the house normally welcomes a Rabbi or teacher to their home while the women preoccupy themselves with other household chores. Luke presents an image of hospitality that seem odd in Judaism but important in Christian fellowship. It is not Lazarus or any male figure in the household who welcomes Jesus, but Martha. Luke is known for his inclusiveness approach in his Gospel account and so the image of Martha welcoming a Rabbi to her household may nuance the new place of women in Christian fellowship. In Judaism women may not have that privilege that Luke portrays for them in his Gospel account.
The next image in the pericope is Jesus taking a seat to teach God’s Word. Mary’s place at the Lord’s feet, can be likened to a Rabbinic School, where teachers take their seats and teach while their students/listeners sit at their feet. A similar story is told of Paul and his great teacher Gamaliel. Within Jewish context, Mary’s sitting at Jesus’ feet may represent a Rabbinic School, but in Christian context, we can liken it to the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word. Here also Luke paints a picture of inclusiveness because sitting at a Rabbi’s feet to learn was a reserve for Jewish males that is why Martha may have complained because the rightful place of Mary was at the kitchen. Luke presumably situates Mary at the feet of Jesus to portray women’s inclusiveness in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word. In the Liturgy of the Word, a place is given to women and the Lord declares, let it not be taken away from them. In the Christian Assembly, women are not pushed far away like the divisions in the Jewish Temple but they are also given a place at the Lord’s feet to learn like their male counterparts.
Before Luke sets off to describe how Jesus taught and Mary listened, the inspired writer gives us a scenery of the whole event. The whole event happened in a village setting and the term village holds figurative importance. Villages and countryside are ideals locations for the setting up of a monastery because it is characterized by its serene and silent atmosphere. It is within this atmosphere that effective listening of God’s Word can take place devoid of any distractions. It may have been within this context that the Teacher did not want Martha’s distraction. In the modern world silence has practically ceased to exist. The human race has stamped its authority over the planet earth not just by covering its surface with concrete and destroying its plant and animal life, but also by burying the natural sounds of the earth beneath a cacophony of man-made noise. The noisy world has catch up with most monasteries and churches but that does not mean that we cannot make our churches conducive places for one to listen to God’s Word. It was within this background that Saint Bernard enriched the whole of Europe with silent monasteries. He once said: “The oak trees of the forest have been my masters of prayer. Silence is the great master. It speaks to the human heart. Silence is not an empty void; God dwells therein.”
The image of sitting at the Lord’s feet calls for silence and that village at Bethany provided the right atmosphere for the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word. Our churches should have the character of the serene village atmosphere of Bethany. During the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word no room should be given to any form of distraction (even if it is the preparation for table fellowship).
People should not misunderstand Jesus’ words to Martha to mean that He disapproved her dutifulness in preparing the meals for table fellowship. The Liturgy of the Word holds the same significance as the Liturgy of the Eucharist. And so, the preparation for the table fellowship should not be used as an excuse for one to distract those who partake in the Liturgy of the Word. I will like to think that Jesus wouldn’t have mind if Martha had taken part in the Liturgy of the Word then after, she and Mary would have gone to prepare for the table fellowship.
I see the whole Lukan pericope as a biblical imagery of a new form of the Passover celebration which in Christian context is the celebration of the Holy Mass. This interpretation can never be used for advocates for women ordination, because there are other ministries in Liturgical celebrations that women can play significant roles (Lectors and Extraordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist).