One of the most interesting scenes in the life of Jesus for me is the interaction with Mary and Martha. It is so real. Having three daughters of my own, I have seen similar arguments around our house.
While Jesus and his disciples were traveling, Jesus entered a village where a woman named Martha welcomed him as a guest. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his message. By contrast, Martha was preoccupied with getting everything ready for their meal. So Martha came to him and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to prepare the table all by myself? Tell her to help me.” The Lord answered, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things. One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part. It won’t be taken away from her.”
One explanation of this I have recently seen is that Jesus is approving of Mary’s rejection of traditional gender roles. This is a danger of allowing our own culture and our own perspectives to control how we approach the text. Gender roles have nothing to do with this passage.
(I should say here, however, we all bring who we are and what we have experienced to the text. And those experiences and knowledge do inform how we understand the Bible. Yet it is through the witness of the Holy Spirit down through the ages and across the churches that help us understand how to properly interpret Scripture. Otherwise we come up with radically different ideas, some of which may be valid and some of which may just be goofy.)
What Mary is doing in this passage is being a disciple, learning at the feet of Jesus. Luke has already shown that there were many women who followed Jesus (8:1-3) and the Greek in these verses say these women ministered to Jesus. None of the apostles are ever said to minister to Christ. So there is precedent for women being around Jesus in this capacity.
What Martha is doing in this passage is being the greatest among them of all. Remember, Jesus said that the greatest disciple of his will be the servant of all (see Matthew 23:11, Luke 9:48, Luke 22:24-27). Martha is being the quintessential disciple, serving all. In Chapter 22, Jesus will even mimic Martha’s servanthood as an example to the disciples of how they should treat one another.
The problem in this passage is not that Martha is doing “woman’s work” while Mary is broadening her mind. No, the problem is that Martha is being a disciple, but is not singularly focused on Jesus. Therefore, she is double-minded, frustrated, and angry. When those emotions creep into our service to Christ, we might as well stop what we are doing. We are no longer doing what we are doing out of love for Jesus and for the sake of his kingdom. We are no longer truly being disciples. We are focused on ourselves and how we are being wronged because of the perceived unfairness of the situation.
Mary had the better part not because she was not working, but because she was singularly focused on Jesus.
How is your service to Jesus? Are you singularly focused on him, so that all that you do is joy because it is done out of love for your Savior and Lord? Or are you bitter and angry because no one else seems to be working or helping, focusing on yourself and your situation rather than Jesus?
Serving all only leads to greatness if we do it because we know we are really serving Jesus and we are doing so with an attitude of love and joy, singularly focused on him.