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Saturday, December 05, 2009

Keith writes about Contemplation vs Action and the Role of Women in the Church

This dialogue originally started with a reflection by Rob on the Mary and Martha story of Luke 10: 38-42, where Jesus gets involved in a dispute between the two women over whether Mary should be sitting at Jesus' feet or helping with the domestic chores.

Rob reflected:

"What is going on here in this story? Certain commentators have said there are three spiritual paths. The first is the way of Mary: adoration. The second is the way of Martha (and of the apostles): action. The third is the way of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane: contemplation. Is any one of these better than the other? Jesus said adoration was the preferred way, yet he was a man of action and of contemplation. So what are we to make of that?"

Keith responds:

I think that it was William Barclay who first popularised the contemplation/action interpretation, but I think he's wrong.

This passage is actually about empowering women. Mary is not only in the "male only" section of the house, she is being taught by Jesus. She is not "adoring" him, she is having her mind renewed.

The passage is quite clear: She "sat at his feet" - the same term that Paul uses when he said he "sat at the feet" of his teacher, Gamaliel. This is at a time when it was forbidden to teach a woman the law. Contemporary rabbis said "it is better to burn the law than to teach it to a woman" and "if you teach a woman the law you may as well teach her harlotry". (cf Jeremias Jerusalem in the time of Jesus) It is arguably the most socially radical thing that Jesus ever did. Martha's reaction is a cover story to get Mary out of the room and back where she "belongs".

On the contemplation/action debate, I think Dave has it right. I've done 15 years of voluntary work in gaols, mostly with women. It has very strongly shaped my views on prisons, prisoners and the gospel. It was a continual journey of my experience and my theology interacting with each other. I work regularly in a public school which has many socially disadvantaged kids. I choose to be there and enjoy being there. It has changed my views on education, the politics of education and my views on the sexual revolution.

There is always an interaction between contemplation and action. Read some stuff on the social construction of knowledge.

Read through the rest of this forum thread here.


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