The last time we read this gospel from Luke in our liturgy was in July when we celebrated the feast of St. Martha. (Luke 10,38-42) It takes us to Bethany outside Jerusalem. One thing you realize immediately is that Luke didn’t use Google Maps to plot the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem. It’s not a geographical journey Luke offers; it’s a journey in which Jesus gathers disciples.
I wonder if in this story Luke is telling us not to forget Jesus gathered women disciples. Notice there’s no mention of Lazarus in this story. Usually men are firmly in charge of the households Jesus visits. But there’s no mention of Lazarus or a patriarchal presence here. Jesus meets the women in Bethany.
The gospels seem to picture Jesus favoring Mary over her sister Martha and dismissing Martha’ busy preparations for his stay with them. But can we see his attention to Martha as an indication that most of the women of his time were like her? Does Martha represent the majority of Palestinian women, to whom Jesus wished to bring the gospel?
There are two sources I like to remember when I read the story of Martha and Mary.
One is an unknown painter from the Italian Renaissance (above) who produced a delightful picture of what must have really happened. Jesus sits talking to Mary who is absorbed in “the one thing necessary.” The table’s set for four people. But there’s Martha at the center of the picture turned to Jesus and gesturing dramatically to three figures who have just come sheepishly to the door. Peter, James and John?
Who wouldn’t be disturbed by three more hungry men showing up for a meal prepared for only four?
The other source is Augustine who obviously appreciates Martha and the work she does. Both Martha and Mary had the same holy desire, Augustine says: “ They stayed close to our Lord and both served him harmoniously when he was among them.”
Martha served him as the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.
“You, Martha, if I may say so, will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarrelling to reconcile. no one dead to bury.”
“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”