Recently I was introduced to Ignatian spirituality and a weekly meditation session organised by the Jesuits in London.
At a recent meditation session we reflected on Luke 10 and the story of Martha and Mary with Jesus visiting their home. We used this picture by Dr He Qi to meditate and enter into the story, and I invite you to join me.
Both in the text and the picture I see two women- both devoted to Jesus. One showing her devotion through preparing to treat Jesus when he visits with the best possible meal and care given in Bethany and the other falling at his feet in worship.
Martha would have painstakingly given full attention to seeing that everything was perfect for her Lord. The tea would be served at the right temperature, bread freshly baked and not allowed to get stale in the hot Middle Eastern climate. Pomegranates freshly picked and washed and clean. Tables dusted, linen fresh and the floor swept clean so that when Jesus walked in with his bare feet after leaving his sandals at the door after cleaning his feet, it felt clean to tread on. Martha loves the Lord. He is still her first love, she has pondered on it long and hard and had that assurance in her heart – and now it was her turn to show gratitude in an earthly sense. Worship him with her time and meticulous care of hospitality that is world class yet personal.
Mary on the other hand falls down in worship at the feet of Jesus and does not move. She is oblivious to the hospitality that her older sister is so engrossed in providing for their special guest. Mary is still so deeply moved by the gift of salvation she has received from Jesus. Her sins forgiven and set free. How can she give any attention anywhere else than to this man who has given her new life! She loves her sister, but this moment is too precious, far too precious to be doing anything else. In any case, did Jesus not look after the earthly needs of his followers without them having to tarry so much – has Martha forgotten this?!
Martha is surprised of Mary’s lack of attention to making their guest feel comfortable and draws Jesus’ attention to this. Martha must carry the burden of running the family home being the older female sibling. Why does she not complain about Lazarus not helping? Is this cultural? Is it the responsibility of an older female child to attend to the practicalities of a household? Martha in that sense was not abdicating her duty – is this admirable?
“Martha, Martha”. Jesus calls out to her twice by her name. Martha must have felt special although what followed would have taken her aback. “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
We are not told of Martha’s reaction in the text or what happened afterwards. Did Martha feel rejected or was she reassured that whilst Jesus was appreciative of her efforts that he was giving Mary affirmation as she demonstrated her undivided devotion? Did Jesus help Martha himself and get Mary to help eventually? Was he saying to Martha that cultural expectations of an older sibling needs to be laid aside when it comes to worshiping the Saviour?
Enough of my rhetoric. Let’s look at the picture.
Both women’s eyes are turned towards Jesus in a reverential pose, but Jesus is looking ahead. Possibly looking at you, asking you what you think? Are you going to take sides or are you going to go deeper into the spirituality of the two women and where they are at in this story?
Whatever the Spirit reveals to you, I sense that Jesus was challenging the accepted cultural norms. That of a female child being left to take responsibility for hospitality – but oh no, not when Jesus is the guest. Sitting at the feet of the guru was usually reserved for disciples who were all male, but Mary is now doing just that. Eagerly waiting for the Master to teach her things of the Father and eternity. Jesus affirms Mary, giving value to women who are hungry and thirsty for the Lord to come alongside their male counterparts to receive from him. Magnificent, isn’t it?