Action and/or contemplation? Allegory and liturgy in the reception of Luke 10:38–42 1
The brief account of the hospitality offered by Martha and Mary to Jesus has been interpreted allegorically in at least three different ways. The majority tradition has identified the figure of Mary with contemplation, and considered this to be the ‘one thing necessary’ to Christian life. Meister Eckhart suggests, however, that Martha, representing action, has chosen the better part, and Aelred of Rievaulx that action and contemplation are both commended. Feminist and other recent interpretations continue, sometimes unconsciously, to draw on this allegorical tradition. The theological importance and significance of the passage has been due largely to its use as the gospel reading for the feast of the Assumption of Mary the mother of Jesus.
1 An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Conference of the Society for the Study of Theology, University of Exeter, UK, 29–31 March 2004, the topic of which was ‘Bible and Theology’. I am grateful for the discussion which followed, and to David Horrell and Rachel Muers for comments on drafts.