I find it appropriate that on the heels of Mothers Day, I find myself reading the ol’ Mary & Martha story. Jesus comes for a visit, Martha busies herself with preparing the creme puffs and coffee, meanwhile Mary gets comfy in the living room (the story would get better if she were sitting on a cushy pillow. The nerve!).
I’ve heard the messages and lessons on how we ought not get caught up in the details. I currently find myself lacking sleep over a celebration I’m helping to host this weekend, getting eaten alive by details and unable to focus on the wonderful company I’ll keep. However, I’m not sure Luke’s story is focused on that. When Saturday arrives, the day will be the day and we’ll enjoy whatever comes of it. And often I think this passage is used to heap a bit more guilt onto the shoulders of women who take pride in hospitality, the ones who make a mean cheesecake but then later feel ashamed that they don’t love Jesus enough because of it.
I’ve lately taken to asking myself, “what about this story is so different that someone would think it would be noteworthy?” The unexceptional things rarely get written (especially when etching onto parchment, which was at a premium). And in cultures where hospitality takes higher priority, I’m not sure Martha’s time in the kitchen would be all that remarkable.
So perhaps instead of throwing Martha under the bus for doing what was common, we should think more about the uncommon. First: I don’t think it was normal practice for guests to delegate household responsibilities. So Martha’s attempt to get Mary into the kitchen causes pause. I’m not sure it’s just a whiny sister here… she was not just making a statement about uneven workloads. Actually, to draw the guest of honor’s attention to the fact probably indicates a significant attempt by Martha to degrade Mary. Not just for shirking dish duty, but for how she filled her time instead.
While I’m sure women were a part of Jesus’ discipleship chain, I’m not convinced they always had prime access. As I put this passage into the scheme of my understanding, I wonder if women were welcome, but not always prioritized. “Sure, you can join… after the silver is polished” type of thing. And though patriarchy is an easy target, we should leave room for the ways the culture influenced the empowerment women felt when it came to following Jesus. Mary might be remarkable because of her guts.
In any case, Mary threw custom out the window. Something about Jesus told her that they could order a pizza for dinner because this guy was more important. So much so, she crossed a room likely filled full of men anxious to here what Jesus had to say, wiggled herself into prime location and had a seat.
I wonder if the scuffle was not so much that Mary wasn’t in the kitchen, but rather she was in the place where she might necessarily be welcome. She sat herself among people who perhaps didn’t invite her to take a seat.
And sweet little Martha, offering Jesus a chance to correct Mary and send her to where she belonged. How considerate. In essence, she’s offering “Jesus, you can tell her where to go.”
Jesus didn’t take the bait. Boundaries and classes and dividers and -isms were outside his agenda. Those majors were minors. “One thing is essential, and Mary has chosen it.”