The readings are from the Catholic lectionary for daily mass, whike the headlines are meant to keep my thinking realistic.
You must have heard of my career as a practising Jew, how merciless I was in persecuting the Church of God, how much damage I did to it, how I stood out among other Jews of my generation, and how enthusiastic I was for the traditions of my ancestors.
Then God, who had specially chosen me while I was still in my mother’s womb, called me through his grace and chose to reveal his Son in me, so that I might preach the Good News about him to the pagans. I did not stop to discuss this with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were already apostles before me, but I went off to Arabia at once and later went straight back from there to Damascus. Even when after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him for fifteen days, I did not see any of the other apostles; I only saw James, the brother of the Lord, and I swear before God that what I have just written is the literal truth. After that I went to Syria and Cilicia, and was still not known by sight to the churches of Christ in Judaea, who had heard nothing except that their one-time persecutor was now preaching the faith he had previously tried to destroy; and they gave glory to God for me.
This is Paul’s most extensive account of himself in his letters and is therefore very precious. However, it can’t be taken at face value as he’s trying to make a case that his gospel is independent of anyone except God. Clearly, all his contact with believers before his “revelation” will have informed him about Jesus and his teaching, as well as challenging him with the courage of believers in the face of brutatlity. Of course his admitted sojourn with Cephas will also have given him access to that disciple’s experience of Jesus and of the young church communities. Doubtless Paul believed that his turning towards Jesus, and his sense of calling as a messenger to the Gentiles were instigated by God, but revelations do not descend directly from heaven: they are the fruit of experience, meditation and struggle. This will have been true of Paul’s.
There’s a continuing need to make sense of Paul’s life and letters in a way that allows him to speak to our time. Repect for his writing cannot disguise the foreigness of many of his categories and images. It would be a great pity if the man who did most to translate a Jewish gospel into terms that Gentiles could understand, is left untranslated for our world in which religion (thank God) is diminishing in importance. That’s why it’s worth asking if we can talk of divine revelation once we’ve done away with a religious view of the world. I think we can, with the help of Paul who discovered that the destruction of our arrogance, the recognition of our weakness and our appreciation of all that we receive are the basic requirements for understanding the foolishness and weakness of God.
Jesus came to a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. She had a sister called Mary, who sat down at the Lord’s feet and listened to him speaking. Now Martha who was distracted with all the serving said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister is leaving me to do the serving all by myself? Please tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered: ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’
This is Jesus’ clearest endorsement of woman’s ministry, as he explicitly rejects Martha’s chosen role as housewife in favour of Mary’s role of disciple. The verb used of her sitting at the feet of Jesus is a technical term for the discipleship of a Rabbi’s students.
It’s a pity that two major branches of the Christian Church, Roman Catholic and Orthodox, continue to deny the full ministry of women, while maintaining a smelly hierarchy of men. This is an impoverishment of their priesthoods and a bad example to society. My own church has been blessed with women ministers for more than fifty years now and wonders only why it took so long to admit them.