How many times have you been asked whether you identify more with Mary or Martha? I’ve been present many times when that question has been asked and whatever the answer, apologies are often offered, accompanied by some nervous laughter. Are we busy and practical? Or are we spiritual and contemplative? Here’s the good news: it’s not an either-or situation.
We Christian women know Luke’s account (Luke 10:38-42) of Jesus stopping in Bethany to visit with Mary and Martha only too well, often seeing ourselves as living a Martha life. We are the ones teaching Sunday school, preparing the Sunday fellowship spread, keeping the church kitchen clean and sparkling, planning the committee agenda … the list goes on. Many of us extend our Martha-ness into other aspects of our lives too … in the classroom, the office, or the boardroom.
Had you noticed a simple phrase at the beginning of the story? “…Jesus entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.” Martha was a bold woman. She went against the culture and custom of her time—she owned a home. And Jesus went against culture and custom to stop and visit at the home of a woman. We often overlook Martha’s boldness to focus on Mary’s boldness in taking a disciple’s role (also not a role that culture or custom gave to women at that time).
So, we flinch a bit when Jesus seems to prefer Mary’s contemplative approach over Martha’s busyness. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there few things are needed—indeed only one. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Remember that Jesus validates Martha too, by simply being with her in her home.
It’s not an either-or situation. It’s not the active versus the contemplative life. All of us are called in the fullness of our lives to move beyond culture and custom to live a life in service to Jesus.
We commemorate the lives of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany later this week, on July 29. Let’s leave behind the Mary-Martha conundrum, agreeing to move beyond the culture and custom of our time to live a life in service to Jesus.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA. A version of this text ran on the blog in 2010.
Photo by jorisvo via http://shutterstock.com. Used with permission.