August 16, 2007

Martha or Mary?

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him.
She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.
Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me."
The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her." Luke 10: 38-42

Radical feminists spill a lot of ink over Martha and Mary. To many radical feminists it is: "Better to be a Mary than a Martha" Why? Because Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, is frequently cited as evidence that women interacted with Jesus so they should be priests. Martha is usually described by radical feminists as a sterotypically beleaguered female, trapped in a life of servitude by a patriarchal system of oppression.

Mary is shown listening, and we should assume, learning, from Christ at a time when, feminists like to remind us, women were uneducated. I think a lot of people make the mistake of presuming that uneducated means ignorant. Or, that just because someone doesn't go to a school they don't know anything important. Jesus is sitting down. In the Jewish tradition when a Rabbi sits down you can look forward to some serious teaching. People who want women to be ordained point to The Christ's interaction with Mary as "proof" that Jesus intended women for the priesthood.

I think Jesus would interact with anyone who showed even a slight willingness to listen to him. I always think of him as being about as popular in his time as a door-to-door evangelist in ours. "Oh no, I see that wacky Nazorean on the horizon! Quick, let's hide in the storehouse and pretend we aren't home!" I think it's a leap to presume that Jesus called everyone to the same type of service based simply upon the fact that He interacted with them.

Mary is at Jesus' feet so I assume she is sitting on the ground and He is sitting on something. Not exactly an equal position is it? Mary is not described as speaking, arguing, debating, agreeing or disagreeing with Jesus. A rare instance in Scripture where we don't know what He was saying nor what His audience said, if anything, in return. I think of Mary as a true contemplative in this situation. She seems, to me, to be engaged in a kind of adoration of Jesus. Perhaps Jesus wasn't even speaking verbally but Mary was listening to him with her heart?

A lot of radical feminists disregard the notion of contemplative service. We've all known people who think that the contemplative way of religious life is irrelevent. It's better to be engaged and active then it is to be contemplative and passive. Now, who's the Martha and who's the Mary?

If you are too much Martha, how can you be any Mary and listen to the Word if you are too busy running around and complaining (like Martha) to hear it? Yes, Martha serves her house. But, if you are Mary, you can serve all of us by praying to and adoring God. I think this is what Jesus is really getting at. Seemingly passive service is not irrelevent. Which is why Jesus thinks Mary's behavior is the better part.

Hypothetical question: What's the ratio of Martha's to Mary's at the average Mass these days? How many people overly desire "doing something", "carrying something" "speaking" "singing" at Mass versus those who want to actively listen, pray and contemplate God? Which people do you think God might prefer? It seems to me that the Mary's are probably spending more quality time with God at Mass than the Martha's who are too busy worrying about their next cue.

It's clear to me that Jesus thinks Mary's passive contemplation is better than Martha's busy work. What message can this give to certain people in our time? Unfortunately, too many of them are too busy agonizing, like Martha, to hear, like Mary.


Anonymous Lisa said...

Wonderful post! I'm reminded that I need to be much more of a Mary than a Martha in many areas my life.

August 16, 2007 3:35 PM  
Blogger swissmiss said...

We need both Martha and Mary types, but think we all know a few spot-light seeking Marthas. The Church could always use more Marys, but by their nature, we tend not to see them and they don't draw attention to themselves. They often pray in their homes and at Adoration instead of standing on the altar, as you said in an earlier post, showing their white under arms ;}

From The Glories of Mary:
...Our Lord showed St. Bridget two ladies. One was all pomp and vanity. "She," he said, "is pride; but the other one whom thou seest with her head bent down, courteous towards all, having God alone in her mind, and considering herself as no one, is Humility, her name is Mary."

August 16, 2007 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting judgment on Martha

August 26, 2007 11:23 PM  

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