Mary and Martha

The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the story of Martha and Mary from the Gospel of Luke.  Like many of my friends, this scripture has often grated on me.  Jesus seems so unjust here – Martha is working hard in the kitchen and Mary, in Martha’s opinion, is not “pulling her weight”.  Jesus’ chip at Martha can also seem like a rebuke directed to those of us who struggle to maintain “Godly responsibilities” while juggling work, a household, family relationships, hospitality.  An extra load on an already loaded plate.  A balancing act that can sometimes feels very out of balance.

However, the yoke Jesus gives us is easy, and his burden light, so how should we best look at the story of these two women?  Luke 10.38-42 offers a liberating understanding of women’s participation in the kingdom of God – in sitting and learning at Jesus’s feet, Mary is taking the posture of a disciple.  Jesus approves and embraces this counter-cultural understanding – his ministry is open to all. 

In the past, this story has been interpreted as prioritising the contemplative life over the active life.  Theologian John Shea sees that the Martha-Mary story isn’t a dichotomy.  Instead, it is a recognition that God is both inside and outside, sustaining us to work, and through our service, bringing about a world of justice, mercy and peace.  Not an either/or message but a both/and message.  God calls us to focus on Him first, moving from our place of being “worried and distracted by many things” to where we are in touch with the one thing that’s needed, the good part that won’t be taken away.  And from here, we can connect to the source that brings peace, love and energy to our endeavours.

(Jarvis, C.E. & Johnson E.E. Feasting on the Gospels, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013-2015)

Kate Littmann-Kelly

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