Recently, I heard a sermon preached almost entirely on Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew. I was visiting a church I attended in my youth, a place where I learned a lot of what I’ve needed to unlearn about theology of women. I was delighted to see that the pastor immediately picked out the women in the narrative, a little disappointed to realize that he did so only to point out that they were all foreigners, with the exception of Mary. But this got me thinking in another direction, as sermons so often do. I began to think through these five women, to question what else they might have in common.
I grew up in the evangelical church, one of the Jesus Girls, one of the ones who was on fire.
I learned quickly that I wasn’t like everyone else. I certainly wasn’t like the other girls. Instead of being afraid of the boys, or even particularly attracted to them, I wanted to hang out with them. At youth group parties, you might find me playing Halo, jumping on the trampoline, or playing spoons with the boys. In their company, I felt like I was taken seriously, I felt a part of something.
It was nice to be different, when it was in that context. We had frank discussions, talking about God, about life, about girls. I grew comfortable with that role: the confidante. I became the quintessential sister-figure, loving every minute of it.
But no one wanted to date that girl, and after a while, I wanted a date much more than I wanted to be myself, so she got lost somewhere along the way.
I can’t imagine a world in which it would be culturally acceptable for a hostess to walk up to her guest of honor and ask him to have a word with her sister, who was not anticipating the needs of her guests with the same alacrity as the hostess (especially loudly enough for at least one eyewitness to hear and write about it). That is not the world that I live in, and it was certainly not the world that Martha of Bethany inhabited.
I’ve heard quite a number of sermons about “Mary and Martha” over the years, and they have all had the same tenor: Strive to be more like Mary and less like Martha. Martha has come to represent the influence of the world (with her distraction and busyness) and Mary seems to represent the ideal Christian woman, sitting at Jesus’ feet, at least, in the eyes of many Christians I’ve heard speak.
Just over a year ago, I was captured by the story of Martha. It was a season of recovery for me. I was having trouble finding the strength to “do” my faith the way I’d been taught through my formative years. Have you ever had a Biblical person reach out and grab you, asking to be noticed? That is what happened with Martha. I haven’t been able to stop reading her story since, over and over.