Who Is My Neighbor? (Luke 10 & Matthew 18)

Monday, April 17, 2023


Thank you so much Rose for completing this transcript!

Channing: [00:00] Hi, I'm Channing! 

Elise: [00:07] And I'm Elise. 

Channing: [00:08] And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast. 

Elise: [00:09] We focus on feminist interpretation of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me Manual as a guide for study. We understand that scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain really compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred text with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:39] While Mormonism with its iconic floral foyer couches is our background, we follow our faith in our God on the path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation. We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you found yourself feeling too faithful for some and not enough for others, welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs.

Elise: [01:10] Hi everyone. We're so glad you're here today. In this episode, we are covering Matthew chapter 18 and Luke chapter 10, for the dates April 17th to the 23rd. Now, we've chosen to focus on two stories this week: the story of Mary and Martha, and the Good Samaritan. But this also means that we've had to miss out on some really fantastic gems that are also found in these chapters that definitely deserve some attention. For example, there's the story of Jesus advocating to keep children safe from adults, and a story about forgiveness, debt, and the exploitation of capitalism. So we hope that you'll check them out, and we'd love to hear your radical interpretations of these stories or any of the other stories that appear in these chapters this week. 

Channing: [01:53] Absolutely. So first we're just gonna dive right into the story of Mary and Martha, and this is found in Luke chapter 10 and straight from the text we get a pretty good glimpse of what is happening and what the story is. The text says, 

“Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, ‘Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me.’ And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

[02:46] And like so many iconic, big deal stories that we encounter in the text, there are so many feminist examinations and interpretations of this story that it's impossible for us to cover them all in this episode. Maybe not even be aware of all of them. So, we won't go into much depth sharing the different ones, but we do encourage everyone to read the chapter in Elisabeth Shussler Fiorenza’s book But She Said, the chapter title is called “The Practice of Interpretation,” and it is a whole long exegesis and thorough examination of these verses, and she does a way more fantastic job than I could do restating her words in this episode. So, highly recommend that you go and check that out. But what really came forward for me as I was reading this week, was along the lines of many feminist critiques of this story in that this story seems to pit two women and therefore two types of women against each other, and then assigns and defines their righteousness and value.

[03:52] The message that I sometimes hear in this story is, Be a Mary and not a Martha. And this is in large part because Jesus names Mary's choice as “the good part.” For a long time “the good part” really meant “the best part,” as I was reading. Feminist apologetics argue that the lesson of the story is one in which Jesus liberates women from the bane of housework and invites them to discipleship. These feminists laud the bravery of Mary in bucking gender roles and embracing ministry and discipleship at the feet of Jesus. Luke chapter 10 verses 38 through 42, proves to be a difficult text to translate and interpret, and as a reader, I feel in large part that we're missing important context from the story.

[04:38] Many feminist scholars and readers attempt to fill in the blanks of the text to provide the missing pieces. But for myself, I'm less concerned about the truth of the story or its alternative interpretations, as I am about the uses and usefulness of them. Whether or not Mary and Martha's choices were truly at odds with one another concerns me far less than the widely accepted interpretation that they were, and that one came out on top. It has set a precedent that some women's life choices and lifestyles are fundamentally better or more righteous than others, and that's what I think I wanna talk about today. 

[05:33] One of the continuing threads that I've encountered in the different interpretations of this story is a reinterpretation of that tricky word good. Surprise, surprise: it doesn't actually mean “better.” It means as good as, equally good. A good choice, one without a qualifier or intensifier. For me, this means reading Jesus’ words as, “Mary has chosen a good part, too.” It's a small change, one word really, but to me it makes all the difference. One thing I've really grappled with in my understanding of feminism is the idea that there's some kind of perfect feminist, and in order to be considered a good feminist, I have to do certain things. Like, I have to attend all the rallies and protests. I have to make the cleverest signs. I need to be a successful career woman and be outspoken and unbelievably cool. I need to have my lawmakers on speed dial and proudly sport the vintage pro-choice button on my bag. And of course, at the very, very minimum, I should be able to take the perfect definition of feminism and patriarchy out of my back pocket as needed.

[06:22] But honestly, that's a lot of pressure to put on myself. It constantly feels like I'm reaching for an image of feminism that doesn't actually exist. In all truth, I feel a lot more like Martha 95% of the time. I am worried about the house care, the cooking, the childcare, the invisible labor required to keep my family afloat. And the even wilder thing is that I found that I actually truly enjoy caring about and tending to those things. I run the risk of sounding too traditional here, but I’ve found a particular joy and pride in keeping my home comfortable, welcoming, safe, nurturing, and open. I love baking bread, sweeping floors, cooking, and gardening. Those things bring me pleasure, happiness, peace, and contentment. I also know incredible women for whom those same tasks are truly the bane of their existence, and they find their joy, pleasure, happiness, and peace elsewhere, be it the studio, the office, the classroom, outside. To require that either one of us find that same contentment in a choice that we might not have made for ourselves is unreasonable because honestly, both things are good parts.

[07:33] Feminism isn't feminism if it only supports a certain type of woman. Feminism creates space for freedom of choice, whatever and wherever and however a choice is to be made. Feminist readers can resist pitting women against each other in the living world, just as they can resist pitting Martha against Mary. They want the same thing: to love and be with Jesus. They just want it in different ways. I like to imagine Martha caring a heck of a lot about whether the food is good, if anybody has noticed the dust bunny in the corner, and if she can keep it all acceptably together as a last-minute host. I like to imagine Mary not caring because she just doesn't. The dust bunnies don't matter to her, and the food is just fine. Martha isn't frivolous. Perhaps her skill and love for hosting is her gift to the travel-weary Jesus. The yumminess of the food does matter and it's hard to resist apologizing for the dust bunny. And Mary, she's not inconsiderate. She understands that good enough is good enough. Her undivided attention is her devotion. They both have chosen the good part. When it comes to loving Jesus and loving each other, there is no good, better, or best style of loving. There is no choice to be made, not really, between a love language of acts of service, and that of quality time. They are both loving.

[08:56] Surely Jesus would've known that, especially coming hot off the press from his moment with the Syrophonecian woman. I like to imagine Jesus, moments after this exchange. He finishes his discussion with Mary and afterwards invites her back to the kitchen with Martha. While there, he compliments Martha on the softness of the bread, the masterful blend of spices, and helps dry and put away the dishes. While Martha has her back turned to wrap the leftover cheese in a cloth, Jesus quietly secrets the dust bunny outside. He says before heading to his guest room for the night, “Martha, you are good to me.” He places a kiss to her forehead and sends her off with his blessing. So this is one way that I like to interpret this story of Mary and Martha, because I think it really pushes back on the tendency that we have to read in some type of competition or comparison between these two women. And it feels good to me to read them as two good choices, not one better than the other. 

Elise: [10:01] Yes. I love that so much. Thank you for also weaving in your personal experience to bring this story to life. Love it.

Channing: [10:07] Thanks. 

Elise: [10:09] I think from here we'll switch over to talk a little bit about the Good Samaritan and I want to read this story toward a mutual aid lens, and so let's set it up. In response to a lawyer's question in Luke chapter 10 verse 29, the lawyer asks Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Aka, Who am I supposed to love and who can I get away with not loving? And Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.

[10:36] And of course we should remember that during this time, Samaritans were considered absolutely Other, and the Jewish people looked down with disdain upon the Samaritans. Thus, the story is quite shocking and destabilizing of power relations when Jesus chooses a Samaritan man as the central example and hero of the story.

[10:56] So a bit of a summary and refresher. There's a man who's traveling on a really dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho, and on his travels, he's robbed and beaten close to death. And as he lies there on the road, both a priest and a Levite pass him by. Finally, a Samaritan man has compassion on him. He bound his wounds and took him to an inn and takes care of him. The man leaves him to rest, but promises to come back again. 

[11:23] Now, through the lens of mutual aid there's a really fantastic book by author, lawyer, trans activist, and professor Dean Spade. And the book is called Mutual Aid: Building Solidarity During This Crisis (and the Next). And in this book, the author calls the readers to come together and build networks of mutual aid as a way to address systemic problems and support marginalized communities.  Spade argues that mutual aid isn't just a response to emergencies, but it's a long-term strategy to build resistance and community power.

Channing: [11:56] Continuing on, mutual aid involves building networks of support that are grounded in the needs and experiences of the people involved, rather than relying on outside experts or authorities with the goal of transforming our society beyond its current capitalist and oppressive structures.

[12:14] Some examples of mutual aid include Phoenix's Food Not Bombs, that provides free vegan meals to people in need. Or street medic collectives, which are groups of trained medical professionals and volunteers who provide first aid and other medical care at protests and other events. Tenant organizing, where tenants come together to support each other in their struggles against landlords, and bail funds, which are funds used to pay bail for people who cannot afford it.

[12:43] To be clear, mutual aid is different from charity. Charity is often based on a top-down approach where those with power and resources decide who's deserving of help and how that help is provided. In contrast, mutual aid is grounded in solidarity and collective action where people come together to support each other based on shared experiences and needs. Charity often assumes that people who are struggling are doing so because of personal failings rather than systemic injustices. Mutual aid, on the other hand, recognizes that many social problems are systemic and require collective action to address. Where charity is a one-and-done bandaid, mutual aid involves building relationships and sticking around for the long haul because people recognize first that we need each other, and second, that our liberation is bound up in each other's.

Elise: [13:35] So if we try to read this story of the Good Samaritan as an example of mutual aid, I think there's a couple of things that we can see here. First, the Samaritan man provides direct care for the injured man and takes action to ensure his wellbeing. He also challenges social norms and prejudices by helping someone who is from a different community. Within mutual aid networks, we have to ask ourselves, Can I work with those with whom I don't agree? And if we are truly concerned with liberation, the answer needs to be yes. The other encouraging thing about mutual aid is that because it requires long-term relationship building, it prompts us to be more generous with others who disagree with us or who are still learning. And perhaps as we build these relationships with other people, we can have conversations about our values in ways that are less concerned about us being right and correct and being the expert, and more concerned with organizing to meet people's needs. Second, the story of the Good Samaritan challenges us to think beyond our own self-interest and to recognize the humanity and dignity of others. It reminds us that mutual aid is not limited only to those people who are like us.

Channing: [14:44] Mm-hmm. Yeah. And third, we like to think the story is not simply a one-time act of generosity, but the beginning of a reciprocal relationship. Although the text is ambiguous or even leaning toward charity, we find it more impactful to read the Samaritan man's promise to pay whatever the price for the caretaker and return again. We like to read this returning again as a commitment, not just to pay and distribute wealth, but as an act of care and concern for the wellbeing of the hurt man. In this way, the story of the Good Samaritan does not have a clear ending. Rather, it is the beginning of an ongoing relationship between these two men who are committed to supporting each other, organizing against the state to meet their needs, and sharing in reciprocity.

[15:30] As such, the Samaritan man knows the hurt that befell the man is not because of an individual failing, but because of systemic injustice wrapped up in institutional and religious violence and poverty. Thus, he understands that mutual aid involves more than just giving material goods, because it involves recognizing the inherent value and worth of all people, and then working to build relationships of care and support.

Elise: [15:58] Finally, this story shows that state institutions like Law, as showcased by the lawyer in this story, and the Church, as showcased by the priest and the Levite, and just general hierarchical systems, are not concerned with liberation for marginalized groups. In fact, they are the very systems that enact violence on marginalized groups. Thus, the Good Samaritan understands we must organize locally and against the state in order to care for the needs of the most marginalized. 

[16:17] As Jesus concludes the story, he ends up asking the lawyer, “Well, which of these three people do you think was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?” And the lawyer responds, “He that showed mercy on him,” and he's right. Neighboring isn't about figuring out who is most deserving of our support and aid, and then excluding other groups of people. Being a neighbor isn't even something we are. Instead, in this story we learn that neighboring is something we do. It's a verb and an action that requires us to neighbor alongside marginalized groups and people in our local communities, even if we don't like them or even if we don't agree with them.

[17:05] And this story shows that neighboring is more than plates of cookies or donating to charities. Instead, it's about being awake and aware to the harm done by systems of oppression against marginalized groups, and then doing something about it in a way that's long term, committed, centers the needs of those who are most affected, and builds lasting relationships.

[17:27] In this way, I really enjoyed having the kind of new look at the story of the Good Samaritan. Because although it is a classic iconic story -- well, I think both of these stories are -- [Channing: Mm-hmm] but one of the things I think we've really enjoyed about the podcast, both last year and this year, is that we get to look at classic stories in new ways and read them in personal ways or toward means of justice, and in that way breathe new life into the stories altogether. 

Channing: [17:54] Absolutely. Friends, thanks so much for joining us this week as we explore these two big deals stories together. We hope you've enjoyed your time with us and we can't wait to [spend] more of it with you next week. Until then, bye!

Elise: [18:11] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we're grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you showed your support by sharing the podcast, leaving us a loving rating on iTunes, or connect with us on Instagram as The Faithful Feminists

Channing:  [18:30] We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so, so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.
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