Martha, Martha

Yesterday was the feast day of Mary, Martha and Lazarus of Bethany (formerly the feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany; Lazarus has been added to the Holy Women, Holy Men calendar).

I've always been slightly irritated about the whole "Mary vs. Martha" thing, as if one (Mary) is better than the other.

Yes, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells Martha that she is distracted upon the occasion when he is there and that Mary, putting aside everything and sitting at his feet, has chosen the better part  - on that day and in that situation.  Not for everything always everywhere.

Jesus does not say, despite the interpretation I've heard before, that being contemplative is better than being a "do-er."  This is not about "homemakers" versus "students," either.  Jesus does want Martha to be attentive to him when he is present, as Mary is; in other Gospels, Jesus says that the bridegroom will not always be with the people and so the people must not mourn while he is present.

And Lord knows, Jesus has to call all of the disciples out for getting something wrong at some point.  Martha is no different from Peter in the way that Jesus treats/corrects her.

And speaking of Peter, now let's look at Martha in the Gospel of John.  Here, she plays a very special part in the story of Jesus.  In John, it is Martha who confesses Jesus to be the Messiah.   While Peter makes this claim in answer to Jesus' question, "Who do you say that I am?" Martha makes the confession in answer to Jesus' statement and followup question, "I am the resurrection and the life... Do you believe this?"

And Martha says, "Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world."

So in the Gospel of John, it is Martha (not Mary, not Peter), unique among Jesus' followers, who recognizes him as the Messiah before his death and resurrection.

So let's give the whole Mary vs. Martha a break, shall we?


Very interesting. Jesus says that the one who choses to sit at his feet and listen to his teaching has chosen the better path. It is a path that is open to everyone, everyday, but few chose it because it is surprisingly costly. More costly to listen to a beloved, much honoured and respected guest and let the preparations go hang. Costly to sit at Jesus feet and listen to his teachings when we could be having a home that impresses our friends, or a career, or making money or investing in an amazing garden...
Interesting. I always read it that the better path is to sit at Jesus feet and listen to his teachings rather than be anxious and worried about many things!
Anita, yes, the better path is to listen to Jesus than to be anxious and worried about many things and it is hard. But that shouldn't translate, as I often hear people say, into the "contemplative path" being superior and that Jesus wants us all to be contemplatives. Many people do identify with Mary and want to emulate her, which is fine, but not when they do so by denigrating Martha, who has her own way of relating to Jesus as exemplified by the other story. I would like to rescue Martha from being seen as inferior to Mary as a person by looking at her in the bigger picture than just the one story in Luke.