Quick - tell me what you know about Mary and Martha.
At this point, you're probably thinking this one's easy - Martha is the busy type who was too concerned with playing hostess to Jesus and His disciples to even realize what was happening right in front of her, and Mary was the one who "chose the better thing, and it will not be taken away from her." Easy-peasy. Next question, please!
But what if what you think about Mary and Martha isn't the truth about who they are? What if they are more complex characters than we make them out to be? What if they aren't actually caricatures of busyness and devotion, but actual women - actual human beings - who are woven into the Good News about Jesus?
And now, we're getting somewhere.
Did you know that there are actually two scenes in the gospels that tell us about Mary and Martha? There are two stories about these sisters to which we need to pay attention, and the sad truth is that so many of us are familiar with one of them that it distorts or even diminishes our view of the other.
We know what happened when these two ladies were hosting Jesus at their house. Mary chose to sit and listen to Him speak while Martha did all the cooking and cleaning and preparations, and Martha was so upset with Mary that she went to Jesus and demanded that some of His words include the phrase, "Mary, get back in the kitchen with your sister."
From this one scene alone, we have formed an opinion of who Mary and Martha are, who they are supposed to represent, what kind of women Jesus was talking to and what He said. Thousands of devotionals and retreats and conferences have been done for women on "having a Mary faith in a Martha world" (just for the record, I think this is the actual title of a book that I once read - if it is, my apologies to the author; I am neither recommending nor decrying this book, but using this phrase as a type for the general category of material that I am talking about) or "getting out of the kitchen and sitting at the feet of Jesus." Sound familiar?
Yet there's this whole other story about these sisters. It's the story of when their brother, Lazarus, died. John tells us that the sisters - not one or the other, but both - sent for Jesus. And when Jesus is on His way, one of the sisters rushes out to meet Him.
And it's Martha.
Not Mary. It's not the sister who sits at the feet of Jesus and can't get enough of His teachings. It's not the sister who supposedly neglects her household duties to engage in something so idle - and so unladylike - as to sit in a circle of disciples and listen to a Rabbi talk. It's not the sister who pours out perfume on Him and wipes it with her hair. No. Mary stays home, and it is Martha who cannot wait one more second to see what Jesus is going to do.
Still think you know these sisters? Still confident you're sure about who they are? Stay tuned, and we'll talk about some things.