The Freedom to Listen

a poetic interpretation of Luke 10:38-42


Like many people my age

I grew up hearing the story 

of “Jesus’ home visit with Martha and Mary”

in a way that suggested

that Mary was the “good girl”

and Martha was the “bad girl.”


Like many people my age

I was the first of my family

to see mothers working outside the home

and I watched my mom

juggle her job 

and my school stuff
and the illnesses of her elders

and stretch the finances

and pay the bills

on only her salary

and my dad’s $96 a week unemployment

when my dad was laid off every winter

because bricklaying is seasonal in Missouri.


And I would get angry

when the Sunday School teacher,

through this story,

suggested that the woman who was “doing stuff”

was a very bad girl indeed.

How could a woman like my mom

who sometimes looked like

she was holding our world together

with duct tape and bailing wire

be, somehow, “Bad?”


Of course, I never said anything.

I had spoken out in Sunday School before

about discrepancies like this

and all it ever did

was lump me in

with the “bad girls” too.


Girls who didn’t “respect authority”,

girls who weren’t passive,

girls who said something other

than “Mother,” or “Teacher,”

or “Secretary,” or “Nurse,”

and said things like

“Firefighter,” and “Auctioneer,”

when asked what we wanted to do

when we grew up.


And I grew to despise this story,

and I grew to despise Mary of Bethany,

thought she was a sellout,

a passive lump of “good girl”

who did what she was told,

who sat at the feet of men…


Yet even in my anger,

I knew it wasn’t that Martha

wasn’t hearing Jesus.

She was hearing Jesus too

as she was scurrying about

in the same way my mom

was trying to talk on the phone with HER mom

and I was trying to tell her

what was happening at school

and my dad’s truck had pulled into the driveway

and he would burst through the door

telling her something also.


And SHE would be angry

that the world expected her

to have the capacity

to hear all three of us equally

with the same depth,

the same comprehension,

and respond just as equally

with a demeanor that hinted,

“Hey…this is easy.”


It took me at least three decades

(and two of them away from the church)

before I started to understand

that this story might be very different

than the way it was taught to me.


Because, you see,

I learned some details about 11 women…

Women named Merrill and Alla,

Allison, Emily, and Carter,

Suzanne, Marie, and Jeanette,

Betty…and Katrina…and Nancy.


I barely remembered

at the time it had happened

because my family wasn’t Episcopalian

and we weren’t very churchy anyway,

But I remember the angry men on TV

who thought they were “bad girls” too.


I think my 14 year-old self

just kind of zoned it out at the time

because my plate seemed full enough

trying to be a nerdy teenage girl

who loved taking advanced science classes

and that was hard enough

in my own world

of “Women working twice as hard

to get half as far.”


Then one day I realized

that the story wasn’t about good girls and bad girls.

It was a story about Jesus

saying Mary had the right

to hear one thing at a time.

She didn’t have to juggle half a dozen things

and be expected to hear them all equally well.


It was about Jesus telling Mary

that, she, too

had the ability

to hear the Word,

break it open

like a stubborn walnut,

digest it,

share her discovery with others,

and even hope

that the way she broke it open

could change the world

one person at a time.


And you know,

at the ripe old age of 57,

as I lay on the cool cathedral floor

and heard “Veni Sancte Spiritus”

swirling over my ears

like angels flying overhead,

I realized I owed Mary of Bethany an apology.

Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as Interim Priest at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hannibal, MO. 

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