More to Mary and Martha Than Meets the Eye


Even when we smile, we women all operate differently. Here Mommy and Baby have two different approaches to the goat at Honolulu’s  Children’s Petting Zoo. Baby loves to touch the goat’s fur and lean into the very tolerant animal. Mommy delights in watching her daughter’s reactions to a new experience. Both display positives.

Somehow the story of Mary’s and Martha’s hospitality toward the Master has sparked heated discussions for generations. Some commentators look at Luke 10 and praise Martha’s hospitality as she “opened her home to him.” She has preparations for a house full and many distractions. Her request for help in the kitchen doesn’t seem out of line to any woman who’s ever cooked for a large crowd, especially that Christ came as the guest of honor.  And we do such festive preparations today with a counter full of tie-saving food prep devices.

Some commentators pass judgment on Martha, picturing her as a whiner focused on all the food preparations and getting the house ready to accommodate a crowd.

Fewer commentators judge Mary for her lack of consideration, and there still exist some who feel the only place a woman belongs is in the church kitchen.

Not in the kitchen, Mary sits down enraptured by the words of the Master. Baby sat mesmerized by this goat and he had nothing to say. Yet, transfixed, Baby did not want to move on at all. Leaving the goat’s pen did not make her happy at all!

Mary sits at the feet of the rabbi; my mind’s eye sees her hanging on every word. As 21st century women, we do not want to miss the cultural opening that Jesus initiates here. Only men sat at the feet of the teacher to learn Torah. The mere fact that Jesus does not chastise Mary for daring to take a seat with the other learners is so ground breaking and counter culture, that I cannot even think of a modern comparison. Maybe that’s why we miss the importance. What must those men have thought when she was not disciplined? Instead of dismissal from the group, the men her Jesus say, “Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken from her.” Maybe that’s why we women miss this red-letter day: theology is for us too! We thank the Lord for commending Mary’s study; hopefully I study scripture with as much enthusiasm as she.

The sister usually judged more quickly is Martha. When she speaks to Jesus, he answers, “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

If I consider only the praises given to Mary, valid as they are, I miss the tenderness and understanding Jesus offers Martha. He recognizes her inner turmoil. With a servan’ts heart, she worries  and gets upset. Her heart’s yearns to serve  her Lord using her preferred gifts. Luke says, “Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” (italics mine) From the Luke 10 text, we know Jesus and his disciples enter when Martha “opens her home to them.” We do not know who else might have traveled along in Jesus’ entourage.

Ever do that? Want to use the very gifts you have to serve the body of Christ and then get overwhelmed in the process? I have sure done that! How I relax when I hear the Lord tell me that he knows I’m upset and overwhelmed with all the good intentions. Gently, he refocuses me. How often do I study scripture as an item on my “to do ” list, missing the joy and privilege Mary took advantage of that day? So here’s to two lessons from two sisters; both teach us positives.

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