Martha or Mary?

A reflection on the gospel set for today in the Anglican calendar
Gospel text: S. Luke 10:38-42

Obviously there are several ways of looking at this interesting domestic incident in the home of Martha and Mary. I could talk about the proper balance between doing and being; or between activism and reflection. That strikes a chord with all of us because some of us have more of Martha in us – wanting to be up and doing – some of us have more of Mary in us – wanting to reconnect with our inner sense of purpose and meaning in what we are doing. And of course it is a useful lesson to take from this text that Jesus teaches the prior importance of reflection and sharing – of listening, learning, discovering, praying ,seeking wisdom. As Jesus saw it Martha needed to stop and sit down.  These are the ways in  which  we grow as human beings and in which we grow more sensitive to God’s Spirit. 

But there are dangers in looking at this gospel in that way. It’s too easy to treat the gospel like a self-help manual. The Christian gospels are not first century equivalents of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” or “ The Little Book of Calm”. What’s the danger of using the gospels in that way? Well it’s too easy to domesticate the gospels like that – to make them fit it with our own prejudices and really just use them to help us run our lives the way we run them already but more easily and less painfully. But not only are the gospels really meant  to challenge us about the  purpose and direction and shape  of  our whole lives; the focus of the gospels is Jesus: they challenge us about  who we are and how we do things in relationship to Jesus Christ. 

I think it is fair to say that Jesus was challenging social prejudices here. Maybe Martha was appealing to the conventional assumptions about the role of women – to act as the handmaidens to the men whilst they met and talked – but Jesus rejects that and calls women to a very different role –  to be at the centre of the early Christian community not as vital ancillaries – but as key players making an equally valid and important contribution to the new movement he was calling into being. The Church is still trying to accept that message so the gospel continues to challenge society as well as individuals. What is the one thing necessary? Learning from and sharing with Jesus.


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