Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
Teri preached on this text a few weeks ago and said everything that needs to be said, so this should be a short sermon! Lots of sermons on this text focus on what the women are doing, with the implication that Mary’s choice to “listen”, to “be” with Jesus is superior to Martha’s choice. And given our culture’s obsession with accomplishment (with “doing”), that’s a pretty good message for us to hear. But I’m drawn to something else. I think the issue is not what they do; the issue is why they do it. Notice Jesus says that Martha is “worried and distracted.” This suggests to me that she’s doing what she’s doing for the wrong reasons. She’s doing it because she has to, because (in her culture) it’s her “job” as a woman to feed the others. Maybe Martha’s doing it to win approval from the others. Who knows? Mary is doing what she’s doing out of love. In fact, Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus as a disciple shows that her love for Jesus has set her free from social norms—instead of being in the kitchen with Martha (the cultural norm) she’s at Jesus’ feet as a man would be. The point is: Mary’s love has set her free; Martha is still trapped by roles and expectations. If she had prepared the meal out of love for the others, I think Jesus would have blessed her for it. And if Mary had sat at Jesus’ feet purely out of obligation, duty, expectation (with resentment, etc.), that would have been condemned. It’s not the choice of what they do so much as why they do it that counts.