Monday, July 14, 2008

Mary, Martha, and the Post-Easter Jesus (Luke 10:38-42)

Here's a short story I've been sitting on for some time, a fictional retelling of Luke 10:38-42, in light of Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza's critique of the passage and its interpretation (see, for example, chapter 5 in her book In Memory of Her: A Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, especially the section titled "The Church in Her House"). Thus, while this is a work of fiction, it is not simply a story weaved out of nothing.

After Elizabeth Shussler Fiorenza, historical Jesus scholar Marcus Borg is the next biggest influence on this story. His hand can be see especially in the distinction made here between the pre-Easter and the post-Easter Jesus, as well as on the description of the resurrection.

In addition to following Fiorenza's feminist critique of the text, I've moved the scene from before the resurrection to after it, for both theological and textual reasons. The scriptural passage doesn't seem to fit with the material immediately surrounding it, and has some of the hallmarks of a post-resurrection story, including - unlike most of the other stories in Luke, including the material immediately before this story - that it doesn't name Jesus, but rather calls him by a title, the Lord.

If anyone is interested in discussing more of both Fiorenza's critique of Luke 10:38-42 or my own thinking in writing this story the way that I did, please feel free to leave a comment, and I'll happily reply to it. Do remember, however, to keep it civil, following the guidelines for discussion found here.

While this is a historical-theological short story, I hope it is also a story, and one that can, at its best, be as entertaining as enlightening.

Finally, I'd like to thank Renee from Womanist Musings, one of the most interesting blogs I've ever stumbled across, for inspiring me - more than six months after I wrote this story - to finally post it. She's never read this story, but her blog's refusal to duck any issue surrounding gender and race inadvertently called me out for sitting on this for so long. I hope there's an audience for it, and that it generates at least a little bit of discussion, here and/or elsewhere.



I am Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. Martha and I pastor a house-church in Bethany, near where, at our behest, Jesus raised our brother. These days it may seem strange to hear that we – two women – pastor a house-church together. You, after all, are new to the movement, and so may not know the names of the great sisters like Phoebe, Julia, Priscilla, and others, leaders in the faith back when polite Roman society dismissed us a fringe movement of lunatics and women. Of women, there were and are plenty, unashamed to proclaim the Gospel. And I suppose we must have looked like lunatics to those stuffy Romans.

I’ve invited you here today to tell you the story of the time my sister and I, while preparing the Table for the Feast, were visited by our risen Savior. I know you’ve heard Luke tell the tale. I even hear he’s written in down in that silly book of his – as though God’s revelation could be permanently fixed in words! But I want you to know the truth. The farther we get from those first days with Jesus, the more we women are told to be still and silent. But it hasn’t always been so, and some of us – those who have seen our risen Savior with our own eyes, who have heard that heavenly voice with our own ears – will never cease to proclaim what we have seen, what we have heard, what we know.

Jesus visited us often when he walked this earth in flesh. We welcomed him every time he passed through Bethany, and studied Torah with him whenever he was around. Martha was perhaps his boldest student, and he loved her for it. In fact, it was Martha who insisted that he come see our brother Lazarus that time he brought him back from the brink. And it was Martha who wept most passionately when the Romans nailed him up for challenging their system of oppression and domination.

When he died, I can’t tell you how dark that day was. I’ve heard the stories that the sun, brokenhearted refused to shine; that a curtain of darkness descended over the land. Those stories are the only way I know to share with you the darkness that was in each of us, my sister and I, and all who knew, loved, and followed Jesus.

But even before we heard the strange whispers coming from Jerusalem, Martha, ever the bold one, decided to try to hold the movement together. While many of the men holed up, afraid they too might meet a bloody end at the hands of Rome, she sent out word to some women that we should gather in our house to study Torah. Then, of course, came those strange whispers. Joanna, saying the tomb was empty. Salome, telling of a light, a voice, and most importantly, a hope.

As these stories trickled in, our gatherings became a communal act of celebration and remembrance. We still studied Torah together, but with an even greater energy, passion, and hope. If the tomb was empty, if Joanna, Salome, Mary Magdalene and others had – dare we hope to believe it? – seen a light, heard a voice, then Jesus wasn’t dead! Rome could deal death, but it could not quench the life that had been given to us from God.

It was before one of these early house church meetings that we – Martha and I – finally saw our risen Savior with our own eyes, heard that heavenly voice with our own ears, and knew beyond all doubt that our greatest hopes were not in vain. I can’t tell you exactly what I saw; such visions are beyond words. I don’t know if you would have seen it, if you’d been in the room. Some can see, others can’t, but all can hope. But, whether or not you would have seen that light, whether or not you would have heard that voice, I know it wasn’t just in my head, for my sister saw and heard as well. She was preparing the Table for the Feast – I think I already told you that. The Feast of Celebration and Remembrance we had at every meeting. I was gathering my thoughts, since it was my turn to speak. Neither of us heard the door open – I don’t think it ever did – but when we both looked up at the same time, I from my prayer, my sister from the Table, we saw a body robed in light. So bright it hurt to look at it. Then we heard the voice.

What words it said I could not tell you. They cut right through me, taking my breath away. How we knew I couldn’t tell you, but we knew. It was Jesus. He lived. He lives. I don’t know how long our Savior stayed with us. Time lost all meaning to us. But I know that by the time the congregation gathered in our home, the vision had left.

I’m telling you this because I know that what we – my sister and I – are doing rubs some of the men wrong. They’re not sure that women should lead house churches any more, though of course we always have. They wish that we would keep silent. No respectable Roman religion, after all, lets women teach. But I’m telling you this because I want you to understand that we will never be silent. We know what we’ve seen, we know what we’ve heard, and we’ve been called to share the Gospel. If you’d seen that sight, if you’d heard that voice, you wouldn’t expect us to keep quiet, either.


PamBG said...

I'm not qualified to discuss Elizabeth Shussler Fiorenza's works as I've never read them.

I do like the story; as much for your 'take' on the resurrection as for your 'take' on the role of women.

crystal said...

Good story :) I read that the word used for what Martha was doing in the reading was diakonia, which means something like "ministry" .