Recently there was a very uplifting piece of news on TV. A 16 year old girl named Malala spoke at the UN. On October 9th 2012 this young woman was shot in the head by member of the Talban in her village in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The Taliban wanted to stop her from encouraging other young girls to get an education. On her 16th birthday at the UN Malala spoke to the world appealing for education for all young people of the world.
Malala’s crime was she forgot her place. Her place, according to the thinking of the Taliban and other like-minded people was to be at home working in the kitchen, serving her father and her brothers and waiting for her father to arrange her wedding to a total stranger. In the Western world we can’t get our minds around such narrow-minded, life restrictive thinking.
The thinking of the Taliban as regards the place of women in society was not that far removed from the thinking of Jesus’ time. Women could not leave the home unless accompanied by a male member of the family. Women were not allowed to study Torah. Women were not expected to be as bold as was Mary when she sat among the men who were listening to what Jesus had to say. They probably thought she was quite brazen and certainly out of place.
Martha knew her place. She was the hostess, she was preparing the meal and she was certainly annoyed with Mary who was out of place. Poor Martha had had enough. She complains to Jesus, “Lord do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself. Tell her to help me.” In other words tell Mary she doesn’t belong in this place, sitting with the men listening to Jesus. Mary should be elsewhere, in the kitchen helping her sister. But Jesus knows what’s going on. Martha is feeling sorry for herself; she feels unappreciated and feels Mary is not carrying her share of the load of entertaining their guests. He stands up for Mary. She has chosen her place and here she’ll stay. Jesus respects, even admires her choice. If Martha chooses to stay in the place society expects of her, that is her decision and Jesus respects that too.
How often do we put people in their place – where we think they belong because of their social standing, their occupation, their accent, their sex or sexual orientation, their faith or lack of it? Think for a moment of our ‘exclusive’ clubs, golf courses, gated communities with their subtle or not so subtle message to others, ‘this is not your place.’ How often have we found ourselves thinking or maybe saying, ‘who does she/he thinks he/she is? They don’t belong here. They are out of place.’
Keeping women in their place is not just a Muslim or Eastern issue. Keeping women in their place is a world-wide issue. In 1986 the American Bishops wrote a pastoral letter titled, ‘Economic Justice for all.’ Showing the different ways our society keeps women in their place the Bishops reported that many women suffer discrimination in wages, job classification, promotions and other areas. Sixty percent of all women work in only ten occupations and most new jobs for women are in areas with low pay and limited chances of advancement. Such letters from Bishops are wonderfully written and seldom read and hardly ever followed, as are the many of our Canadian Bishop’s letters. But truth be told, as church we have a long way to go for many women to know their place and find their place in our church hampered as they are by the mentality of clericalism that still plagues the church. On the subject of discrimination against women, I can only think of the words of Jesus, ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone.’
What is our place in our church? First of all we should be close to Jesus as was Mary, listening to him, learning from him how we should live our lives as his followers. Close to him when he invites us to be with him on the mount of Transfiguration, close to him as he invites us to be with him on Calvary. We should be close to him as was Martha serving him in servers others. Close to him as he reaches out to others in need. Close to him when he challenges us to forget our own comfort and needs and do what we can to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, comfort the lonely.
As we continue this Mass we pray that each of us know our place in the world and in our church – our place is to be close to Jesus the Christ, Who loved us and gave his life for each of us.