I've been thinking about Mary and Martha on and off since Sunday's gospel reading.
The first thing that occurred to me is that sermons and lessons often portray these two as different kinds of Christians . . . with the ensuing discussion centering on which kind we should be. Earlier this week, I suddenly saw the story in a different light. Mary and Martha are both within me, and I can read this story as my own inner conflict: the responsible, practical side beating up on the more intuitive side for not getting more done. Such a reading gives me pause and makes me wonder about the internal violence I inflict on myself.
Next, I thought about Martha's behavior a little more deeply. One thing that bothers me about her actions in the story is that she "tells tales" about her sister to Jesus. Did she even try talking to Mary first? Did she try to resolve the issue privately? We don't know. Whether she did or not, she is clearly not content to let Mary's conscience guide her own behavior. No, Martha has to go running to the nearest authority to try to coerce her sister into meeting her own expectations. In psychological terms, she is externally driven while Mary is internally driven. Perhaps, just perhaps, one of the points that Jesus was making was that Mary chose the better part, not because quiet contemplation is better than action, but because being guided by the Spirit and your own inner authority is better than legalistically following external expectations and rules.
Finally, my thoughts came to center on Mary. How rarely the story is looked at from her consciousness. Can you imagine what it was like to sit there at the feet of Jesus, knowing that you were defying your culture's expectations, knowing that the men in the room probably were seething that you "had stepped out of your place," knowing that you were wounding a beloved sister, . . . and yet sitting there all the same. How brave she was and how obedient to the prompting of the Spirit within her.
As I try to balance my responsible, practical, "do things" side with the more contemplative side of my personality, I hope I can remember Mary's single-minded focus and determination—and in the process, learn from it.