We are tempted to look at the biblical characters as caricatures because so often, what we see of them is one-dimensional. But the same thing is true about human characters in our own lives. We are tempted here, too, to see others as one-dimensional and for the very same reason - we only see a scene or two of their lives.
We only see a little bit of who anyone else is at any given time. And it can be tempting to form an opinion of someone based on what we see, especially on a first meeting. We're really good at this. It's called a "first impression," but what often happens is that our first impression becomes our whole impression fairly quickly and from that point on, it is hard for us to let anyone out of the box that we've created for them.
One semester when I went over to seminary for an intensive class, I got really carsick on the trip. By the time I got there, it was all I could do for the rest of the day not to vomit. But I had to go to class. So I went to class but wasn't really there; my focus was on calming my stomach down. The next morning when I got to class, the student sitting next to me said, "Good morning, Miss Grumpypants."
Now, I had not been grumpy the day before and was not grumpy that morning. But it was the first impression this student had formed of me, and by that next morning, it was so firmly cemented in his head that it was all that he could see of me.
Kind of like when you see Martha and all you can think of is a woman who stays in the kitchen. Or Mary and all you can think of is a woman at Jesus's feet.
But what we often miss is that, much like our biblical characters, every human character in our life is more multi-dimensional than we think. And in fact, the "one" thing that we are supposed to know for sure is true about them...is simply that they have something to teach us about God.
Wouldn't that change the way that you interact with nearly everyone? If the only thing that you were confident in knowing about him or her was that he or she has something to teach you about God? That his or her place in your story and in God's story is to reveal Him?
It seems to me that every time we meet someone, we are trying to figure them out. Trying to figure out their human nature. Because, I think, we want to figure out our own human nature. And there quickly becomes one thing that is primary in our impression of them - either because we love it or hate it, usually because we love it or hate it in ourselves. Or want to love it or hate it in ourselves.
Yet if we would just use every human being to figure out God's holy nature, something amazing happens. Not only do we get to know who God is, but we get to know who we are. Our true human nature is discovered in His God nature because we are beings created in His image. And as a bonus, when this becomes our primary focus, we find that others are no longer caricatures in our lives but real characters - multi-dimensional human beings. And that gives us the freedom to be multi-dimensional human beings, as well, and know how God loves us.
So let's stop making caricatures out of characters. As John tells us in the lives of Martha and Mary, it's just not that easy.
And when we pretend that it is, what we really miss is not Mary nor Martha; it's Jesus.