This last week my family and I made a real quick trip to visit my grandma in California. We showed up to her house on Thursday morning and we had agreed ahead of time that we would make breakfast there and hang out. So after our “hellos” and after she got to meet Madisyn I popped my head into the fridge and grabbed the eggs and bacon. My grandma pulled out the pans and I began to cook. Throughout our time together my grandma kept trying to do more for us. She was trying to be a good hostess by offering more for us to eat anytime we were at a meal together. She wanted to take care of us and make sure we got exactly what we wanted and I did my best to help her out so that she didn’t get too tired or feel like she had to keep getting stuff for us.
You could definitely tell there was a generational gap between us when it came to things like that. She felt like she had to do and I felt like I needed to help out. Even though she didn’t say anything I could also tell that she had a quizzical look on her face whenever I took Madisyn to help feed her. I especially noticed it when we went out to dinner on Thursday night at Applebees. Bekkah fed Madisyn and then when I was done eating, I took her and fed her while Bekkah ate her dinner. What was interesting, was that in our section there were two other families with very young children and I noticed that both parents were helping with everything the baby needed.
Now you might not think too much about it and normally I don’t but I was acutely aware of it because of everything I had noticed about my grandma watching us. If you think about it, it was the mother’s job to take care of the children and especially feed them and change them when my grandma was a mother raising her two sons. My grandpa was out in the vineyard taking care of the family business. Even while we were packing up to leave my grandma was trying to get us to eat a little more and tried to get us to take food with us on the road. She even made the comment to the effect that we were too self-sufficient and she couldn’t help as much as she wanted. I told her that she was being more than generous with everything and that we didn’t need more than what she had already done for us.
As we were visiting with my grandma I couldn’t help but think about the story about the time that Jesus visits Mary and Martha. Martha spends her whole time doing what society directed her to do. Society directed her to be a good hostess, especially since she had welcomed Jesus into her home. She was also a woman, so her place when guests came over was to make sure that everyone was taken care of. As a woman, Martha provided the drinks and the food, and made sure that every need was taken care of. That was her role.
It should have also been the role of Mary. Mary was also a woman and it was her place in society to be in the kitchen and to be a good hostess to the guests of the house. Do you know what wasn’t her role? It wasn’t her role to sit at Jesus feet and be a disciple. A disciple at the feet of any rabbi would have been a man. All the priests in the temple, all the pharisees, all the sadducees, all the scribes, every one of them was a man. To sit at the feet of any teacher of the Torah would have indicated that you were a disciple and that was not the role or the accepted norm of a woman. In fact, other than a female scholar who lived in the early 1600’s, the first recorded rabbi wasn’t until 1935 and it wasn’t until the 1970’s that it became more common among more progressive Jewish groups.
So what is Mary doing sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to him talk and most likely teach the other disciples? That shouldn’t be happening and Martha knows it and not only does Martha know it, but Martha also makes sure that everyone else knows it. She makes sure that this wrong is pointed out, and put on record.
But Jesus also puts something on record. Both earlier in the story and with Jesus own words the thing that get’s pointed out about Martha isn’t so much that she is a busybody like we may typically associate with this story, but the fact that Martha is distracted. Martha is distracted by what is expected of her while Mary is able to step across those boundaries and expectations and do what is better. Also notice that Jesus doesn’t say that she has chosen the right thing to do, but the better thing. There is nothing wrong with being a good hostess, but that right now the better thing to do is to listen to Jesus and be a disciple.
So Jesus wants Martha and the readers to do the better thing. Jesus allows for roles to be set aside so that Mary can have a relationship with him. Jesus doesn’t expect typically roles to be followed. In fact, in both last weeks story about the Samaritan an in today’s story we see that to be true. Last week it was the Samaritan who was the neighbor. It was the Samaritan who did what was better. The Samaritan didn’t worry about his role. Because his role probably would have said that he should leave that Jewish man who probably hated him for being a Samaritan alone. But the better choice was to show mercy and be the neighbor to the man who was in need.
Jesus is teaching us through other people what it means to be his disciple. Being a disciple means making the better choice. Being a disciple also means being willing to be brave enough to step out of the roles expected of us to be able to make that better choice. Do not let the expectations of society to stop you from doing what is better; from doing as Jesus would have us do.
When we choose the better part it is at those times we remember that it is those things in this life that aren’t actually part of this life but about the life to come. Which reminds me of the quote from Martin Luther which says, “everything I have placed in my hands I have lost, but everything I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.” The things that God offers us will never go away. God offers us not just the better, but the best blessings in both this life and in the life to come. Don’t be distracted by the things of this world, but remember always the blessings that come from God that will not be taken away. Ever. Amen.