“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” ( Luke 10:38-42)
I have trouble with this passage, beloved reader. Trouble that started in my childhood and followed me in adulthood and into seminary. It was one of the conundrums that seminary did not relieve. In fact, because of a seminary professor who did not have an understanding of how women might feel entering ministry, it only got worse. I had suggested in a commentary I wrote that perhaps Martha and Mary could find a have way point; offering care and hospitality while also paying attention to the teaching and instruction that was given. “No”, my seminary professor said, “that is not the proper way to interpret this passage.” And because he so “shut me down” I don’t remember what his “correction” was.
One might say “of course it is more important to listen to preaching/teaching than fix a meal or wash clothes.” But I would warrant, beloved reader, that is because someone else is offering hospitality! And this type of attitude shuts out many women (and perhaps some men) whose gift, strength, and calling is hospitality. I know of legions and generations of good Christian women who felt their place was in the kitchen and in the laundry room. It is where they served. Furthermore the biblical commentators make it very clear that Martha was in the wrong and Mary was in the right. Finally, at the time I was just wrapping my brain around the concept that not only could I be a “Mary” but that I could pass on the instruction and guidance I had been given – that I could learn well enough to teach others. (It felt good to get that all out! Been waiting about 20 years to be able to articulate that!!)
As I so often ask, however, where do we go from here? What does it mean for us? First, remember what Paul said about different roles in the church and ministry. Second, understand that maybe Jesus had an insight into Martha’s thinking that explains this incident. Third, remember that Jesus said his “burden” is light and his “yoke” is easy – that we should not worry some much about earthly daily things. And fourth, be aware of what Jesus is calling you to. Jesus may have called upon Martha as much as he did Mary – that is, inviting them to sit and listen to what he had to say.
May you, beloved reader, sit to listen, ponder, meditate and learn more than you run around “worried and distracted by many things.” Selah!