25 February 2013

Mary and Martha

We moderns are suspicious and disdainful of the contemplative life. We don't have time to be quiet and sit. We have a horror of leaving the dishes undone, the kitchen unswept, the beds unmade... No, we are pushed to be active, driven, and busy, busy, busy. Maybe this is why we have so much trouble with the story of Mary and Martha in the New Testament:

"Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:38-42, KJV)

What would our culture say in this situation? Well, Martha is doing the best thing. There is a job to be done, and she is doing it! But what does Jesus say? Dorothy Sayers comments on the problem our industrious, hectic modern world has with this text:

I think I have never heard a sermon preached on the story of Mary and Martha that did not attempt, somehow, somewhere, to explain away its text. Mary’s, of course, was the better part—the Lord said so, and we must not precisely contradict Him. But we will be careful not to despise Martha. No doubt, He approved of her, too. We could not get on without her, and indeed (having paid lip-service to God’s opinion) we must admit that we greatly prefer her, for Martha was doing a really feminine job, whereas Mary was just behaving like any other disciple; and that is a hard pill to swallow.
-Dorothy Sayers, Unpopular Opinions, p. 148

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