Sunday Readings: Genesis 18.1-10; Colossians 1.24-28; Luke 10.38-42
Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him to her home. She had a sister named Mary, who seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teachings. Martha, who was busy with all the details of hospitality, came to Jesus and said: Lord, is it of no concern to you that my sister has left me all alone to serve? Tell her to help me. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things; one thing only is necessary. Mary has chosen the better portion, and she shall not be deprived of it” (Luke 10.38-42).
Mary and Martha appear in two gospels, Luke and John. The five-verse story in Luke forms Sunday’s gospel. It sets the two sisters at odds and requires Jesus to mediate. In John both women are visible, central characters chapters 11 and 12. With Lazarus, their brother, they are friends Jesus loves.
To be remembered by name makes people stand out. Perhaps tradition remembers Martha and Mary because their home was not only a place Jesus stayed during his lifetime but a house church, where after Jesus’ resurrection, Martha welcomed a community of disciples to remember his teaching and break bread as he asked. In Sunday’s gospel Mary seats herself at Jesus’ feet to listen to his teachings and Martha serves him. These two actions— listening to Jesus’ words and serving a meal—are the same actions that take place in the liturgy of the word and the liturgy of the eucharist.
Luke’s gospel places Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary during his historical ministry, A.D. 30. However, Martha addresses Jesus in the story not by name but by the post-resurrection title Lord. This detail reminds us that the community for whom Luke wrote lived some 50 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Women’s roles in house church have become controversial.
Sunday’s gospel shows Martha offering table hospitality as Christians do at Eucharist and Mary listening to the Word. Jesus tells Martha to give up welcoming others to her table and join her sister in preferring the better part—silent listening to Jesus. Jesus’ words effectively silence the ministries of both women.
What roles do you imagine Martha and Mary played in the post-resurrection community? Describe sermons you have heard preached on this gospel. What inspired you? What frustrated you?
For information on the global synod’s work on restoring and extending the work of deacons to women, visit DiscerningDeacons.org.