I’ve actually heard that women who find themselves busy in life are sometimes called a “Martha” – a sort of put-down for being highly active. I never realized that before – we Christians have our own version of “Karen”… and that’s disappointing. Whatever the lesson to be learned from Luke’s story about Mary and Martha, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t intended to give us fuel for insulting one another.
We’ll be reading that account in our study of Luke this Sunday – reading chapter 10:38-42.
There are some rather startling features in this vignette which we’ll examine in depth this Sunday. The most prominent, and the one N.T. Wright believes is the entire point of the passage, is Mary’s described position. It says that she “sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught”. We don’t want to mistake that as though she were sitting there, gazing up at him adoringly (even though an awful lot of art depicts it that way). To sit at someone’s feet was an idiom, a common expression to describe someone being a student. Paul uses that same expression to describe his studies under Gamaliel in Acts 22:3.
What’s the big deal about that, you ask? Well, in the Talmud (Sotah 21b), Rabbi Eliezer (a prominent and influential rabbi during Jesus’ time) wrote: “Anyone who teaches his daughter Torah is teaching her promiscuity”…sometimes rendered as “to teach your daughter Torah is to teach her foolishness”. In other words, women weren’t allowed to “sit at the feet” of a rabbi and learn to be a rabbi themselves. This scene is nothing short of scandalous.
Martha’s response is partly due to being overwhelmed by the workload, and partly she is scandalized by her sister’s behavior. Behavior, I might add, which Jesus validates and implicitly invites Martha into.
Jesus called what Mary did the “one thing worth being concerned about”. So what was she doing? How would you characterize it, and how would you go about following her example in your own life?
Hope you can join us as we examine this on Sunday!