Martha and Mary
By Marilyn Lopez
What a wonderful scripture story, familiar, I believe, to many of us. How many interpretations have we heard preached about this brief, intimate story of Jesus and his friends? Ironically for me this week, this classic narrative arrived in my life twice. Upon going on-line on day, I received one of those circulating email jokes entitled something akin to ‘the other Martha’. Thinking it was about the biblical Martha, I hastily opened it, but was disappointed to find that it was merely a satirical look at another popular ‘Martha’ of the day. I expected something more meaningful. Then just a few days later as I was sitting in the pews at church, guess what the Gospel reading was? You guessed it, Luke’s Martha and Mary! Two times in one week for me means pay attention; an opportunity for growth is readily available. God means work when He is trying to get my attention. That means more needs to be done than simply analyzing with my head; I need to engage the heart as well. What an interesting contrast of events -email and then a gospel reading! What do I do with this coincidence, oops, I mean, God-incidence? Do I compare real world personalities with biblical characters? I think not. Worldly and material ‘things’ are temporal and fade away. Divine wisdom, however, remains eternal. The divine is the direction chosen.
To refresh our minds on this narrative, Martha and Mary, sisters, welcome Jesus to their home for a meal. Martha is running around preparing dinner and Mary remains at the feet of Jesus listening. In her anxiety and frustration, Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her serve. Jesus responds saying that Mary is doing her part (some versions say “better part”) and she will not be denied that privilege. The classic construal of this narrative is that Mary represents the contemplative servant and Martha the active. Each of us can relate to both I hope, yet each of us has a dominating slant towards one or the other style. My own personal, heady ‘mis-construal’ of this story supports my own rationalization of laziness, thus siding with Mary! We need to go beyond our own amateur interpretations and dig deeper. Which figure do you sympathize with, relate to or understand? Do you (we) ever choose to pick up a commentary on the Gospels to understand more? Do you allow our ministers to be the sole interpreters and quit there? Do we take the easy road and accept a simplistic interpretation or rationalization and forget about it all? Ultimately the Bible is God talking to us. What we need is to prayerfully read and ask the Holy Spirit for guidance in understanding what a particular passage is saying to my soul, now, today, in the particular circumstances of my life.
A bit of historical background helps. One of the central themes intertwined in many of Luke’s narratives is that of Jesus’ compassion and respect for women. It was unheard of at the time for a woman to be seated at the feet of Jesus or any teacher. That position was reserved solely for disciples, men to be exact. In the culture of the day, women were considered second class citizens. Yet, Jesus holds no barriers for gender, race, class, age or health. He loves all souls. His message is for all – women, men, young, old, outcasts, aliens and even sinners.
How refreshing! Do we understand the depth of His love for our individual soul? Is it clear in our minds that each one of us was created as a disciple with a mission? As parents, it is imperative that we connect to what our duties are here in this life. Do we take seriously the proverb ‘train up the child in the way he should go’? Ultimately, our spiritual life and that of our children is all that matters. We are not alone on our walk; the Holy Spirit is accessible to teach us. We need to embrace both styles of service illustrated in this wonderful narrative. Like Mary, we need to continue in silence and prayer, beckoning and listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we journey onward. As with Martha, we need to remember to take time to foster the silence as a part of the ever active responsibility of raising His children.