Sunday, July 21, 2013

Jesus treated Mary as a disciple

Picture by Tinotretto - (thanks Wikipedia)
a BAD visual aid - see text
We went to Westminster Cathedral on Saturday evening since our daughter-in-law was singing, and then I went to St Paul's Hammersmith to my usual communion. In both cases we had Luke 10:38-42, Jesus and his disciples visiting the home of Martha and Mary.  As the AV has it Martha

had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

There is a really important detail here which is clear in the Greek but obscured by almost all the translations - though so much by the AV.  The it says:

Μαριάμ, ἣ καὶ παρακαθεσθεῖσα πρὸς τοὺς πόδας τοῦ Ἰησοῦ ἤκουεν τὸν λόγον αὐτοῦ.
(Mariam, hee kai parakathestheisa pros tous podas tou ieesou eekouev ton logon autou)

kathestheisa means "sat",  parakathestheisa means "sat alongside".  Disciples "sit at the feet of" their master - this is not an attitude of adoration or contemplation but instruction.  So the passage should be translated  "Mary, who also sat alongside [the other disciples] at the feet of Jesus listening to his word [being formally instructed by him]."

Sadly both traditionalist Catholics and Protestants have their own reasons for glossing over this. Consequently the NIV has "who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said" - the RSV has "who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching" (which isn't so bad) and the JB "who sat down at the Lord's feet and listened to him speaking".  Tom Wright is very good on this in his commentary:
"When Saul of Tarsus 'sat the feet of Gamaliel' (Acts 22.3), he wan't gazing up adoringly and thinking how wonderful the great rabbi was; he was listening and learning...To sit at someone's feet meant, quite simply, to be their student.  And to sit at the feet of a rabbi was what you did if you wanted to be a rabbi yourself."


Crude said...

Sadly both traditionalist Catholics and Protestants have their own reasons for glossing over this.

I think it's more the case that liberal protestants have their own reasons for reading way too much into this passage. You have to extrapolate pretty wildly here - way beyond the text - to get anywhere near the outcome you're considering. It's not 'traditionalist' Catholics, but 'orthodox Catholics, who actually are concerned with upholding Church teaching'. Those who really couldn't care less about such things are another thing altogether, sadly, at least on that subject.

Especially in light of what Saul of Tarsus had to say on these matters. It's one thing to have a different opinion, but implying that the people who believe in a male clergy are ignoring all the considerable and powerful evidence that Christ endorsed female clergy is about as tenable as people who insist that gay marriage and sodomy have Christ's seal of approval: not very much at all.

starcourse said...

Well clearly although Jesus treated her as a disciple here she didn't entirely share the experiences of the male apostles - it would have been impossible for a woman to go out in Jewish society proclaiming the gospel as freely as men (although the Woman of Samaria was the apostle to her community). However Mary Madgalene (who may have been the same Mary as this one, though I think probably wasn't) was chosen by Christ to be "Apostle to the apostles." and Mary was chosen to be the first person to feed the body of Christ in the most literal sense.

What St Paul says is that women may learn (as disciples) but "I will not allow a woman to teach or usurp authority over a man... she must remain silent" Clearly almost no-one holds that women should remain silent in church or should not teach - so it is hard to see what is clearly a temporary prohibition by Paul can be exalted to a permanent command