In this story, Martha is really stressed out! She feels pulled in different directions trying to be the perfect host, to do what’s right for Jesus. Meanwhile her sister Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, listening to him teach. Martha is critical of Mary for not helping her, and eventually loses her cool.
But as is often the case with the Bible…
There’s more going on here than meets the eye.
One BIG thing that modern readers easily miss here is that, actually, Mary is breaking social and cultural norms here. In first century Jewish society, women didn’t normally socialize with men in this way. The outer room, where Jesus and his disciples sat, was for the men. Women, in this situation, belonged in the kitchen.
But there’s another norm that Mary is breaking here:
To sit at Jesus’ feet is to take on the posture of a disciple. In that society, women couldn’t be disciples or rabbis (teachers) — to “sit at the feet of” a rabbi meant to be his disciple, possibly becoming a rabbi yourself.
So, culturally speaking, Mary was breaking the rules, and Martha was right to be upset. And Martha expected Jesus to take her side.
But instead, Jesus said,
“There’s only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it won’t be taken away from her.”
He affirmed Mary’s right to be there, with the men, as a fellow disciple. This would have been huge at the time — scandalous, even.
But this is very much in-character for Jesus.
In the Bible, throughout Jesus’ story, we see Him cross man-made barriers again and again.
We have highlighted this multiple times in Waypoints too: Jesus showing compassion for an enemy (Centurion), accepting traitor as his disciple (What Else Could I Do?), speaking truth with kindness to someone from another culture (The Well), taking time for a sick and lonely person (A Desperate Woman), and showing a child he can play an important role (A Place at the Table).
Jesus accepted, gave honor and dignity to those the culture of his day did not… including women.
We don’t know how Martha, Mary or the others in the room reacted to Jesus’ words here. The Bible doesn’t tell us. In our manga, we ended the story with some of the men volunteering to help in the kitchen, then everyone happily enjoying the meal together.
Realistically, that’s probably NOT what happened. But we wrote it this way because we believe that Jesus pointed ahead to a world where this could and should happen; where men and women are equal, as are people of different races, cultures and social statuses…
Another Bible passage, written by an early church leader to a group of Christians, says this:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. “ (Gal. 3:28)
In other words, whoever you are…
There’s a place for YOU at the feet of Jesus.
Like Mary, you can be a disciple of Jesus, have a relationship with God, and gain wisdom, direction and purpose for your life.