Contributed by Aubrey Sampson
It was the first time I had ever taught in “big church.” The first service seemed to go well, and I was excited for the second one to begin. But in between services I ran to the water fountain and overheard this conversation:
Woman: “I am so excited that a woman is preaching today.”
Man: “Umm…She isn’t preaching. She is sharing.”
In the years that followed, as I began to book more and more speaking engagements, I was afraid to say the words aloud—I am preparing to preach a sermon. In fact, when asked about the speaking I was doing, I would tiptoe around the topic by explaining that I was merely teaching a lesson or preparing to give a word of encouragement.
I shrouded my calling in semantics.
This ongoing conversation about women in leadership, especially in preaching, has become more welcoming and graceful recently, and for that I am truly grateful. But at times it still tends to borderline on the absurd.
Here are a few things I have been told over the years:
“You can read the bible passage, but please do not comment on it.”
“You can be up front a few times a year; any more than that, the people might think you have authority.”
“The pulpit is a sacred space.” (Subtext: my feminine voice would defile it.)
And my personal favorite: “Wow. You were really emotional up there. Are you on your period?”
I’m sensitive to the fact that there are great theologians and pastors (some of whom I adore) who are truly concerned with following the Scriptures well, and they just aren’t quite comfortable allowing a woman to teach, yet.
But I’ve also heard enough theologians and pastors tell me that I should probably be more like Mary in Luke 10—quiet, contemplative, and content to sit at the feet of Jesus—rather than called to stand behind a podium. And while I know it’s not a great theological argument, frankly, I get annoyed with that version of Perfect Little Mary, and the pressure women are under to be like her.
If I’m going to be like Mary, I prefer NT Wright’s version:
“We would be wrong, then, to see Mary and Martha as they have so often been seen, as models of the ‘active’ and ‘contemplative’ styles of spirituality. Action and contemplation are of course both important… But we cannot escape the challenge of this passage by turning it into a comment about different types of Christian lifestyle. It is about the boundary-breaking call of Jesus.” (from Luke for Everyone)
According to Wright, when Mary sat at her rabbi’s feet, she wasn’t being contemplative and serene. She was defying cultural boundaries. Mary dared to sit in the “public room” of the house—a space primarily set aside for male interaction. And by sitting at the feet of Jesus, she embodied the typically masculine role of a disciple, one being trained to both teach and preach the word of God.
What’s more, Jesus allowed—even encouraged—her scandalous behavior.
In that little house in Bethany, Jesus completely shifted the paradigm of womanhood. He was offering both of these women an education, a dignified existence, and a completely new status in his upside down kingdom.
It is no coincidence that the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10 falls directly after the Parable of the Good Samaritan—a lesson in loving the least of these. In Mary and Martha’s home, Jesus was embodying the meaning of his parable, revealing that even women are neighbors, equals, and loved deeply by God. In fact, when Jesus tells distracted Martha that Mary has chosen what is best, some translators say that Mary is eating the “better meal.”
I never want to put words into God’s mouth, but I like to imagine Jesus saying something like this to Mary: Woman, I have uniquely gifted and enabled you to cultivate, create, teach, preach, fight injustice, prophesy, transform your community, serve your family, communicate, love, lead, and worship me. I went to great lengths for you, not just crossing cultural boundaries, but carrying your shame to the cross, so that you are no longer subject to it. Your womanhood is now found in and defined by my paradigm-shifting love.
When that itchy tension between my womanhood and my desire to preach begs to be scratched, I am soothed knowing that Jesus is in the process of transforming both. As a woman I am set free to sit at his feet and learn from him at the kitchen table, the altar, the office, the coffee shop, the mission field, or wherever he has me.
Nearly a decade after that first “sharing,” I now serve on staff as part of my church’s preaching team. When I walk up to the pulpit, I do so knowing that I am not preaching for men. I am not preaching for women.
I am preaching for my rabbi— the one who has not banished me to hide in the private spaces— the one who invites me into the public room to be with Him.
I’m pulling up a chair next to Audacious Mary; together we are eating the better meal.
Aubrey Sampson is passionate about empowering women to experience freedom from shame. She is a pastor’s wife and stay-at-home-mom to three sons, which is to say she spends most days in her pajamas drinking too much coffee. On the days she manages to get dressed, Aubrey speaks at MOPS groups, bible studies, ministry events, and retreats. Aubrey’s first book on overcoming shame, Overcomer: Breaking Down the Walls of Shame and Rebuilding Your Soul, is available for pre-order now on amazon. Official release is October 2015!
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React & Reflect
How did (or do) you view Mary and Martha’s actions and reactions? What are your thoughts about Mary’s audaciousness? What “meal” have you usually chosen/eaten? What does Jesus’ reaction to the sisters’ interaction indicate? Is there any way that you need to be more “audacious” in your own spiritual life? Feel free to comment below.
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