Women in Ministry: Why I’m Eating with Mary

Today’s guest blogger is Aubrey Sampson who is “sharing” a post with us, but make no mistake… a sermon follows.

Ten years ago I was speaking at a church and overheard the following conversation:

Woman: “I am so excited that a woman is preaching today.”

Man: “She is not preaching. She is sharing.”

In the years that followed, as I had other speaking engagements lined up, I was afraid to speak the words aloud—I am preparing to preach a sermon. I safeguarded my calling by telling others that I was teaching a lesson or sharing a message—shrinking in semantics.

The conversation about women in ministry tends to borderline on the absurd. Here are a few things I have been told over the years:

  • You can read scripture, but not comment on it.
  • You can be up front a few times a year. Any more that, the people might think you have authority.
  • The pulpit is a sacred space. Subtext: my feminine voice there would defile it.

I’ve even been asked after a particularly emotional sermon if I was on my period.

I know. I know. I’ve sat through enough women’s conferences and meetings to realize that I should be more Mary-like—quiet, contemplative, and content to sit in the pews, rather than stand behind the podium. But I confess I get annoyed with that version of Perfect Little Mary. Of course she could sit serenely at the feet of Jesus—her sister was doing all of the work around the house!

I prefer NT Wright’s version of the story from Luke for Everyone:

“We would be wrong, then, to see Mary and Martha as they have so often been seen, as models of the ‘active’ and ‘contemplative’ styles of spirituality. Action and contemplation are of course both important… But we cannot escape the challenge of this passage by turning it into a comment about different types of Christian lifestyle. It is about the boundary-breaking call of Jesus.”

When Mary sat at her rabbi’s feet, she wasn’t being docile. She was defying cultural boundaries.

Mary dared to sit in the "public room" of the house – a space primarily set aside for male interaction. And by sitting at the feet of Jesus, she embodied the masculine role of a disciple, one being trained to both teach and preach the word of God. What’s more, Jesus allowed—even encouraged—her scandalous behavior.

When Jesus commented to Martha that Mary had chosen what is “best,” in the Greek it says that Mary is eating the better meal.

In that little house in Bethany, Jesus completely shifted the paradigm of womanhood. The meal he offered Mary and Martha was more than just a chance to stop fretting about the house. He was offering both women an education, dignity, and a completely new status in society.

It is no coincidence that the story of Mary and Martha falls directly after the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a lesson in loving the least of these. Jesus embodies the meaning of this parable, revealing that even women are neighbors, equals, and loved deeply by God.

I never want to put words into God’s mouth, but I like to imagine Jesus saying something like this to Mary: Woman, I have uniquely gifted and enabled you to cultivate, create, teach, preach, fight injustice, prophesy, transform your community, serve your family, communicate, love, lead, and worship me. I went to great lengths for you, not just crossing cultural boundaries, but carrying your shame on the cross, so that you are no longer subject to it. Your womanhood is found in my paradigm-shifting love.

When the itchy tension between my womanhood and my desire to preach begs to be scratched, I am soothed knowing that Jesus is in the process of transforming both. As a woman, I am set free to sit at his feet and learn from him at the kitchen table, the altar, the office, the mission field, or wherever he has me.

Now, when I walk up to the pulpit, I do so knowing that I am not preaching for men. I am not preaching for women. I am preaching for my rabbi— the one who has not banished me to the private spaces— the one who invites me into the public room to be with Him.

When women come out of hiding and embrace the gifts God has given us, we take up sacred space. We shift paradigms. We pull up a chair next to Audacious Mary and together we eat the better meal.

About Today’s Guest Blogger

headshotAubrey Sampson is a pastor’s wife and stay-at-home mom to three boys—which is to say she spends most days in her pajamas drinking a lot of coffee. On the days she manages to get dressed, she writes and speaks about shameless living, women’s issues, and God’s love. Aubrey is passionate about empowering women to experience freedom from shame and take up all the space God has for them.

Aubrey is a Risk Coach and Blogger for Women at Risk, International, a member of Redbud Writer’s Guild and Shannon Ethridge’s BLAST (Building Leaders, Authors, Speakers, and Teachers),  and is a featured author in the book Enterprise Social Technology (Greenleaf Group Book Press, 2011).

Aubrey writes about living shamelessly at www.aubreysampson.com

Connect with Aubrey on twitter: @aubsamp


About the Women in Ministry Series

The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:

  • Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
  • Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

Contributions Welcome: Contact Ed to pitch your post idea in 2-4 sentences.

You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)

Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed.Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.

Next Week’s Blogger: Stephanie Spencer

20 thoughts on “Women in Ministry: Why I’m Eating with Mary

  1. Jen

    Aubrey! I am all up in here for you. Being asked about menses? Really? I am truly shocked, though why I don’t know. In LOVE your imagined Jesus words. And I do not understand the “sharing” thing. That is crazy talk. Mostly, I am thankful that you have risen above; they can call it what you want, but you are preaching for your rabbi. You go, you!

  2. Kelly

    I loved Wright’s explanation too. I’d first heard that explanation from a pastor of a church I went to when I lived in Indiana, and it was so encouraging to hear (he’d gotten it from Wright).

    I can’t believe you were asked if you were on your period! I went to a church one time where the male pastor was often in tears during his sermons. Bet nobody ever asked him that 😉

    Anyway, great addition to Ed’s WIM series!

  3. Lisa Taylor

    wonderful post! i have wrestled with God’s call on my life for more than 40 years – why did you put this in my life if it is unacceptable? but His blessing has never been in my “squashed” times. He blesses me when i step out. go figure.

  4. lisa delay

    Great stuff. Awesome sharing.

    …and It’s come to my mind so many times….

    Here’s another one.

    Official title (for a woman): DIRECTOR

    ex. Director of Small Groups or Youth Ministries Director

    Official title (for a man): MINISTER

    ex. Youth Minister or Minister of Spiritual Formation

    The ironical thing is a director is a secular (sounding?) title of authority, while a “minister” is a server, a servant, though may lead through service.

    WERID, huh?

    Sometimes I think we don’t want to admit when culture has trumped what is actually a debatable doctrine. Culture erodes or maybe transcends worn out/obsolete traditions, and then…what do ya know…Christian practice changes, all while acting as if the hermeneutic is unchanged or intact. (read: it never was to begin with…it was tied to culture, not God’s ways).

    Back to “sharing” on my blog…
    I’m glad I stopped by.
    Thank you Ed, champion of the Sharers!

    1. Pat Horst

      Thanks for sharing this posting. It reminded me of several years ago when I was pastoring a church. At a gathering one Sunday afternoon a family friend [male] asked me how my “sermonette” was that morning.
      Guess he just couldn’t fathom that I preached a “real” sermon but, rather, something less than that. Sort of funny but sad as well, isn’t it?
      Don’t believe God saw my preaching of His Word as a sermonette, though. ;>) And that is the essential part indeed.
      For His Kingdom, Pat

  5. Chrystal

    This is one of my favorite pictures of the way Jesus interacted with women. I love how he overturned the expectations of the men AND the women about the role of women in the kingdom he was establishing!!

    I appreciate your ability to see the absurd in the conversation on women in ministry! Thank God it’s HIS view of us that matters. Preach it! :)

  6. Pingback: Love Better | Fractured Saints

  7. Herm Halbach

    Nothing makes less sense to me than one fragile human being subjugating another fragile human being to seemingly make their short mortality more valuable. God did not write the words that men did. Jesus taught each of us brutes and effiminate that we are equally loved.

    Nothing distracts more from God’s intentions in truth and love more than bigotry. Each of us are different and all of us allowed to work up to our potential increase the resource pool for all of Man to draw from.

    If we each would petition our Father in Heaven, mind and heart to close doors that are not of His will and open doors He knows we are ready to share then, and only then, will we flourish as His creation and most of value His children.

    You are opening doors just as Mary, Martha, Paul and Peter did by sharing directly with Jesus. You are a blessing.

    1. Connie

      “Nothing makes less sense to me than one fragile human being subjugating another fragile human being to seemingly make their short mortality more valuable.” That, friend, is a phenomenal sentence. WIN.

  8. Peggy

    Love this, Aubrey!

    I will have to check out your blog … when my kids are back in school and I can hang out in my jammies again :-) … hahaha!

    The amazing things people say to deflect simple reality is, well, just amazing….

    Be blessed, sister…

  9. Annette Skarin

    I was so blessed by this post. I also love the story about the woman by the well…how disapproving the disciples were that Jesus not only talked to a Samaritan…but heaven forbid he would talk to a woman…he set the precedent for how women should be treated. Thanks for your courage Aubrey.

  10. Charlotte

    I absolute loved this post, and I am totally in your cheering section, Aubrey! If someone had asked me that period question, I would’ve had to walk away to keep myself from smacking them or saying something really awful.

  11. Jim Fisher

    Mary at the feet of Jesus, like Paul at the feet of Gamaliel … the position reserved for the star pupil … aspiring and studying hard to be a rabbi.

    She’s not some starry-eyed bimbo passively contemplating Jesus …

    OH NO! She’s in the garage smoking cigars with the guys and learning about power tools!!!

    … and Jesus says, “I will not take that away from her.”

    (I LOVE Tom Wright’s interpretation of that story!!)

  12. tanya marlow

    Loved this – and loved the idea of feasting on ‘learning at Jesus’ feet’. It feels so natural to me to learn and then teach – to feast and then share (no pun intended!)

    I’m also a Christian minister who happens to be married to a Christian pastor – sending you a virtual high-five!

  13. Ann F-R

    I’ve heard Mary’s & Martha’s story taught poorly, fairly, and well. This is definitely on the excellent end of the spectrum. Thank you!

  14. TJ Christie

    As a Pagan/Wiccan woman and Priestess (Minister), I must say that I love what you have expressed here. Yes, I LOVE it. You GO, Aubrey Sampson. There IS a place where we (as sisters/women) can meet, and you have named it. May blessings of all types shower upon you!


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