“The World”

Is any Bible story more neuralgic for church ladies than the story of Mary and Martha? I doubt it. It’s definitely a “text of terror” for all the church ladies I’ve ever known. And the one they’re most likely to hear in church.

I doubt pretty seriously that Jesus was trying to stoke the Fight Perpetual that was my parents’ marriage when he said “Mary has chosen the better part.” I doubt pretty seriously that he meant “Jo Thiessen, you need to calm down, and maybe get a personality transplant while you’re at it,” or “Jake, man, right on!” But that’s what both of them always heard, and argued about in the car on the way home, no matter who preached it.

It seems to be what a lot of modern guys hear. I saw a Hollywood-style church Easter pageant, put on by one of the local megachurches, several years back. It included this story, as part of the build-up to Holy Week. When Martha said her line, the actor playing Jesus ROLLED HIS EYES. It got a laugh, of course. [Aside to the audience: “Come on, guys, we’ve all met this gal, haven’t we?”]

I doubt pretty seriously that real-life Jesus would have rolled his eyes.

red line embellished

I have yet to hear a preacher acknowledge that Mary is acting like a boy. But she is. Acting like a boy, who gets to sit out the mandatory women-and-girls-work on which all that Torah study rests, like a house on its foundation or a mind on a body, and attend to the better things, the higher things, the REAL spiritual things.

I HAVE heard a lot of preachers say Mary’s is the REAL hospitality: all that taking time out, that listening, that conversation, that meeting of minds.

All that hysterical activity, all that setting the table, chopping the onions, stirring the soup, frying the bread, fetching the water from the well, getting the dishes to come out at the same time, putting the salt in a bowl, carrying it all to the table, that is not REAL hospitality. None of that focus on matter really matters. It’s not the important stuff, the most essential thing, “the better part.”

Jesus and his disciples were probably used to eating beans and pita bread around the campfire. They could have done without girly silverware and napkins. Right, guys?

Women – so obsessive, over such trivial matters. Just like Martha.

red line embellished

I have never met a church lady who loves that story.

I HAVE heard plenty of church ladies make a comment on the Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C. In the kitchen, cleaning up after fellowship time, as often as not. “But if Martha didn’t do that, she’d be criticized for not doing it.” “But if Martha didn’t do that, how would people eat?” “But Martha would probably like to listen to Jesus, too, only someone DID have to get dinner.” “But why couldn’t Jesus be talking in the kitchen? Why couldn’t Jesus include Martha?”

All of that “but-but-but” is about the catch-22 badger-trap feature of that story: the women-and-girls have a job; they’ve learned that all their lives; they try to do it, and they try to do it well. They may even have learned that doing those tasks is the only place they belong, and the only work it’s proper for them to do. They think people expect it of them. But then, it turns out, even if people do require and expect them to do this job, they also put them down for it. Doing that job proves something against them. Proves they’re not serious; they focus on “less important” things; they don’t know what really matters.

I doubt pretty seriously that Jesus bought in to the idea that only the boys could be REALLY spiritual, and that the girls would have to become male in order to reach that standard. I doubt it pretty seriously, even though he says exactly that in the Gospel of Thomas. Which is not in the Bible.

I might not doubt as seriously that Luke bought into that idea, though. Or that other Christians have bought into it, over the generations we’ve been reading this story. Or that it’s a reading of this story brought to us by “the world” – which is not just all around the church, but in the church, through and through.

red line embellished

Mary acts like a boy, and gets away with it, and actually gets praised for it. In red letters, no less.

The girls have a word for that.

red line embellished

Images: “Echinacea purpurea (purple coneflowers) 3,” James St. John, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; “Legend of Sts Mary and Martha,” National Museum in Warsaw, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

6 responses to ““The World””

  1. I have a confession: I have always tried to avoid preaching on this text and you name a lot of the reasons why. I really don’t want to set a “badger trap” for anyone. Also, as a cis male person, I know that no matter how hard I try to find the grace, love and positive message in this story, it’s going to sound like mansplaining on some level. FWIW, though, Diana Butler Bass just posted the audio of her sermon on the text this morning on her website, The Cottage. She brought Elizabeth Schrader’s fascinating work on Martha being a later insert into John 11 into her sermon for a fascinating twist. Love the way you’ve addressed this very odd periscope. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL! Well said, well done. I love the tale of Martha and Mary, it’s one of my favorites. I’ve never had any trouble with church ladies, but rather pastors. Pastors tend to love their Marthas, they get stuff done and do all the work! I once had a pastor who was so upset I agreed with Jesus on Mary choosing the better way, he did an entire sermon on how we need to honor Martha and realize Jesus loved her just as much and Jesus didn’t mean that the way it sounds. I’m not complaining, pastors trying to tell me “what Jesus really meant,” have motivated me to become a complete Mary and study as much as I possibly can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL – I’m imagining “Martha recognition Sunday,” sort of like “Sunday school teacher recognition Sunday”

      Anyway, thanks for those kind words 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: