It was hopeless trying to explain it to her sister – she just didn’t get it, and trying to make her understand was an exercise in frustration! “But aren’t you contented to be a woman as the Holy One made you to be?” she would say, as if that clinched the argument. Everyone knew it was a sin to grumble about the will of the Lord.
Mary would take a deep breath before she replied. She loved her sister, and didn’t want to hurt her or shock her, but how could any woman be so happy to bury her life in pots and pans, when there was so much to be learned and understood? “But was it the Almighty who said that women could not study and learn, only men?” But it was useless, Martha could not see the difference between the Law of God and the customs of the world, or, if she did, was not prepared to admit it, since the system worked fine, and she did not want to encourage Mary in her scandalous ideas.
It all came to a head one time when Jesus came to visit. As usual, he and his disciples sat in the front room, and Martha, eager to offer the most generous hospitality she could to such a beloved guest, bustled off to the women’s quarters to see how much food she could produce for this sudden crowd of men. Mary suspected that the men would really be perfectly happy with a simple meal of the things they already had at hand, but she knew that this was Martha’s way of saying how much she loved Jesus, so she let her go ahead.
But this time she did not immediately follow, but hesitating, stood at the doorway listening to Jesus’ words as his friends threw their questions at him. His words released something inside her, she felt as if she were dancing (or was it flying?) twirling up into the brightness of an enormous love that reached down to embrace her. She looked across at Jesus and he turned and smiled at her, beckoning her, with a small gesture of his head, to come over at sit with the others at his feet. Greatly daring, for this was an unthinkable act for a woman, she did so, and was rewarded by another smile, which seemed to look right into the hungry depths of her soul with approval. She thought of all the rabbis who would ostracise her for such an act, but then, eyes fixed on Jesus, she simply listened and forgot about everything else.
It was only when her furious sister stormed in, demanding her immediate return to the kitchen, and appealing to Jesus to send her back to her ‘proper’ place, where a decent woman belonged, that flushed with shame, she realised the enormity of what she had done and how far she had transgressed. Shamefaced, she was ready to flee. But it was Jesus himself who took her part. “Martha,” he said gently, reading their hearts, exposing and responding to their secret fears, “You worry about all these things, but only one thing is needful. What Mary has chosen is better, and it won’t be taken away from her.”