This post is the second I’ve written on this passage; see here for my first post.
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “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.”
The group sat around in a small circle, wooden chairs pulled up between the couches. Through the small slit in the door I had cracked open, I could hear almost all that was said. I crouched at the top of the basement stairs, straining to hear a bit more.
It wasn’t always like this when my parents had their bible study group at our house. Often, I’d just lay in the basement with the TV on until the sound of shuffling feet and goodbyes told me that people were leaving. I could have come up sooner; I wasn’t banished to the basement. But I was in middle school and, honestly, usually not that interested.
This night was different, though.
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My parents had invited a woman over to speak to the group; she was a biblical scholar and former missionary staying with friends in town. Her voice was low, but excited. She spoke passionately about the Bible, the glorious story of God’s relationship with His Creation, His redemption of the world and establishment of the Kingdom of God. She talked about life in Christ and our inclusion in this grand story. I was mesmerized.
I suppose every Christian who grew up in the church had a “coming of age” moment. There’s a time when you realize that your faith and your relationship with Christ must be your own, but struggle to work through how exactly to do that. (I’d say I’m still learning!)
The way that our friend talked about faith and life in Christ that night (and many subsequent nights) gave me a hunger for God and a framework within which to better understand Him. It opened me up to the realization that there is so much more to being a Christian than trying to be good, going to church, and remembering to read my Bible. God is still working and moving and acting and creating—and I want to be part of it!
This moment in my life—and in my church and family’s life, in a way—was pivotal for my journey with Christ. I realized that growing in Christ, learning about the story of God in the Bible, and pursuing a relationship of faith in Jesus wasn’t just for other people—it was for me!
Usually the lesson we derive from the story of Martha and Mary focuses on Martha. We must remind ourselves of the dangers of getting caught up in action (as in my previous post), but there is so much more to this story than just that.
In his guide to the gospel of Luke, Tom Wright points out the obvious (but often hidden to modern readers) social and cultural barriers that Jesus strikes down with his words here. For Martha and Mary, the cultural assumption of Jesus’ day was that the role of disciple was exclusively for men. Wright sheds light on Mary’s action here as he explains what it meant to “sit at the feet” of a rabbi, saying,
When Saul of Tarsus ‘sat at the feet of Gamaliel’ (Acts 22.3), he wasn’t gazing up adoringly and thinking how wonderful the great rabbi was; he was listening and learning, focusing on the teaching of his master and putting it together in his mind. To sit at someone’s feet meant, quite simply, to be their student. And to sit at the feet of a rabbi was what you did if you wanted to be a rabbi yourself. There is no thought here of learning for learning’s sake, Mary has quietly taken her place as a would-be teacher and preacher of the kingdom of God. (Luke for Everyone, p. 131)
Well, this time in my life was my Mary moment. My moment to realize that being a disciple of Christ isn’t just for pastors and missionaries. Everyone is called to sit at the feet of Jesus; no one is exempt or excluded from the call to discipleship. As Wright says,
Mary stands for all those women who, when they hear Jesus speaking about the kingdom, know that God is calling them to listen carefully so that they can speak of it too. (p. 131)
Be(com)ing a Disciple
I don’t have any “qualifications” to talk about theology or to study the Bible. My mom and sister both hold master’s degrees in biblical studies and theology. Between the Philosopher and me, we have six (if I remembered everyone) relatives among our aunts, uncles, and cousins who are ordained ministers.
Believe me when I say that it is with fear and great trepidation that I attempt to speak of the kingdom of God and put into words my thoughts about life in Christ. I certainly have no wish to do any damage through incorrect or limited understanding.
But I do want to learn from the rabbi. I want to be a disciple. All of us—regardless of our age, career, background, or education level—are called to learn from Jesus how to love God with all our hearts, minds, and strength, how to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to go forth in His power to proclaim the gospel.
Trust me when I say that I’m not there yet, but the strength of this call overshadows my feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. I don’t have it all figured out (by a long shot), but I approach this great adventure of Christian life with humility, in God’s grace. Despite the challenges, I want to search for how to listen and learn, to follow and grow.
And I want to share and journey with you as I learn how to do that.
What barriers do we face in becoming disciples of Christ today? In what ways can we show that discipleship is the place for all Christians, not just a select few?
For another look at this passage, see this wonderful homily by Bishop Robert Barron.
Luke (N.T. Wright for Everyone Bible Study Guides)