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,
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.