January 18, 2021

Sunday’s Gospel: Jesus, Martha, and Mary (Teaching One Another)

By Chaplain Mike

On Sundays, we hear the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary. Sometimes, I share a message based upon this text. On other weeks, I ask you to share your observations so that our readers can be edified.

Today, we’ll be teaching one another again.

Today’s Gospel
This Sunday’s Gospel text shows Jesus visiting in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It tells the story with which many of you will be familiar: how Martha was busy with the chores of hospitality, while Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to his words. The conflict this engendered between the two sisters has sparked our imaginations and given us cause for much reflection over the years.

Above all, this is a story about discipleship—what it means to follow Jesus. In typical Lukan fashion, the disciples he portrays are unforgettable characters, so real and down-to-earth that we can easily relate to them and draw lessons from their experiences.

Luke 10:38-42 (NKJV)—

Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Teaching One Another
Some observations and comments on today’s text for you to think about as you study and meditate on this text:

  • Discipleship sometimes requires that tasks be suspended while fellowship is maintained. (Darrell Bock, NIV Application Commentary: Luke, p. 304)
  • The story also refines the understanding of hospitality. Jesus’ response to Martha makes clear that the “one thing necessary” for hospitality is attention to the guest, rather than a domestic performance. If the guest is a prophet, the appropriate reception is listening to God’s word! (Luke Timothy Johnson, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke, p. 175)
  • The real problem between Martha and Mary wasn’t the workload that Martha had in the kitchen. That, no doubt, was real enough, but it wasn’t the main thing that was upsetting Martha. . . .No: the real problem was that Mary was behaving as if she were a man. In that culture, as in many parts of the world to this day, houses were divided into male “space” and female “space”, and male and female roles were strictly demarcated as well. Mary had crossed an invisible but very significant boundary within the house, and another equally important boundary within the social world. (Tom Wright, Luke for Everybody, p. 130)
  • Part of Martha’s problem was that she worried too much about what others were doing. In asking Jesus to enter into her complaint, she assumed that her evaluation of Mary’s choice of priorities was right. . . .Think of how much more effective the church would be if we gave half the energy to assessing our own walk than we often do to assessing the walk of others. (Darrell Bock, NIV Application Commentary: Luke, p. 306)

Now it’s your turn. Help us hear God’s message from this passage!


  1. The importance of Jesus defending Mary’s right to “sit at his feet” cannot be overemphasized, in my opinion. To “sit at the feet” of someone was to learn from them as a disciple. My understanding is that in that practical world, it was understood that disciples learned in order to one day be able to teach.

    Jesus was defending Mary’s right to full participation in the Kingdom of God. He was deliberately overturning the gender roles of his time, in which women were not to learn the Torah beyond the passages that applied directly to women. Mary was not just “behaving as if she were a man,” she was behaving as if she were a fully participating disciple. And Jesus said she had chosen the best part, which would not be taken away from her.

    • I think we’re reading backwards and projecting the questions of our own day into the passage here, when we start talking about “behaving like a man”.

      I don’t think it can be that uncommon for women to have studied and to be devout; we have, after all, the example of Anna, in the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple: “And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;

      And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”

      And we see in Acts “But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts.”

      Devout women of high standing had influence; they must have done something to be considered “devout”. I think that while intense study of the Torah may have been seen as a man’s work, the practical work of handing on the faith to the children and running the home as a godly place was the women’s sphere, and so I think that Mary’s sitting at the feet of Jesus in the domestic context of her home was not such a revolution or innovation as presented.

  2. In defence of my confirmation patron… 😉

    “No: the real problem was that Mary was behaving as if she were a man.”

    Um – speaking as a woman who’s come out of a rural community with fixed roles for males and females and how you treat guests, no, the real problem was, from Martha’s point of view living in a rural community, that Mary was not exhibiting the behaviour of hospitality. She was not attending to the needs of the guest by just sitting around (apparently) doing nothing. First you provide food and drink and the comfy chair, then you can sit and chat.

    But Jesus reminded Martha that this was not the whole of hospitality; as Luke Johnson points out, it is attention to the guest – and that may mean sitting and listening, not bustling around feeding Him (and whatever disciples came trailing after Him, which I imagine at least some of them did; if Jesus alone had been there, I don’t think Martha would have been so frazzled).

    I think Martha learned the lesson well, and she does, after all, get the good part in the raising of Lazarus; she’s the practical one who sends for Jesus, who knows what a body three days in the grave will be like, and still believes in the Resurrection – not just the future Resurrection, but the possibility here and now. She’s the antithesis of the atheist strawman about the “magical/wishful thinking believer” because she knows the reality of life and death, and still believes.

    From the Catholic point of view, Martha and Mary (as well as Leah and Rachel) have been taken as exemplars of the active and contemplative life respectively; Mary’s part is the rationale behind “What good does it do to be locked away in a monastery from the world?” as someone (I think) questioned in your post on the Carthusians in “Into Great Silence”.

    • Martha (the one in the Bible) is one of the dearest New Testament characters for me. I like what Martha (the iMonk poster) says above.

      This passage is probably as often misunderstood as any in the Bible. I believe when Jesus told Martha, “But one thing is needful” he meant that in addition to her many virtues she lacked only patient forgiveness — not that nothing else mattered than to sit and listen to him as Mary was doing.

      • Well, like I said, I’ve always had a certain sympathy for Martha (I took her as my patron saint at Confirmation precisely because she had the domestic and practical virtues I lacked and, alas! still lack).

        Given that the disciples usually accompanied Jesus, just imagine trying to feed twelve guys (plus the Master) who unexpectedly pitch up on your doorstep – no wonder she wanted a hand in the kitchen.


      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I’ve seen what happens when someone goes overboard on the Mary route, fleeing responsibility into Contemplation and Devotions. In a lot of cases, its a Christian way to “tune in, turn on, and drop out”.

        Most of Renaissance Spain went that route when the easy money flowed in from the Americas; before the money ran out, a third of the adult population of Spain was cloistered in monasteries and convents in a classic sort of Clericalism.

        Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem, “The Sons of Martha”, pointing out that while the Sons of Mary are sitting around quietly contemplating, the Sons of Martha are building and maintaining the infrastructure that allows the Sons of Mary to sit there and contemplate.

      • This comment really made me think. Is it the judging of her sister that Jesus is correcting? Maybe it would have been fine for her to ask for help in the kitchen without judging Mary harshly in front of Christ. Are we guilty of expecting God to MAKE other people do “the right thing.”? Why can’t we work quietly without worrying about what others are up to?

  3. I wonder how many women in Jesus’ time were taught to read? Do you think Jesus’ mom could read? I know that even if they could not read, they could hear the scriptures read.

    I always liked this Mary and Martha passage. I also like that later we see Mary of Bethany pouring perfume on Jesus. One passage does not say who did that; another passage says it was Mary of Bethany. I think she knew as well as anyone could know what was going to happen to Jesus and she knew that he was her King and her Savior.

    I am so glad that Jesus treated women as he did and that he talked freely with them. It gave an example to his male disciples as to how THEY should behave. Not all of them may have learned that lesson though!

  4. Martha is often depicted as concerned with the world and lacking in faith, while Mary had a strong faith. But I notice here that it was Martha who invited Jesus to their house. In John 11 it’s she who first both laments and proclaims: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” She affirms that he is the Christ and has absolute faith in him.

    And John 11:5 says, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Martha was wrong to treat Jesus as her attack dog — Get my sister for me! — but that mistake on her part may have come from her utter conviction that Jesus could do anything he chose, make Mary work or raise her brother from the dead. And despite her initial wrong approach to Jesus, he still loved her.

    • I like those comments, Damaris. Maybe this is a case of “my Jesus can do anything” but a failure to understand what it is that JESUS wants to do. We know , or suspect, HIS power. But what about HIS intentions, HIS heart, HIS goal? As a pastor friend of mine once asked, “When will Jesus get what Jesus wants ?”.. There is gentleness in Jesus’ response, HE wants to relieve Martha from being “worried and troubled”, but this can only happen when she recognizes not only what Jesus CAN do but what HIS passion is. The partial picture left sincere Martha sincerely incomplete.

  5. Jesus is our teacher and Lord in all of life. This passage reminds me that even in the simplest things we need his guidance in knowing what is the best or the only necessary thing. We know Christ and each other thru being with him/others and doing for him/others. If our “doing for” does not flow from intimate times of “being with”, we will become distracted and worried about the many things which can lead us into performance based relationship with God and then we might drift into comparing and competing with others.

    There are so many things we can be doing at any one time, many of them good. We need spiritual attunement with our Lord to know what is best. Perhaps, Martha’s serving was not the problem as this was her gifting but more that her ministry had become the center rather than Christ. In John 12 we see a similar scene being played out. Jesus at their house, Martha serving, the resurrected Lazarus sitting with Jesus and Mary annointing his feet. Jesus is at the center and yet there seems to be harmony as each are being with the Lord together yet in their own way.

  6. While listening to our sermon on this, I came up with a new “Rest of the Story”.

    As you know that there were women who traveled with Jesus, Luke 8:1-3.

    After Jesus had spoken to Martha, Joanna looked over at Susanna, caught her eye and the eyes of several other women disciples. They quietly got up, and followed Martha to the kitchen. After finding out where everything was, and what else needed to be done, Joanna chased Martha out to join the others listening the Jesus.

    When the meal was served by the other women, and Martha being treated like a guest, Jesus smiled to himself, pleased that some lessons were being learned.

  7. Thanks I needed to hear that now…

  8. One lesson I see in this that translates well into today’s church is that when activity, however well intended, take precedence over seeking and dwelling in Jesus’ presence, our priorities become skewed and ultimately it is not only our relationship with God that suffers, but also our relationship with one another. Sometimes loving God and our neighbor requires first that we be with them, and this relationship should engender and inform our actions, not vice versa. I see this pattern a lot in Jesus’ ministry, but sometimes it gets turned around in our churches today.

  9. Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

    I definitely identify with Martha. In my previous conversation, I was the music leader, a deacon, and a bunch of other things. I was always so busy making sure the service and ministry would run in the “right way” that I often would go months without actually meeting Jesus. My focus was on getting the job done, and I had too little time or energy left to spend time with the Savior.

    So, every time I read that passage, I tend to here the Lord say “Isaac, Isaac” when he says “Martha, Martha.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The danger of a Martha is workaholism and burnout.

      The danger of a Mary is laziness and passivity.

  10. I never heard of the explanation that Mary was acting like a man. If Mary had been a prostitute/adulturous woman, as traditionally interpreted, then she may have been less wrapped up in social and religious norms and rules, which would have prevented her from choosing the better. She sure didn’t care about social norms when she washed the Savior’s feet with her tears. It sounds again like those words of Neil Peart: that we can be so full of what is right that we can’t see what is good. In that sense, I have played the part of Martha far too often: doing what I thought was acceptable, prudent, or normal for a good, moral, bible-believing church-goer that I was paralyzed from truly doing what God wanted me to do in that moment, or to reach out to an outcast, or to speak out against typical evangelical stupidity.

    There is also a kairos moment here. I don’t know why people stop to gawk at an accident scene; when I have somewhere to go and am trying to get there as soon as possible, it really ticks me off. But to be charitable, perhaps people stop and look because before them is displayed the angst of finitude, tragedy and death. Perhaps people also stop out of true concern. Either way, their journey and everyone else behind them has been interrupted by an overpowering moment. In a similar way, an overpowering moment was taking place in Mary and Martha’s house: scripture was being fulfilled; the kingdom of God was at hand; the Messiah had come. The right thing to do at that moment was to stop and listen. The next moment may have been filled with a response to what Jesus was teaching them, perhaps to “go and do likewise”.

    The message of the story is not that work and busy-ness are bad and praying, meditating, and studying are better; I would also go out on a limb to say that Martha does NOT represent “law” and Mary “gospel”. the point is to discern the times and to do what God wants in that moment. It reminds me of a tragic quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “When will the church say the right thing at the right time?”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      If Mary had been a prostitute/adulturous woman, as traditionally interpreted…

      First of all, “Mary” (“Miryam”, actually) was THE most common woman’s name in that time and place. There are at least half a dozen Marys mentioned in the Gospels (including one referred to as “The Other Mary”). It’s like that Monty Python skit about “Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce. How about we just call you Bruce to avoid confusion?”

      Also, the “Mary as prostitute” is probably from Medieval traditions and elaborations and legend about Mary Magdalene. (Which factored into the Da Vinci Code.) Somebody described it once as “They took the proximity of an anonymous woman described as ‘a woman of ill repute’ and the mention of Mary Magdalene, combined the two, and went at it as only monks vowed to celibacy since before puberty could do.”

      • Yes, I made some broad assumptions that the Mary in each case was Magdalene, which I know may not be the case. Probably more Zeffirelli-esque than fact.

  11. Actually, Mary is an interesting character throughout the gospels. Whenever the disciples or the Pharisees didn’t get what was going on, Mary seems zero-in on the moment like a heat-seeking missile. We see her again spending an extravagant amount of money on rare perfume to anoint Jesus’ head for burial – before he is even arrested. She always seems grasp the kairos moment, while the disciples were scratching their heads, thinking “duh, huh? Is this still about the bread incident?”

    Perhaps Martha can represent “churchianity” and Mary Jesus-shaped spirituality.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Again, which Mary are you talking about? The woman with the perfume is never named, and her traditional identification as Mary Magdalene seems to be a legend. And is the Mary of Mary & Martha the same Mary as Mary Magdalene? Or another Mary? (Even “The Other Mary”?) Judging from tomb inscriptions, “Mary” (Miryam) WAS THE most common woman’s name of that place and time.

      And Mary (or the Maries) “zeroing in on the moment like a heat-seeking missile” while “the disciples were scratching their heads”, well, could this be “woman’s intuition” or a 2000-year-old version of American TV’s portrayal of men as dumb compared to women? (Which in a male-superior culture like that at the time, could itself be a subversion or satire — here their male-superiority causes them to discount the sharpest tool in the shed just because she’s a she.)

      • Actually, HUG, John 11:2 says, “This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.” And then in Chapter 12, John talks about Mary doing just that.

      • I wasn’t making any distinction based on gender. Mary’s perspective had nothing to do with her gender or personality. I don’t think she was the bookish wall-flower she’s been made out to be, or that Martha was a work-a-holic. I don’t know why she among so few got it. Jesus credited Peter’s understanding to God rather than man; I think the same is true for Mary. As stated in John 1:13: we’re born of God, not natural descent, or human decision, or a husband’s decision. The fact that the disciples missed the point so frequently reveals the miracle of Pentecost, when they not only got it, but were bold about it. Artificial distinctions distract from the power of God and the sufficiency of grace. The story should never be about whether one is a “Mary” or a “Martha”, a woman or a man, etc., etc.

  12. With regards to Martha’s comment:

    “I think we’re reading backwards and projecting the questions of our own day into the passage here, when we start talking about “behaving like a man”.
    I don’t think it can be that uncommon for women to have studied and to be devout;”

    I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this. Women were considered “exempt” from reading the Torah– this didn’t mean they couldn’t study it, but they were strongly discouraged from learning any more than what was necessary for their own domestic duties. Certainly they were not allowed to “sit at the feet” of a rabbi as a disciple! Nor does the text imply anywhere that Anna was allowed to “sit at the feet” of a rabbi, or that devout women of that time did so– quite the opposite, in fact. “Devout” women were those who knew their place and didn’t try to be disciples of rabbis.

    When Paul says he “sat at the feet” of Gamaliel, he is saying he was Gamaliel’s disciple. When Luke says Mary “sat at the feet” of Jesus, he is not just saying she was choosing the contemplative over the active life. Nor is the passage just about Mary’s remission in offering hospitality.

    I think we are “reading backwards” and projecting our own culture onto the culture of the day when we fail to understand “sit at the feet of a rabbi” as “be a disciple of a rabbi.” Women were not allowed to be disciples in Judaism. Jesus was expressly permitting Mary to be his disciple.

    • Yes, but when we start talking about “ZOMG! Scandal!”, we are inevitably coming to it with our own impressions and presumptions.

      I see a lot of harrumphing about the “feminisation of the church”, but if you look into it, no matter what faith you’re talking about, religion has always been a primarily feminine activity.

      The “Muscular Christianity” of the 19th century was a reaction to this; various progressive Protestants made a point of how Roman Catholicism was a ‘female’ religion (“if you visit the Continent, you’ll see all the churches are full of women praying!”) versus rational, manly, Protestantism (of whatever flavour you cared to mention). Even the rather sentimental, half-joking notion during the 19th century of “the Bible I learned at my mother’s knee” was at the mother’s knee; fathers may have led family prayer, but it’s the mothers who teach the children and keep the traditions and pass on the faith.

      There’s the “official” regulations of the religion, and there’s how it works out in practice. I’m quite certain that you are correct in your facts and that woman were not encouraged to be scholars like men, but that does not cover the whole of the matter. After all, there were a lot of men who weren’t scholars of the Torah either, who were earning livings or were of a more secular bent of mind. And I bet there were a lot of women like Anna, widows with their families reared, who now had the time to spend worshipping in the Temple and practicing their devotions. I agree that it would have been considered scandalous for a woman to be a student of a rabbi (no Reform Judaism and ordination of women in those days!) but I think if we approach Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus in that way, we’re getting just as bogged down in our own cultural assumptions: they were enacting the role of rabbi and disciple and she was imitating the male paradigms of her time.

      Mary was a disciple, yes, but this was not the old pattern of student and teacher. The same way that the old patterns were changed during what we call the Finding in the Temple, when the young Jesus was sought by His parents and found teaching the teachers.

      Yes, it was scandalous

      • Ah, I suppose what I’m saying is, don’t let’s get bogged down in what’s called “clericalism” (the notion that the important role in the church is that played by the ordained, and so – in our day – it is considered a demand of justice that women be ordained, else they are not “equal” Christians).

        It doesn’t matter a straw to me if Mary was an “equal” to a male discipline in her day; she was hearing the Word from the Word.

        • “Discipline”? I meant, of course, “disciple”.

          Freudian slip? 😉

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Or Opus Dei got to you 🙂
            (Cue the Albino Monk Assassins with their “disciplines”…)

          • Headless, before Opus Dei got all glamourous enough for Dan Brown to hear about them, there was Sixth Class religious instruction and tales of Venerable Matt Talbot (teaching twelve year old girls all about the use of chains in mortification).

            Gimme that ol’ time religion! 😉

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Some of what I’ve heard about Mortification (TM) makes me wonder if the extreme forms were just a pious coat of paint for BDSM fixations. (I mean, St Rose of Lima was pathologically self-destructive. And how many (with typical human cluelessness) mistook her self-destructiveness for holiness?)

            In a similar analogy, I understand the early Church didn’t canonize martyrs who actively sought martyrdom because of the possibility that a martyrdom-seeker might just be trying to commit “suicide by cop” with Christian cover.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          …don’t let’s get bogged down in what’s called “clericalism” (the notion that the important role in the church is that played by the ordained…

          Among Evangelicals, “clericalism” expresses itself in “Full Time Christian Ministry (TM)” instead of formal Holy Orders. Never mind Priest, Monk, or Nun, If you’re not a Pastor, Missionary, or Praise Singer 24/7/365, You’re Not Really Saved. JMJ/Christian Monist has described on his blog how that impossible expectation burns people out left & right.

          And didn’t IMonk comment once that many of his Buddhist students expressed a similar form of Clericalism, that if you were serious about Buddhism you were expected to become a monk?

      • Lukas db says

        I find it interesting that you call religion a primarily feminine activity. It made me think of the role of women in many forms of Hinduism, where she is sort of the heart of things sacred. A family works like this: the man deals with the family’s relationship with the wider profane world, and the woman sets a place aside in the world and makes it sacred for her family. The man must go out every day into the impure world; the house is a refuge of sacredness, which the woman maintains – sometimes through ritual, such as keeping a fire lit, sometimes simply through her presence and diligence.

        I suspect that it was once so in many other places, Europe included (though generally not with the same level of formal ritual). And so we moderns with our misogyny goggles firmly in place look at the role of women in medieval society and say she was but a slave, and are horrified that she was never in government or military command. We say it was because women were regarded as worthless. In fact it was because they were precious – far too precious to be wasted or made impure with the mundane tasks of the world, the practical machinations of masculine society. She was a gateway to the divine. And though men had practical authority, only a clod of a man would exercise it at her expense.

        • Lukas, Chesterton has a very insightful analysis of men’s and womens’ roles in his book “What’s Wrong with the World?” I like all his non-fiction, but that book is definitely my favorite, although (or because) it’s very challenging. i think he would agree with the tone of what you’re saying.

          • “Some impatient trader, some superficial missionary, walks across an island and sees the squaw digging in the fields while the man is playing a flute; and immediately says that the man is a mere lord of creation and the woman a mere serf. He does not remember that he might see the same thing in half the back gardens in Brixton, merely because women are at once more conscientious and more impatient, while men are at once more quiescent and more greedy for pleasure. It may often be in Hawaii simply as it is in Hoxton. That is, the woman does not work because the man tells her to work and she obeys. On the contrary, the woman works because she has told the man to work and he hasn’t obeyed.”

            One of my favorite quotes.

            I like all his fiction, too. 🙂

            But yeah, I always liked the way Chesterton looked at the middle ages and the rest of human history. He didn’t seem to feel compelled to violently condemn our ancestors like most moderns do. For that reason, my favorite of his non-fiction is ‘The Everlasting Man.” But the book you cited is perhaps the most diverse of his works. Thanks for the reminder; I should probably re-read it.

            I’m just reading Cecil Chesterton’s ‘A History of the United States’ (or some similar title) and am very surprised at the similarity of their writings. Runs in the family, I guess. My brothers are all very different from me.

            Forgive my literary tangent.

          • To Lukas db who quoted Chesterton who wrote, “On the contrary, the woman works because she has told the man to work and he hasn’t obeyed.”

            Interesting. In my circle of friends, it has been the women who had the good, steady jobs and the men often worked part-time or not at all. In my family, it’s not that way though.

          • Give a man a job with clear goals and benefits, and he will do it willingly. Tell him to take out the trash and, infamously, he will likely forget. Men tend to be kind of ADD; they remember only things that interest them or that they understand the purpose of.

            It’s no coincidence that the vast majority of diagnosed ADHD cases are boys; it’s really just an aggravation of ordinary male behavior.

            My father is pretty ADD. He found a job that he loves, and does it with passion twelve hours a day. He has become incredibly successful because of it. So it isn’t that men don’t work well; it’s that, in order for them to work well, they need to be interested.

            But as with all generalizations, take all this with a grain of salt….

    • Thanks for this. I find it a lot more compelling than the easy reading of busyness compared to contemplation.

      You see all these indications in the Gospels of Jesus not being bound by the gender-based society of his day. And then Paul comes along and instructs the women to shut up and know their place in society. Unlike Jesus (duh) he was unable to escape his own patriarchal paradigm.

      Fast forward 2000 years, and we read that the pope is putting the ordainment of women on the same level as pedophilia.

      But there’s a bright side. Our church just was assigned a GREAT young women preacher, with a real passion for outreach to the unchurched. She was raised Baptist and felt the call to preach but wasn’t allowed. We are happy to have her over here in the Methodist camp.

      • SearchingAnglican says

        Fish –

        I, too, am interested in this take on the passage, because it is one I hadn’t thought through much before. And part of my (Episcopal) priest’s homily focused on just this.

        However, I do want to make one small comment that I hope doesn’t derail this post. You said:
        “Fast forward 2000 years, and we read that the pope is putting the ordainment of women on the same level as pedophilia.”.

        I would caution you to reconsider if, indeed, this is what the Pope or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was suggesting. John Allen has a nice commentary on the subject, half way down the post: http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/popes-reluctance-impose-american-way-not-shocker.

        I think it’s another case of the Vatican’s inability to manage PR effectively, and for most of us outsiders to understand the theological/ecclesiastical connection between these two seemingly disparate issues. As a former Catholic with much love for (parts of) the RCC, I too was a little up in arms until I read that article.

  13. Martha’s problem is nicely summarised by Luke: she was “distracted with much serving”, so much so that she couldn’t hear Jesus. She thought that what she did for Jesus was prior & primary as the host; whereas when Jesus enters a house, what He brings, His service, are both prior and primary. There’s plenty of opportunity in life to do, serve, be busy. But when Jesus speaks, it’s best just to sit and listen, and not allow anything else (however worthwhile in itself) to distract.

  14. I am reminded of another story in the gospels, where a woman (perhaps it was Mary) who poured some very expensive ointment over the head of Jesus. In Matthew’s version of the story it is the disciples as a whole who complain about the enormous waste. Jesus in effect tells them not to be so damn practical – not everything in life can be reduced to a calculation.

  15. Brother Bartimaeus says

    For some reason this morning, this story reminded me of another pair of siblings, Cain and Abel.  Of course in that story both brothers made offerings and God showed a preference of one over the other.  People were to vegetarians before Noah, so Cain’s offering of crops might have been seen as mundane.  However, Abel’s offering of a fatted calf is an offering of something not meant for man.  He got that God was something other than you and me.
    In this story we have two sisters, each providing their own offering to Jesus.  Martha provides an offering of hospitality, one that she thinks is superior.  Mary, however, provides an offering of obeisance and devotion, which Jesus finds as the more acceptable offering.  Mary’s offering comes from the heart, while Martha’s could be seen as an obligation.  Martha’s offering also caused her to be distracted from God, while Mary’s zeroed focused upon God.

  16. KR Wordgazer says

    Fish said:

    “And then Paul comes along and instructs the women to shut up and know their place in society. Unlike Jesus (duh) he was unable to escape his own patriarchal paradigm.”

    Since Paul’s writings show great respect to a large number of women who served alongside him, I think it’s more likely that his instructions to women in general, like his instructions to slaves in general, come from his professed goal in 1 Cor 9 to “become all things to all people that I might by any means save some.” It was the patriarchal cultures around him that couldn’t escape their paradigms; Paul is instructing Christians to work within those paradigms so that “no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:5). The gospel was Paul’s concern; social reconstruction was simply not part of his mission as he understood it.

    Jesus Himself didn’t expressly address the roles of women; He simply treated them as fully human recipients of His grace. Mary is a shining example of this, but despite His disagreement with Martha’s focus, He treats her with respect and courtesy.

    • I think I probably agree with you, but many people tend to make Paul’s lack of social reconstruction into a literal instruction to have a patriarchal culture.

      A few years back, I was reading an interview with the senior pastor of a local mega-Bible church. They asked him what he’d say to his daughter if his daughter felt the call to preach. He said that his daughter would obviously be mistaken in her discernment, because God cannot be so inconsistent as to call a women to a job He’s already said she can’t have.

    • Those were two very thought-provoking comments, both of you. Thanks.

      *goes to ponder*

  17. I would think that at the time this gospel was written, there were many women thinking of a life purely of devotion to the Lord (forsaking family life), rather than the typical route of marriage, children and managing a household. While some are called to do both, some women also are called to consecrated life. Could this not be the issue being dealt with in this section of Luke’s Gospel?

    I fully accept other interpretations of this story, but Jesus and Paul both put forth the path of forsaking a family life as viable vocations..

  18. I know I am commenting on an older post, so not many of you may see this, but for those of you who read this, I hope you like it. I won’t give you the URL because then my comment will be held for moderation, but do a search on Ask Sister Mary Martha and you will find the blog. Sister Mary Martha says about Martha of Bethany, “So apparently, unlike her sister Mary, Martha could listen to Jesus and get dinner on the table and still had the wherewithall to ask Jesus to bring her brother back from the dead. That’s why I like Martha so much. She doesn’t always get it right, but when she gets it, she really gets it. I hope I can follow in her footsteps. And do dinner for 15 at a moments notice.”

    If you read more of her blog, you will find that she is VERY funny!

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