Muslim women are encouraged to memorize the Quran, but they are never encouraged to understand it. One Yemeni friend innocently asked her uncle, who happened to be an imam (a Muslim leader), about something written in the Quran and received a fist in her jaw. She was only ten years old.
Another dear friend of mine says she desperately wanted to know Allah growing up but that the more religious she became — saying her prayers five times a day, covering every strand of hair and skin — the more elusive he became. Muslim women are told to obey Allah, but must not seek to know him personally. Islam is a hard religion for those women who want to understand and know their god.
But the God of the Bible is different. He wants women to understand his word. He wants women to personally know and delight in him as their God. Christians don’t just memorize and obey; they “rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:11). The Christian God is not a demanding taskmaster. He is glorified when we are satisfied in relationship with him.
Jesus, a Lord of Women
Christian bookstores and Amazon are flooded with Christian bestsellers for women, books that promise to divulge the secrets to more intimacy with God. We can read about hearing the voice of God or how to recognize when Jesus is speaking to us. These books are tempting. We’re enticed by supposed shortcuts to intimacy with our Creator. We each want a personal word from him. So, how do we enter into his presence? How do we, women, experience joy in fellowship with God?
A woman in first century Palestine knew the answer to this question:
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38–42)
What’s so striking about the exchange between Jesus, Mary, and Martha is that Martha was the one doing what was expected. It was Mary who seemed to deserve a rebuke. She was the one acting out of step with the culture of the day.
Women were poorly regarded in first century Jewish culture. There was a Jewish saying: “Happy is he whose children are male, but alas for him whose children are female.” Rabbis had a special disdain for women when it came to religious matters. Women were not worthy of even being taught the sacred Scriptures. One rabbinic saying was, “Sooner let the words of the law be burned than delivered to women.”
But that wasn’t Jesus’s attitude toward women.
To a woman who had repented of sexual immorality he compassionately said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). To a woman who had been suffering from bleeding for twelve years he lovingly said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Luke 8:48). To a little girl who had been dead, he took her by the hand and said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41). And Mary was commended for sitting at his feet, listening to his teaching.
This is why women followed Jesus (Mark 15:41). This is why women financed his ministry (Luke 8:3). This is why women loved him enough to take care of his precious body at the tomb (Mark 16:1). Because he first loved them.
Choose What Cannot Be Taken Away
Sometimes I cringe when I read the account of Mary and Martha. I am all too often just like Martha. I’m anxious about getting everything done. I’ve got emails to return, clothes to wash, meals to fix — and that’s when no guests are coming for dinner. But Mary sits at the feet of Jesus and listens to his teaching. She prioritizes him over completing her tasks. She desires him more than pleasing or impressing others with a good meal and clean house. Mary treasures Jesus as the one thing necessary.
Where do women find Jesus today? Do we need to uncover some mystery to a deeper, more personal relationship with him? Do we need our heartstrings pulled or a particular aesthetic experience? No. Jesus has already given us all we need for intimacy with him. Every time we open our Bible, we sit at Jesus’s feet. All of Scripture bears witness about him (John 5:39). God’s word is the good portion that we can hide in our hearts, never to be taken away.
The psalmist says, “The Lord is my chosen portion” and, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:5, 11). This is what Mary knew. She was sitting at Jesus’s feet for joy! Do you sit at Jesus’s feet in the morning? Do you choose him over your email inbox and daily tasks to do? Do you choose the one who will give you fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore?
Bibles aren’t just for memorizing. They don’t just tell us how to obey. God actually speaks to us through the Bible. Hear from him, and you will experience truer, deeper intimacy and joy with him.