Ellen Romer Niemiec
I am not Martha or Mary
I have never been a big fan of the Martha and Mary story. There is certainly a reactionary bit on my part. There are enough places and ways that women are pitted against one another and this story is quite often no exception. I have been asked on more than one occasion whether or not I see myself as Martha or Mary. Another invitation to choose another binary that isn’t necessarily what we’re being asked in this passage at all.
I am someone who enjoys hospitality - I like cooking, serving, welcoming people into my home and offering a place to be settled and safe. I am also someone who wants to be present to those I love and give attention to what’s most important in my life, including God. I am also a million things in-between. I am also someone who knows that if I put off preparing a meal, I am going to have very hangry children on my end that will end in tears and a rough bedtime routine for everyone involved.
I am running from work to daycare to swim lessons and days late in responding to my spiritual director. I am pulling another freezer meal and ordering take-out because grocery shopping just didn’t happen. I am someone who isn’t Martha or Mary but the person that God has created me to be. Among the many worries and anxieties I may have, I certainly don’t need to worry about choosing between two sisters. Sometimes I let my anxieties get the best of me and sometimes, not often enough, I have the wherewithal to take the space to pay attention to the Holy Spirit. If I am being honest, when I can keep my children well fed and my responsibilities tended to, it is also easier for me to be present to them.
I don’t want my responsibilities to be all I am recognized for. I don’t want to be pitted against someone or compared - I want to be loved and seen as I am, worries and all. If I am a ‘Mary’ am I seen as doing it right? If I am a ‘Martha’ am I not seen as doing it wrong? The text tells us Martha was burdened with the worry and anxiety of serving - but then she brings that to Jesus. And he relieves her of it, reminding her that she doesn’t need that burden, only to be with him. Not a chastisement, but ultimately a loving invitation. Where we might fall into a trap of worry and judgment, Jesus still invites us and welcomes us to a place of respite.
We spend a lot of time creating burdens and falling deeper into anxieties that don’t bring us closer to God. We all do it - I would even call myself masterful at it. We get caught up in between two sisters who ultimately both loved Jesus dearly. Or we get caught up in the frustration of women being pitted against one another. God sees all of this - our worries, our frustrations, our desire to be free of them and totally present to what is actually lifegiving. Our anxieties are still real and they inform our experiences, but they do continue to keep us from growing closer to God and listening to how the Holy Spirit is working within and around us. Our concerns, whatever they may be, will always be there. Some of us will have heavier burdens and those burdens will wax and wane over time. What we can’t forget is that Jesus is also always there and always extending that invitation to us.