Friday, March 19, 2010

Mary and Martha

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were good friends with Jesus. The gospels record that he stayed with them several times during his ministry—Jesus even raised Lazarus from the dead. Mary and Martha had very different personalities, and Jesus' interactions with them show that he must have loved them both very much.

The first story about Mary and Martha features Jesus teaching a group of men in their home. Martha is being a good hostess, preparing food and serving the group. She's feeling irate because Mary isn't helping. Mary is captivated by Jesus and his message, and she's sitting with the men listening to Jesus talk. Social conventions dictate that Mary should be helping Martha serve, but when Martha mentions this to Jesus, he defends Mary's right to sit and listen with the men.

Later, Jesus is back at his friends' house after having raised Lazarus from the dead. No one else knows yet, but Jesus is about to go into Jerusalem to meet his death. Jesus, Lazarus, and his friends are having dinner. Once again, Martha is serving. But Mary is about to violate another social norm. She comes in with a pound of costly perfume worth three years' wages and bathes Jesus' feet with it. Then she lets down her hair and wipes Jesus' feet with it. This time it's Judas who criticizes Mary for wasting such an exorbitant sum on Jesus' feet, but Jesus still defends her. He says she has anointed him for his burial and that her act of love would always be remembered. What was the monetary worth of the perfume compared to the intensity of Mary's love when she used it to honor Jesus?

I have a little bit of both Martha and Mary in me. I realize that work needs to be done and that it's not always glorious or exuberant. I know that social constructs exist for a reason. But sometimes, like Mary, I just want to throw caution into the wind and do whatever my heart is moved to do. Even Mary couldn't be joyfully impulsive all the time, and I'm sure that most of the time she was right there with Martha doing pedestrian (and socially acceptable) tasks. But when she allowed herself to be free, she made a difference. Mary made history because her love was so passionate that it couldn't be contained by social rules. She was fearless and extravagant in her display of love for Christ, and I wish more than anything that I could emulate her in that.

I want to be like Mary, but most of the time I feel I have to be more like Martha. Work needs to be done, after all, and if not for the Marthas in this world, who would do it? But my soul yearns for the moment when I can choose to be free, like Mary, and I can break away from propriety and work and let my spirit do what it wishes. I want to love others without restraint and defy the rules that dictate how I can appropriately show my feelings. I want to give the people I love extravagant gifts. I want to love with my whole heart without fear of embarrassment or overstepping. I want to find moments  of freedom and joy and embrace them, as Mary did.

I know that most of the time I must be content to show my love through diligent service, like Martha. I just hope that when the opportunity comes along, I will choose "the better part" as Mary did. It's comforting to know that Jesus will understand and support me if I do something crazy out of love and joy. I feel afraid to fully be myself most of the time because I don't want to defy the rules, but I know that sometimes the rules are meant to be broken. When the right time comes, I will probably end up doing something that seems crazy, just like Mary did, and I hope I feel the same incredible love and joy that she must have felt when she was pouring all that expensive perfume on the feet of her beloved Lord.

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