I am struggling with Luke’s story of Mary and Martha. I have never liked the story and for some reason, today I like it less. I think with every decade I have learned to appreciate my women friends and colleagues more and more and Luke is just annoying with his insistence that I take sides against a woman.
In the story, I admire both women. I like that Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet listening (although Luke doesn’t seem to afford her any voice) and I like that Martha is working in the kitchen to offer hospitality to this crowd of unexpected guests. I like it that Martha appears to be the head of the household and that she speaks up for herself and her needs. I like it that Mary is intellectually engaged.
I don’t like it that I have to choose sides. I’m not good at neutral–no one of faith should ever be good at neutral. Yet, I don’t like siding with one woman at the expense of another.
Our staff at Zion is almost exclusively female and we are an awesome team. I love working with women, collaborating with women, and my network of women friends are my saving grace. And although, I have friends who are more Mary than Martha and friends who are more Martha than Mary, ALL of my women friends would agree that they have been doing both roles simultaneously for their whole lives.
Every woman is sometimes Mary listening to the voice of Jesus–growing spiritually while taking seriously the development of her intellectual side. Every woman is also Martha cooking, cleaning, helping with school projects, and cheering at baseball games. But there is one single truth that every woman knows: at the end of the day–dinner has to get on the table. And getting dinner on the table involves shopping, cooking, serving, and cleaning up. It can be tedious work in our culture. For Mary and Martha it was exhausting.
Because I find the story disturbing in its insensitivity to women (Mary doesn’t get to speak, Martha is devalued), I’ve written my own ending:
Martha: “Jesus, make Mary get up and help me in the kitchen.”
Jesus: “Hey, no problem. The disciples and I will go in the kitchen and finish up for you.”
And all the men stand up, walk in the kitchen and get to work. Mary and Martha pour themselves a glass of wine, put their feet up, and discuss theology.