This passage in Luke, these 5 verses telling the story of Jesus with Martha and Mary, stirs up a lot of reactions among the women I know. One friend, whose gift of hospitality runs deep, has felt chastised by it for years. For another friend, it provided the word of affirmation that freed her to make a mid-life career change, responding to a call to ministry. Another grumbles that it may laud a contemplative lifestyle, but it still denigrates traditional women’s work as a whole. She appreciates Jesus’ reception of Mary, but figures the truly servant-leadership response to Martha would be for Jesus to go out and help with the dishes. Why not, if he was willing to do the servant task of washing feet?
With lectio, we try to approach the passage freshly, paying attention to how it is speaking to us today. The challenge is that we carry along past readings, for better or ill. We are shaped by past encounters – we may not consciously remember the illustration from a childhood book of Bible stories, but still be influenced by its picture of Martha standing near Jesus with a large bowl held in the crook of her elbow, scolding and pointing her mixing spoon at Mary, who sits on the floor at Jesus’ feet, gazing adoringly at his face.
Many years ago I attended a workshop on teaching the Bible. The large group was broken into small groups of 8-10 and handed an envelope. Each envelope had a bible passage and a handful of pictures, enough to go around. We were invited to take one of the pictures and to use it to reflect on the story. The passage for my group was this one, Luke 10:38-42, and my picture showed a middle-aged woman listening intently to a young man. As we began to share around the group, we discovered that we were each holding a different picture, with a wide variety of depictions of the main characters. I realized that the mental image I carried unthinkingly was of a young serene Mary, hair flowing down her back. How did it change my thoughts about this passage if Mary and Martha were middle-aged?
I keep coming back to this exercise as I look at commentaries on this passage, noticing the assumptions that are brought in, unsupported by the text. What are the images you carry for this passage? Are the women younger or older than Jesus? Wealthy and beautiful? Middle-aged peasants? Is it just the three of them or are there others? If there are others, are they villagers or the Twelve or a whole crowd of followers? Are there other women present? Are there dishes involved?
Sharing tesserae from a sustained lectio divina with Luke 10:38-42
Tesserae: small cube-shaped tiles of ceramic, glass or precious stone used to make a mosaic, or in this case, brief essays on some element of lectio divina with Luke 10:38-42.