As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Jesus challenges the status quo in several radical ways here. In a segregated society it is likely that Mary was not even supposed to be sitting where she was – the women would probably have a separate room. Certainly it was not a woman’s place to be sitting at the feet of the Master studying theology. It was a woman’s place to serve and to ensure that the domestic sphere ran smoothly, yet Jesus does not insist that these traditions are upheld.
But perhaps the most radical proposal of all implied here is that to follow social tradition is a choice. Martha was overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of domestic responsibility. Simply to put it down, and walk away from it, was unthinkable to her. This is the housewife’s equivalent of Christ’s words to the rich young man: “Go, sell all that you have, and then come, follow me” (Mark 10:17–22).
There is a danger of missing some of the best opportunities life holds for us if we assume that what is already in place in our routines and circumstances cannot be changed. “My husband would never allow it”; “I couldn’t possibly because I have a family”; “I have a mortgage on my house so I have to stay in this job” are the kind of reasons given for making no change. And they are offered in all sincerity; they seem as immoveable as mountains.
But we are talking about the same Jesus who said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).
Hospitable and generous God, you make us welcome with unquestioning love. May your Holy Spirit so fill our hearts and minds that we find the wise balance between the prayerful and the practical, serving with gladness and knowing when to withdraw to be quiet with you. As we think about Mary and Martha, please whisper into our hearts, you who know us so well, if there is any area of challenge and change we too should be facing. If there is any area where we have become the prisoners of our own assumptions, by your grace may we not be conformed to the same old ways, but transformed by the renewing of our minds. For we ask it in Jesus’ holy name; Amen.