I started thinking about Mary and Martha a couple of weeks ago when I was reading through John in my commentary Bible (if you've been around much this year, you know what I think about my commentary Bible, but at this point, I'm committed). The commentary on this story of the sisters at the death of their brother is striking.
What's happened is that the "expert" contracted to interpret John for the rest of us spends a lengthy amount of time explaining how Martha continues to be just Martha, concerned more about hospitality and appearances and the guests who are at her home even when she's the one who leaves all of the hustle and bustle to go out and meet Jesus. This commentator insists that this proves that Martha really can't just get out of the kitchen and embrace Jesus. Even though she's the one outside of the kitchen, embracing Jesus. He (I assume, because most commentary Bibles still do not accept the scholarship of women) wastes a ton of his breath trying to explain to the reader who would never understand this on their own that Mary and Martha are, in this story of Lazarus's death, the exact same Mary and Martha who welcomed Jesus in their home - Mary devoutly at His feet and Martha busying herself with the things of this world.
Except that's not how the story reads, not to most of us. Which means that one of two things is happening here:
Either we really are too stupid to understand even the humanly things of the Bible on our own...or this commentator has fallen into a very human trap himself.
See, this is exactly the kind of thing that we are prone to do - we find out something about someone, or think that we do, and that becomes the only lens through which we see them. Forever. This doesn't cease to be true just because we are talking about biblical characters.
We think of Judas only as a betrayer. We think of Thomas only as a doubter. We think of Paul only as a great evangelist (despite the fact that his story plainly confesses he was once a persecutor). We think of David as a great and faithful king (despite the fact that his story tells us he was also an adulterer and murderer).
The woman down the street is just a single mother. The guy on the corner is just a drunk. The hermit in the busy house is just a drug dealer. The parent of that student is just a meddler. The lady at the church is just a gossip. And on and on and on we go, and once we have decided who we believe that someone is, we interpret everything that person does through that lens. They are forever and for always that thing.
Martha is always in the kitchen, even when she is the one who runs out to meet Jesus. And Mary is always at His feet, even though in this story, she stayed home.
But what if - hear me out on this - human beings are more complicated than that? What if we just can't caricature anyone like that?
What if...we shouldn't?