The story of Martha and Mary has long been taught as the principle of prioritizing spending time with Jesus. Martha was busy working in the kitchen and trying to be a good hostess while Mary quietly sat at Jesus’ feet, learning about her heavenly father. Martha was upset that her sister wouldn’t help her with food preparation and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus replied that May had chosen the best part, which would not be taken from her. (Luke 10:38-42)
Most of us have learned that Martha focused on the wrong thing and that we should all focus on our relationship with Jesus, like Mary. Most women struggle with the “Martha and Mary” within. We see many things that need to be done, but we long to sit at Jesus’ feet. Although I agree and identify with this teaching, I think there is a deeper meaning that we have missed.
There are two more profound truths that I want to share.
- Mistaken Gift Placement. Martha’s focus was on hospitality and making everyone comfortable. This gift of hospitality, making everyone feel comfortable, is essential to the body of Christ and fosters fellowship between believers. We must learn that we can’t assume everyone’s spiritual gift is like the one God gave us. Nor should we make people feel like they are “less than” because they don’t have the same gift as we do. God puts different burdens on our hearts to fulfill His greater purpose. God distributes the gifts as He sees fit for the building up of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12 NIV)
The interesting thing about this story is that after we are taught about Mary and Martha the traditional way, we assume Mary is lazy and doesn’t care about her sister or the guests at her house. Jesus replied, “Mary has chosen the better part, and it will not be taken from her.” This statement tells a different story than we have perceived.
- Incorrect Cultural Assessment. In the New Testament culture, women were not allowed to learn the scriptures, that was strictly reserved for men. They even sat separately in the synagogue. (I Corinthians 14:35 NIV) So for Mary to sit at Jesus’ feet amongst the men – was quite a bold initiative. Mary believed that Jesus loved and valued her enough to learn along with the men. She was not passive or docile – she was a courageous woman seeking the deeper truths of God, so much so that she took a man’s seat. When Jesus told Martha that what Mary had chosen would not be taken from her, He declared that He valued women.
We tend to miss this profound truth because American culture is vastly different from the Ancient Near East. Jesus opened up the Word of God to women. Mary was one of His theology students. Jesus vindicated Mary’s right to be her person – to be Mary and not Martha. He showed His approval of a woman’s right to opt for the study and not be compelled to the kitchen or the nursery. We’ve come a long way, Baby!