Visiting with Mary and Martha, part 1
For the past few years, I’ve been ruminating on the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10 — a relevant passage for this period in my life as a wife, mother, writer, editor, teacher, and household manager. It's very easy to be a "Martha" these days that are not full of "Mary" moments, but I find that I sometimes resent the distinction. Do we have to set Martha and Mary up in a sinner/saint comparison? Don't they both have complex roles in this story? Are there elements of goodness and disorder in the choices they both make? I find that I am constantly encountering these ideas in this passage as I make decisions about work, parenting, rest, and daily chores, all while I seek to live in the present moment and listen to God. So let me offer here the first in a series of posts about the marriage of work and worship with Jesus.
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 (NRSV)
Tea: a powerful aid in listening.
Thank you, Mary
Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. And I am so glad that she listened! What if she hadn’t?
If Mary had submitted to her usual role, she would likely have been in the kitchen with Martha, stirring away. Dinner would have gone much more smoothly, and there would have been no conflict between the sisters. The disciples themselves would probably have been more comfortable. The peace and stability of the status quo would have been preserved.
But, if Mary had stayed in the kitchen, we would have lost something significant. We would never have had this clear example of a woman being taught by Jesus and affirmed for doing so. Jesus wouldn’t have had the opportunity to demonstrate yet another way that the Kingdom of God differs radically from the ways of this world. This interchange between Mary, Martha, and Jesus would never have occurred, and we would have lost this amazing picture of Jesus’s revolutionary treatment of women.
Most of the time, I like the status quo. I appreciate routines and roles and predictability. I avoid conflict unless it is necessary — and that is not a wholly bad thing. But I find it to be of the utmost importance to engage in regular reflection
in order to notice areas in my life that require change. In quiet moments, I listen to Jesus speaking to my true self, probing for any ways I’m living incongruously with the person Christ has made me to be.
Perhaps this was not the first dinner at which Mary desired to listen to Jesus. Perhaps in previous weeks, she had acquiesced to Martha’s wishes and stayed in the kitchen. And perhaps, in the quiet of the evening, she listened to her deepest desires and resolved to act in accordance with her true self — next time. Next time, she would sit and listen to Jesus, no matter what was going on.
Where in my life is Jesus calling me to resist the status quo?
Are there any areas of conflict or change that I need to press into?
What fears do I have around these areas of change? Could Jesus help me overcome my fears?
Thank you, Mary, for loving Jesus so much that you had to sit and listen. Thanks for listening to your true self.
This is the first of five posts at The Well by Ann Boyd on the topic of Mary and Martha. You'll find the rest of them here:
This was originally published as part of a series of twelve reflections on the story of Mary and Martha at Ann's blog. If you’d like to read the whole series, start with the first post, where they are listed in full at the end of the piece. Copyright 2014 Ann Boyd. Used with permission.