Read: Luke 10:38-42
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture is from the NIV.
Martha and Mary, who we’ve studied previously, have experiences with Jesus so intertwined that it seems difficult to separate them. Maybe in some ways we’re doing them an injustice by studying their stories together. But, maybe we’re allowing God to reveal the big picture that was unfolding by focusing on the linked, yet very different experiences of these sisters. Mary and Martha, like most sisters, had very different personality types, and yet they also possessed some similarities. Martha was quite outspoken about things she thought she understood while Mary was bold in action as she quietly understood what Jesus was bringing about.
One of the first encounters with the sibling duo is in Luke 10, verses 38-42
"As they went on their way, they came to a town where a woman named Martha lived. She cared for Jesus in her home. Martha had a sister named Mary. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and listened to all He said. Martha was working hard getting the supper ready. She came to Jesus and said, “Do You see that my sister is not helping me? Tell her to help me.” Jesus said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. Only a few things are important, even just one. Mary has chosen the good thing. It will not be taken away from her.”
Their differences are so apparent here. Martha, the rule follower and the one who understood what was right and proper, was flabbergasted that Mary wasn't following any of the rules. She was bold and outspoken about the injustice of the lack of help her sister was providing and maybe even a bit of a tattle-tale about Mary's inappropriate behavior for this time and culture. It’s a possibility that Martha thought, with all the teaching that Jesus was doing, that He simply wasn't paying attention to Mary's lack of concern for her place. During this time, women of Israel were legalistically treated as property. Jewish men didn’t speak to Jewish women in public, nor did they teach women the important topics of religion. Just as many during Jesus’ time were being ensnared by the legalistic way in which the Pharisees and Sadducees had interpreted the Law, women were also being chained to restrictions and man-made traditions. The Law which was meant to preserve God's relationship with man, was corrupted by a sinful world. Though He had placed women in positions of leadership, prophecy, and ruling, the Israelites saw women as so much less than what they were: Less than capable, less than worthy, less than valuable, less than their male counterparts. They were allowed one courtyard closer to the Temple than were the Gentiles, who were considered dirty.
Unlike many of their Gentile neighbors, Israelite women were not often allowed to inherit property. They were not allowed to be taught by the priests and they were not allowed to seek instruction from anyone other than the male head of their household. Their job was to serve, just as Martha was doing. Entering into the inner circle of men being taught by a Rabbi—that was unacceptable. Martha, being sure of what she knew, boldly asserted herself into those inner workings and demanded that the teacher take notice of her sister's wrong-doing.
This is where the much more subtle nuances of similarity begin to make their appearance. As we look at Mary, who quietly sat at the feet of Jesus, soaking in every one of His words, we begin to see that she, too, was bold. We hear very few words from Mary through her interactions with Jesus, but her actions are loud and intentional. Mary looked upon Jesus. She heard His words and was quick to come to the revelation that Jesus was here for her. He was here for man-kind, but He was here for woman-kind as well. While most, if not all, of the people sitting at Jesus’ feet in Mary and Martha's home were male, Mary chose to boldly sit among them. She chose to be taught by Jesus, a man who was not her father or her husband. Jesus: A man who was making history and rebelling against the legalism this evil world had brought forth. When Martha boldly spoke about what she knew to be true, Jesus not only corrected her, but He purposefully made clear that Mary's choice was the right one and that the invitation to be discipled was open to all women. Luke 10:42, (emphasis mine)
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. Only a few things are important, even just one. Mary has chosen the good thing. It will not be taken away from her."
In this moment Jesus revealed to Mary, Martha, and the many men that were most likely being taught, that this discipleship—this unheard of teaching of women—was a good thing and it would not be taken from them. Sitting at His feet, drawing close to Him—this was the sort of relationship He desired to make with all of mankind. Jesus chose to reveal this personal, drawing-close sort of relationship through women. He chose to not only allow Mary to sit at His feet, but to correct the thinking that was holding Martha and the rest of the Israelite world back from doing the same. Through the interactions of two sisters, Jesus made known a revelation that throws wide open the doors of opportunity for women of faith today.
The law had been misused. Jesus, the all-perfect Sacrifice and Fulfiller of the Law was well aware not only of what the true Law was (as He fullfilled it), but of how it was being misinterpreted. The Israelite people were a devout people. They ha-- and still have--customs and practices that were aimed at acheiving closeness to God. Their desires were to honor the Law the Lord had given them, but somewhere in the process of going from good intentions to actual practice, sin got in the way and the evil in this world ensnared the people of God in a tangled net of limitations that were not intended for them. They saw a list of rules to be followed with zero tolerance, instead of a God who directed them out of concern for their well-being. We, as Christians today, often look like the legalism of Jesus' time. We go at this relationship with God and others, with the best of intentions. Yet, so often we miss that Jesus was the kind of man who never seemed to think that the ends justified the means. He knew the end, and He knew that the hearts of men were damagaed and broken. He knew in order to get them to the end He was about to provide, that zero tolerance and legalism must be replaced with Godly wisdom, compassion, mercy, and love.