I caused quite a stir this summer during Tim Miller's workshop when, in the course of describing a gay pride parade in Heaven, I envisioned Mary and Martha as dykes on bikes at the front of the line of heavenly queers... leading Jonathan and David with their rainbow flag... and the Virgin Mary with her P-FLAG banner. Leather chaps and bare-breasted on Harleys is hardly the image that anyone would ever imagine for these two sisters of Lazarus.
I don't really either, but it does make for an interesting picture, doesn't it?
No, Mary and Martha were not that radical, at least as far as we know. But they give us a glimpse into the human response to God: both the attentive listener, and the active doer. In Luke's gospel, Mary is the one sitting at Jesus' feet soaking in every moment of being with him, while Martha is cleaning the kitchen, sweeping the floors, and making the house tidy for the guest... much to her consternation after awhile. When she complains, Jesus tells her:
"Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."--Luke 10: 41-42
Now, one could dismiss Martha as the sister who really needs to take a chill pill. But I think both Martha and Mary, while having different approaches to responding to God... really give us an insight about a Christian approach to living out our faith. There is the Mary approach which is the attentive and deep listening. But if we stayed stuck in "Mary mode", we'd just be sitting still. The Martha way, I think, is the outgrowth of having done the attentive listening. Once we've heard, we allow that hearing to motivate us to action to "do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to do."
And so, here's to the sisters who give us good guidance in the journey with God!
"O God, heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ enjoyed rest and refreshment in the home of Mary and Martha of Bethany: Give us the will to love you, open our hearts to hear you, and strengthen our hands to serve you in others for his sake; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. "--Collect for Mary and Martha of Bethany