Based on simple observation, I’ve concluded that the modern-day Christian church is more concerned with following the rules than with following Jesus.
I've heard story after story from women who have a divine calling to preach, but are denied the pastoral office because of their gender. And then there are the natural-born female leaders who aren’t allowed to make decisions in their own homes. I see countless women manipulated into staying in abusive and oppressive relationships by fellow Christians.
All of these things are happening in the name of God, and I can’t help but wonder, how did we get here?
This emphasis on rules over the way of Jesus reminds me of the well-known story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10.
During his travels, Jesus stopped in the town of Bethany and stayed in the home of Martha.
Now, I personally imagine Martha as a bit of a June Cleaver type, her hair permed and perfect, her dress ironed with no wrinkles, and her pretty pink apron without a smudge. I realize that God gives women different gifts and interests, but it is apparent that Martha fits the feminine standard for Jesus’ time as well as the present day. Many Christians today hold Martha’s gifts above Mary’s gifts and label them women who possess them as “wife material.”
Martha is aware of the cultural gender expectations on her as Jesus’ host. She knows her place and she’s good at staying in it.
Mary, Martha’s sister, was also present at the house with Jesus. From the story, it seems that Mary had a more “rebellious” personality than her sister. In fact, her actions in the story indicate that she may have been one of the first feminists, far ahead of the term’s birth in 1872.
It is likely that Mary was aware of a woman’s place and role in the home, just like her sister. Yet, she found more value in sitting at the feet of Jesus than in following gender roles. She clearly understood her worth, value, and identity in Jesus Christ.
Once Martha realized what Mary was doing, she got a little upset. She asked Jesus to remind Mary of her place, and likely, that it was not the position of disciple. But instead of scolding Mary for forgetting her so-called “place,” he praised her:
“Martha, dear friend, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it—and I won’t take it away from her!”
Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us what happened after that, but I imagine it was something along the lines of Martha dropping her mixing bowl, and falling next to Mary at the feet of Jesus.
Many people in the church today are Martha’s. They worry so much about obeying “biblical gender roles” that they allow the rules to become an idol.
Many Christians have become too concerned about the small, misinterpreted details. They have begun to neglect God’s voice. They are more interested in being “right,” than with supporting others and their gifts in the body of Christ.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to obey God. In fact, Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”
The problem begins when we start placing our flawed interpretations of the rules over the example of Jesus.
If we keep all of his commandments but we fail to have an actual relationship with him, are we serving him or ourselves?
If we claim to have love and compassion, but we limit and oppress others, can our love be genuine?
If we know the Bible and all of the theology behind it, does that mean we really know Jesus?
I pray that as a church, we will find our way back to the position of Mary, gazing at Jesus with wonder. I pray that we allow ourselves to let go and give in to the beautiful acceptance of our savior.
Let us let go of our attachment to manmade rules, and rest quietly at the feet of Love. Let us not get so wrapped up in “biblical gender roles” that we miss the Messiah.