It's Monday night, the Eve of the Feast of Mary and Martha of Bethany.
The story goes like this: Luke 10:38-42
Now as Jesus and his disciples went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered 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."
Mostly, I have heard this story understood and interpreted as active (Martha) vs. contemplative (Mary), which is such a false dichotomy, as though contemplative is not active on so many levels! The conclusion being that the contemplative life is superior to the active life of service.
Other interpretations focus on the busyness of everyday life as distracting--which has been countered with books encouraging folks to find a place of prayer in laundry.
I don't think this story is about the type of work itself, nor about Martha's pissy attitude or distracted state of mind, nor about Mary's devotion. Not those things necessarily--although the story is not complete without them.
I think this story is about gender roles (and I owe this interpretation to the generation of feminist thinkers, male and female, who have gone before us in faith). Look at the girl in the image above (Velazques, 1618); she does not look so happy to find out what is expected of her....
Martha was behaving according to her gender. Mary was not. Martha wanted Mary to behave. Jesus was not interested in making Mary perform according to her gender. Nor was he interested in supporting Martha in her presuppositions.
In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.
Much of the hyperbreathing and venom in the Church that we are hearing so much of is really about gender roles--how we are supposed to behave as boys and girls.
I remain convinced that Our Lord is just not interested.
The Collect for the Day: O God, heavenly Father, your 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, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
And, what the hey --the Roman passage is damn good too: Romans 12:9-13
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.