We had a great sermon last Sunday (July 11, 2010) by Rev. Dr. Paul Tellström on the Mary and Martha story from Luke 10:38-42. In the story, Martha is working hard looking after the guests while Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus while he teaches. Martha comes out of the kitchen and says, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" Jesus' response is "Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."
The sermon did a wonderful job of picking apart the sibling rivalry, the use of indirect communication by the participants, gender issues, and interpreting Jesus' presence in the home of two women in a historical context. But best of all was the progressive Christian interpretation of the story: Some of us like to study and some of us like to do. But don't be distracted, because only one thing is needed. Choose the better. Don't let it be taken away from you. It was a beautiful re-casting because of the way it made room for everyone and they way that they serve. It struck a chord and I heard many people talking about it on the patio after church.
Although Pastor Paul helped me to like this story more than I did before, it's still one of the Bible stories that bug me. In the Mary and Martha story, I always identified with Martha. I had to be the responsible one, when I would have rather sat and listened.
I have a similar feeling about the Prodigal Son. I was the dutiful child who stayed home and got screwed out of a good time, the opportunity to spend my part of the fortune, and my parents never threw a party for me.
These stories only make sense when interpreted from a particular point of view. The prodigal son story on makes sense from the father's point of view. The story is a parable for God's relationship with us. The Mary and Martha story is a parable about how to serve. In makes sense from Mary's point of view or, as Pastor Paul points out, as a metaphor from an external point of view.
My reaction and the persistence of these stories illustrates two points about narratives. One, stories are a highly compelling way to pass on knowledge and routines. They work especially well when used orally. That's why we still hear them in church. Two, fluidity in interpretation is a relatively modern concept. When these stories were originally authored, the point of view or vantage point for interpretation was given or prescribed. There was only one way to tell and understand the stories and the characters existed only to make the telling possible. In other words, the plot was privileged and the characters were marginalized.
So maybe this is just my post-modern sensibility coming through, but I have a hard time with these stories. (Don't get me started on the one with Solomon and the two mothers.) So, what do you think? Are there any Bible stories that bug you?