A friend once told me that some early Christians thought the story of the Prodigal Son was really the story of Mary and Martha with a gender change. She offered examples:
- Martha seems like the older brother, irritated and “slaving” away in duty.
- Mary sits “inside” at the feet of Jesus while Martha is “outside” in the kitchen.
- The house doesn’t belong to both of them. Martha owns it, and the Prodigal was penniless because he had spent his portion of the inheritance on wild living.
I wasn’t sold on the interpretation but it tickled my curiosity. In casual conversation I mentioned it to several friends. They were furious at the idea and furious with me.
They were furious, but not because it was idle speculation (which would have been a fair criticism); they were angry because it sullied Mary’s reputation.
- “I hate how the church belittles women. Here they strip Mary of her goodness and turn her into some kind of whore.”
- “How dare you think of Mary with such dishonor and impurity!”
The new interpretation had mildly tickled my curiosity; the ensuing, bitter, indignant, antagonism fascinated me. Mary’s adoration at the feet of Jesus is beautiful.
Could anything she ever did (or didn’t do) in her former life diminish that beauty? Continue Reading…