On Really Teaching Someone

mgDyCZuNote: this is the fourth post in a series exploring how Jesus related with women in his day. Find the introductory post here, and the previous posts here and here.

Yesterday I had the joy of spending the morning in our daughter Grace’s first grade classroom. We did math. We corrected sentences. Maybe my favorite part was playing a game called “whole-number domino war.” It was terrific. Gracie loves to learn and it was profound for me to see her enjoying being in school.

Unfortunately, in our world not every 6 year old girl can have Gracie’s experience.

This is true around the globe, but let’s just look at Africa, and one part of Africa at that. Last Fall, I partnered with an organization called Camfed, the Campaign for Female Education, in a fundraising campaign. According to Camfed, there are right now 24 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa whose families cannot afford to send them to school. More to the point, because of their impoverished condition, these families are forced to choose to send either their boys or their girls to class. Convinced that boys have a better chance of getting a paid job after graduation, it’s the girls who get left behind.

Whether the barriers are economic, cultural or physical, unequal access to education is a global crisis.

The world Jesus was born into was sadly similar. Girls and women were denied access to education as a matter of course. According to The Dictionary of New Testament Background, “…girls were afforded limited opportunities for education. They were schooled by their mothers in the household arts and in those parts of the law that dealt with purity issues and the responsibilities of women.”

In other words, for women in Jesus’ day, their schoolhouse was in their own kitchen.

So this morning, let’s set the record straight. In contrast to the culture of his day, Jesus embraced women as learners. As disciples. As people who were deserving of receiving instruction.

And there’s no better place to see this than in Luke’s Gospel, in 10:38-42:

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Friends, I need to tell you that this passage is seriously scandalous. It’s nothing less than social revolution. Because the fact of the matter is that Mary should be in the kitchen with Martha. Put it another way, everything in the culture would push against Jesus choosing to allow Mary to stay where she is.

In the first century, sitting at the feet of another was the position of learning. It was where a disciple sat. And so in allowing Mary to remain where she was, in defending her right to sit there, and in going a gigantic step further by actually rebuking Martha for not joining her sister, Jesus was saying for all to hear that:

Women are worthy to be taught.

So this morning I’m thankful for Jesus, that he welcomes women to sit at his feet and learn from him. That he’s counter-cultural. That he’s pro-women. I’m grateful again for Jesus the gender revolutionary.

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