Yesterday’s gospel reading was the account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42.
I get the feeling this story is read very differently by men and women. In particular, my impression is that women tend to be rather more keenly aware than men of the double-bind with which this account (or at least, its usual interpretation and application) presents them.
We all know how it goes: Martha is the one following the way of Law, of good works, of resentfully self-righteous effort. Mary is the one following the way of Gospel, of receiving the word of Jesus passively and in faith. Mary has “chosen the better part”, so let’s be more like Mary and less like Martha.
Which is great. Except, looking at our churches, which model are women (in particular) really encouraged to follow? Which of those two sisters is closer to the prevailing ideal of the “good Christian woman”? More to the point, if Christian women decided, wholesale, to follow literally the injunction to emulate Mary rather than Martha, how long would our churches continue to function? Be honest!
Even in the immediate context of the worship service (which Revd Tapani Simojoki’s otherwise excellent sermon yesterday emphasises as the place for us to emulate Mary), it’s all very well saying:
…you can just sit there and do nothing. Nothing at all. Just receive: receive His forgiveness, receive His promises, receive His salvation…
but someone’s got to be making the tea for after the service, and running the creche, and leading the children’s activities in the hall, and chances are that the people doing so are mostly going to be women – while the men “choose the better part” and sit in the sanctuary in perfect imitation of Mary.
Hence the double bind. The church spends most of its time telling women (either explicitly or, more often, by implication) that it needs them to “get busy”. Women who try to restrict their involvement in church activities (perhaps, to choose a random example, because they have only just enough energy to deal with three lively children all week) can be left feeling like second-class citizens who are “letting the side down”.
Then, once every three years, Luke 10:38-42 rolls round again and we get to pull the rug from under the feet of our “Marthas” by telling them that they’ve been doing it all wrong. Oh, but would you mind passing me another of those biscuits? Thanks!
That’s the double-bind: “Be like Martha” – “Don’t be like Martha”.
What I would love would be some pointers to sermons, essays or other interpretations (preferably, but not necessarily, from a Lutheran perspective) that both recognise, and provide an escape from, this double bind.
Over to you!