Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Discipleship: “Gender and Discipleship

The cost of discipleship is whatever “everything” means to you.

In last week’s lesson, when confronted by the rich young ruler, Jesus did not directly challenge his claim of keeping the commandments. He simply showed him that he had not given up everything to serve God. For the rich young ruler, “everything” was his great wealth. “Everything” is different for each of us.

Each of the women in this week’s lesson already knew something about Jesus before their “crisis” moment. They all decided that their valuable “everything” could be put in the dust in order for them to follow Jesus.

Christ’s mother Mary was asked to sacrifice the only thing that was worth something to a poor young woman in her society, her pure reputation. Being pregnant out of wedlock almost made her unmarriageable. If the Lord had not intervened, Joseph would have quietly divorced her. A single mother in those days had very few options, the usual being prostitution.

Mary was not pregnant when the angel came to her. There were many practical questions that could have destroyed her faith. If she had refused, heaven would have honored her wish. Instead, she chose to believe that she had been chosen to be part of that mysterious union between humanity and divinity. Had she held on to her earthly “glory” of a pure and chaste reputation, what a blessing she would have missed.

The woman with the distressing malady risked severe public embarrassment if she had been required to explain her situation to Jesus. He was constantly surrounded by crowds, so any explanation would have been for all to hear.

In Jewish society, a man was not allowed to have relations with an “unclean” woman (see Lev. 15:19-33). If this condition began before she married, she probably never did. In addition to embarrassment, she risked great anger from the crowd because whatever touched her or her garments was considered unclean for seven days. When she recognized her only hope was Christ, even fear of public embarrassment and anger was set aside.

The woman at the well had many secrets which probably confronted her in some way on a daily basis. Though she did not seek Him out, once Jesus had won her confidence, she rushed to her neighbors to tell them about Him. No longer caring about her reputation, she told everybody that Jesus knew all her secrets. Once she gave up her “everything,” she became a disciple.

Martha is the only woman cited in our lesson who received a negative but gentle comment from Jesus. She allowed her desire for a nice, well run home and life to keep her from discipleship. She was so blinded that it kept her from seeing the better choice her sister Mary had made. Martha could have rationalized that “cleanliness is next to Godliness,” but Jesus didn’t mean that. He expects us to lead reasonably clean and orderly lives, but not at the expense of discipleship. The story of Lazarus gives us the happy ending for Martha. She told Jesus, “Yes Lord, I believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, He who comes into the world” (John 11:27, NAS). Whatever her “everything” was, she was willing to make this strong statement of faith to the Man who challenged her need for control in her life.

Although the lesson doesn’t specifically mention Mary Magdalene, she is the one Jesus commends to Martha. Mary had nothing to lose. She was the worst there was in her society. But she had seen something no one else had. She saw and at least partially understood the cross. She saw that it was for her many sins that Jesus was going to die that horrible death. She knew she was forgiven much and she owed everything to her Lord and Master. She put up with all the scorn, disdain, and ridicule that must have been directed at her in order to be near Jesus. In the garden after He died, she risked arrest and worse from the soldiers guarding the tomb because she needed to be near Him.

Her understanding of the cross had not come without struggle. But Jesus was patient those seven times. Each time her besetting sin overcame her, Mary continued to place her faith in Jesus. She learned the lesson of “let this mind be in you that is in Christ Jesus.”

We believe we need to pray for strength to overcome temptation to gain victory over sin. But that battle has already been won: Christ has obtained the victory and He wants to give us His victory. His victory is sufficient for us; we don’t need to repeat His history. How do we accept His victory? The prayer is simple: “Lord, give me the mind of Christ. I have no strength in myself for You to add to; I need a complete re-creation of my mind and will.” Then, choose to believe He gives it to you and praise God for His unspeakable Gift!

Arlene Hill


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