“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her” (Lk 10:41-42).
My wife, JoAnn, and I have had more than a few spirited discussions on this Gospel passage each time that it arose because at first reading it appears that Jesus does not show any empathy or regard for Martha’s gift of hospitality nor for all the work she has done. All the men are sitting around listening to Jesus with Mary doing the same, and who is left to do all the work? Martha.
It is not only deacon’s wives who carry extra weight and burdens in support on the home front to allow their husbands the time to serve, (While JoAnn was still alive, the time it took me to write these daily posts was less time I could spend with JoAnn or less time to devote to the needs of our home) but many wives who are full-time homemakers, run in-home businesses or carry a job outside the home, as well as caring for the children, overseeing the bills, the day to day grind, find themselves at times, rightly so, underappreciated, undervalued, and not respected for all they do.
To all husbands reading this, WE definitely can do a better job of being present, more patient, respectful, and attentive to our wives and be more of an equal partner in our journey. All of us, female or male, could also be better served if we follow this pattern of attention and priority: God is to be first, then our vocation to marriage and family is second, then work, then our vocation.
With all the above as a prelude, I do not believe that Jesus was disregarding Martha. Especially in the Gospel of Luke, there are many instances in which Jesus empowers women so far beyond the cultural reality of the time period. We read this account from our twenty-first-century mindset. Contextually, the men sitting at the teacher’s feet in a different room, the women cooking, and most times eating separately were commonplace for those in the first century AD. The only person out of step was Mary.
Jesus said that Martha was worried about many things, Mary could have been one of those worries, and not so much that Mary wasn’t helping in the kitchen, but because she was breaking the social norm of sitting with the men. When Martha calls Jesus to redirect Mary, she probably expects him to support her plea. Yet, Jesus acknowledges that “Mary has chosen the better part” of sitting and having her primary focus be on him. I can visualize Martha being taken aback at first, but then slowly seeing the muscles in her face relax, as she chooses to let go of her anxiety, take her apron off, throws it off to the side, and sits down next to Mary.
There is clear biblical evidence that beyond the Twelve, Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, were Jesus’ closest friends. When Jesus came four days after the death of Lazarus, it was Martha who initially came out to Jesus, not Mary, and in that exchange, it was Martha who made the claim that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God (cf Jn 11:27). She would not have had this insight, the same as Peter had, if she was still holding a grudge over the dinner.
Today’s reaction and push back from this account in Luke is not so much a reflection on Jesus but how poorly men have emulated Jesus in their interactions with women. No matter their ages, young and old and everywhere in between, women are human beings created in the image and likeness of God. No one has the right to abuse, demean, disparage, devalue, or exploit any woman. They are to be appreciated, heard, respected, understood, and valued.
All of us need to make a choice. We can either feed our anxiety or build our relationship with Jesus. We can recognize and admit that we are anxious about many things, we can resist choosing to take our anxiety out on one another, and instead come and sit at the feet of Jesus, breathe slowly, let the anxiety dissipate, seek his guidance, and begin again.