Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’s feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? Bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, “Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things. But one thing is needful, and Mary has chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 11:38-42)
I sit in the pew. Above me stands a fine priest: tall, well-groomed, clearly well educated. And he makes his opening salvo: I am a Mary.
This is one of the few times that I struggle not to rise to my feet and challenge the priest right then and there.
O yeah? I want to say. If you are a Mary, then why are you here now, making this fine sermon? If you were a Mary you would be off doing whatever it was that caught your spiritual fancy instead of DOING YOUR JOB.
There, I said it.
I literally get choked up whenever this passage is referred to, and it is referred to quite a bit in this confused age of women who think that they are priests.
You see, they like to say. Being with Jesus is the GOOD part. So me being with Jesus is my being GOOD. (Being in the background, being a server, that is NOT the good part.)
I should probably admit up front that I was the first woman to serve as a production manager for an event at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. I have helped run entire trade shows. This is just to say that I value highly what goes on behind the scenes. Anywhere. A church kitchen. A small dinner party. A children’s Christmas pageant.
That said, back to theology. And having Jesus actually be wrong about God.
In print, no less.
For the whole world the read.
Where to begin?
Respect. There. That’s a good place.
But one thing is needful. And Mary has chosen the good part.
And what will happen when you and the other guests get hungry and are ready to eat? You’ve done YOUR JOB, you’ve taught, and you might just be famished after a while. What if Martha were to have joined her sister, and blown off the feast-making altogether?
How would that make you feel, Jesus?
Why is it that here Jesus forgets his friendship for Martha and puts her in the kitchen as a put-down? Only one thing is needful. Is that true, Jesus? Is that true?
Would we allow ourselves to treat someone who is serving us with such disrespect? Would we allow our children to be so disrespectful? I doubt it.
Fine. Lack of respect. One black mark.
What kind of friend would Mary be to us? The kind that promises over and over again to help with the Fourth of July barbecue, only to flake out at the last moment to go to a Grateful Dead concert? Or what if she were another mother in a carpool and was the one assigned to pick up the children after their soccer practice, but instead went to Starbucks because an old friend, who is really, really, interesting, was in town for a few hours?
Responsibility is a real thing. Martha’s work is a very real thing. We would not let our children off the hook like that. If they had made a commitment, we would support them in keeping it. Not in leaving someone else to bear the load of the job left behind.
And Jesus here seems to make Martha’s service lesser than his own work.
Not God. Really.
Because, for one thing, the assertion, for once, lacks humility.
And if serving others food is such a lesser role, then why does Jesus feed the crowds? Why does he stop and make breakfast for his apostles on the shore of the lake?
So, throwing off the value of one’s responsibility to the world. Second black mark.
Minimizing the value of one who is serving you through an expression lacking in humility, third black mark.
A young man. Burdened and gifted with the grace of God to be God on Earth, to teach God on Earth, finds a rosebud among the grizzled beards that he is used to facing every day, and his heart is charmed. She wants to sit at his feet and listen to his words.
But the touch of her tender attention must have appealed to him, as one who was lacking so desperately in tender attention. As one who was always doing the giving, the sacrificing, the work.
And here he had his first groupie.
No wonder he sighed, and said to the world, no, let it continue.
Let me be mooned over and flattered for just a while longer.
It’s heartbreaking, really. This whole story.
Most people celebrate in it, try to relate themselves to Mary (she’s soooooo special, you know, sitting at his feet like that), forgetting that they, themselves, get up every morning and go to work, and would only think in the dim reaches of their imaginations about skipping out on their responsibility. Of dissing the delivery man. Of puffing themselves up as truly important.
We forget that we are all pretty much Marthas. That we work hard to tolerate the Marys in our lives, not celebrate them. Not encourage them.
The irony, of course, is that Jesus was a Martha, and not a Mary. He worked harder than any of us will probably ever understand. He would never blow off a responsibility that he felt he had to someone else.
And, yes, he did take the time to be alone to pray.
But there are times for this.
Time for sitting at the feet of God. And time to finish making the loaves of bread for supper.