#69: The Two Sisters

Luke 10:38–42

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”
But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Now this may come as an unusual thought to you but Jesus might have been the first and almost certainly he was the greatest ‘women’s libber’ of all time.

Jesus lived in a world that was run by the men and for the men. Women were used and abused, expected to fill secondary and often menial roles, were rarely listened to and never fully respected. So how revolutionary and 2,000 years ahead of their time were Jesus’ attitudes and actions towards women. He treated them as full and important people, listened to their conversation, was incredibly aware of their needs and desperate situations, was completely non-judgmental and was even willing to depend on them in the carrying out of his mission.

There are lots of great stories of Jesus and women, this is one of my favourites. The very fact that Jesus is clearly so relaxed and non-superior in their presence is breath-taking. It reads more like a story out of the 20th, rather than the 1st century. Mary and Martha are two sisters who live with their brother Lazarus. In a world where virtually everyone got married this is an odd little family. We shall come across them again when Jesus attends what should be Lazarus’ funeral and ruins the occasion by raising him from the dead.

Both Mary and Martha are welcoming and at-home with Jesus, but it is usual to differentiate between the two on the basis that Martha is ‘practical’ and in the kitchen, whilst Mary is ‘spiritual’ and at the feet of Jesus. There is a real truth in this dividing of the sisters, it is a part of the story and we can easily see where the emphasis lies.

As a Northern working class man, it has taken me many years to fully appreciate and then to start living out the attitudes and life-style of Jesus. I grew up in Yorkshire where being a male chauvinist pig is basically an art form. I have had to wade through layers of prejudice and think long and deeply about how I have often used my mother, my older sister and even my dear wife, Maureen and allowed her to occupy a servant role. So how was Jesus able to be so incredibly clear-sighted and understanding? How did he find the courage to be so different from other men? And what did women feel like when they encountered him – how special and precious did he make them feel? No wonder Mary Magdalene in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ sings ‘I don’t know how to love him’.

When I read the Mary and Martha story I see two women completing two essential tasks between them. They are tasks or life-options that we should all be good at but which, in my experience, men are usually not. The first task is all about caring for people, making them feel welcome, providing great hospitality and comfort. This is the basic stuff that makes human relationships feel so good. The second task or activity is more about spirituality than domesticity. I visit lots of churches, religious events, conferences, jamborees and courses etc. and at every point I see lots of women and a few men who are really good at it, who are prayerful, understanding, spiritually receptive and comfortable simply sitting at the feet of Jesus.

It is high time that we men started learning from all the Marys and Marthas that we know, perhaps that we are married to and start catching up.

A final thought and a final question.
It is so easy to lose ourselves in domesticity, in jobs that need to be done and an unending stream of busyness. In fact, it is so easy that many of us just become lost in this world of doing and never make time or space for simply sitting at Jesus’ feet, gazing up into his eyes and listening to his voice.
Have you got enough time and space in your life to sit at the Lord’s feet?

I welcome you into my life this day.
Can I settle you,
And help you to feel comfortable?
May I now sit at your feet,
And listen?