Sibling rivalry or sexual discrimination?
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10. 41-2
Many will be familiar with the three-way exchange between Jesus and Lazarus' sisters, Mary and Martha, when Jesus visits their home in Bethany. On the surface it looks like the classic case of "a domestic" between two sisters, one of whom is beavering away while the other is focusing on their guest. The balance of popular sympathy tends towards Martha, doubtless because most of us feel over-worked and under-appreciated! But what if there is more to the situation than meets the eye? Or could this be a case of something sinister - such as an attempt to sideline women from active ministry?
During his ministry Jesus travelled around surrounded by followers (disciples) of whom the twelve constituted the male core. They are not mentioned but were these the object of Martha's concern? Or should we interpret Martha's "serving" as synonymous with the work of a church deacon, in which case the point of this story might be to suggest that a woman's place is to sit and listen, rather than be actively engaged in the ministry and mission of the church?
Stories find their way into scripture because they have something enduring and universal to convey. In asserting the historicity of our faith, we assume that the stories themselves relate to actual events (unless they are parables), yet their meaning and their context require our reading between the lines. This should never be done lightly or in ignorance, which is where prayerful reflection coupled with personal and communal Bible study come in. The consequences are fascinating and compelling, drawing out the Martha and Mary within us all...