'With all possible wisdom, we...teach them in order to bring each one into God's presence as a mature individual.' Colossians 1:28

The contrast between the role of women in today's Genesis passage (Gen 18:1-10) and our Lucan passage (Luke 10:38-42) is striking.

Many scholars believe the Yahwistic source of Genesis was written by a woman. Perhaps that's why the author "tells it like it was."

Abraham and the "three men" are the narrative's four main characters. Sarah is simply behind the scene (or the tent flap) during the entire passage.

She, like all women, is doing most of the work, enabling her husband to provide hospitality to the three strangers who eventually reveal themselves as Yahweh in human form.

Though Sarah is given some lines a few verses beyond today's liturgical selection, her presence is heard, not seen. She's a woman of her 1,800 century BCE day and age.

The situation is quite different in our Gospel. In some sense, Martha is the passage's Sarah. She welcomes Jesus into her home, then disappears into "the tent," emerging only to seek Jesus' help in forcing her sister to join her in her womanly role.

"My sister has left me by myself to do the serving," she complains. "Tell her to help me!"

Beyond barriers
Mary stepped out of culturally-accepted barriers, doing something women of that day and age would have been ostracized for doing: "She sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak."

Scholars presume that, if some in Luke's audience hadn't been criticizing the uppity, role-shattering Christian women in their community, this Martha/Mary story never would have been included in the third evangelist's gospel. If Luke is the gospel writer most favorable to women, it can only be because his readers had the most problems with women's expanded roles in the Church.

Mary does what only men of that culture were permitted to do - and is criticized by someone comfortable in her traditional role. Luke's Jesus tells Martha to see life from a different perspective.

"There is need of only one thing," He tells Martha. "Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her."

The Colossians author (Col 1:24-28) provides us with the early Christian theology fueling this radical breaking of molds. Our basic mystery of faith is "Christ in you."

"It is he," the author writes, "whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone...that we may present everyone perfect in Christ."

Moving forward
In this context, we only achieve Christian perfection when all followers of Jesus mirror the risen Jesus, who has broken through the restrictions which limit human beings. Instead of caving in to such restrictions, other Christs are constantly going beyond them.

Our religious culture has changed since my student days at Rome's Gregorian University. Some professors who taught us, taught the same subjects to religious women at a different location.

When I suggested we all study together, a classmate interrupted: "You don't want to study with nuns. They wreak havoc with the curve! When they're around, you really have to study."

Could gender competition be one reason we still have men/ women issues in the Church today? There must be some problem - else, following the Scriptural rule, I wouldn't have made it the subject of this commentary.