Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
The story of Mary and Martha is a classic story of the roles of women. But it is also a source of annoyance to many women. I remember my mother disliked this story because she was a Martha character and she didn't like it that Jesus was critical of Martha. She thought that Martha was doing what women do, and he ought to be positive toward her. I remember other women talking about the story saying that Jesus needed to learn something from Martha. There will probably be women in the congregation wherever this story is told who will identify with Martha. That's just fine because that's what the story is structured to do.
My hunch is that this may be a Jesus story that was told by women. If there is a woman in the congregation who can tell the story, that would eliminate some of the unfortunate gender dynamics that sometimes get associated with Jesus "putting down" Martha. Nevertheless, there is anticipation of the conflict at the outset and a certain delight in that anticipation.
The mnemonic structure of the story is relatively simple. It's three short episodes. The first episode is the setting, given in two sentences: "Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he was saying. "In these two sentences we are introduced to Martha and Mary. Martha welcomed Jesus; Mary sat and listened to him.
The second episode is about Martha. The NRSV reads, "Martha was distracted." This is not an accurate translation, as I'll explain later. The Greek word means fretting, it means being worried. "Distracted" implies that she wasn't doing what she should be doing. There's no implication of that in the Greek. She was working hard trying to get the dinner together.
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