Maids, Madams and Adams: The Unfinished Story of Martha and Mary Prof TS Maluleke Executive Director: Research, UNISA Reading A.... Lord don=t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me! AMartha, Martha@ the Lord answered, Ayou are worried and upset about many things, but only a few things is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. Mark 10: 40-42 1. A Disconcerting Story What a strange and unfair verdict that Jesus delivers to Martha! Poor Martha. Her sister - probably younger - is chatting away with Jesus the visitor while she slogs it out in the kitchen. Martha issues a distress call for help and gets the answer; tough from Jesus. Or are we mistaking tempestuous sibling rivalry for a genuine distress call here? I doubt. But Marthas strenuous and valiant efforts at hospitality and home-making appear to be left unacknowledged. It is further implied that Marthas efforts are unnecessary and fleeting acts born out of a neurotic disposition for worry, order and convention. It is to Mary that the prize is given and praise is heaped. In choosing to sit and chat with Jesus, she is said to have Achosen what is better@ and what is durable. Upon hearing this Martha must have looked at Jesus with disbelief and pain. This verdict must have sent her reeling backwards into the kitchen where show must have collapsed into a bitter and uncontrollable cry. After all Martha was only being hospitable in the best possible way her aunts, uncles, cousins and parents had taught her. She was recognizing a manly presence in her home in a way that she had been socialised to do. She was, in colloquial terms, only being nice. Martha probably did intend to eventually sit and talk with Jesus over or after a meal as custom dictated. But Jesus seemed ruthlessly impatient and decidedly uncultured. What shall we make of this disconcerting and challenging story? 2. Martha At one level the story has a simple and familiar plot which fits rather nicely into present day gender talk and experimentation. In terms of current gender talk, Marthas problem is that she is an unliberated traditionalist who has accepted her place in the kitchen. She has been thoroughly domesticated by culture, convention and patriarchy so that she has now internalized all the gender roles assigned to her. She runs to the kitchen to cook without having been instructed to do so. A large section of so-called progressive society - even in the Third World - would give Jesus a standing ovation for chastising the unliberated Martha ever so sternly. Someone needs to shake off the deadly slumber of the oppressively socialised Marthas of this world and if stern and painful words will help, so be it. Martha is so oppressed that she is has lost all sense of agency and has become a near-zombie. Has she really? 3. Mary Mary on the other hand, might be seen as the paragon of the liberated woman. She instinctively chooses to engage in what only men were supposed to do, i.e sit and engage in intelligent discussion and be waited upon, rather than be engaged in unintelligent and routine manual labour. The story teller - clearly a man - suggests that all that Mary did was to listen to what Jesus said. It is somewhat difficult to imagine Mary sitting quietly and only nodding vigorously as Jesus spoke. It is safe to say that she did not only listen but asked questions and even put forward her own opinions. Only an engaging listener could have held Jesus’ attention and earned his sympathy. We know how Jesus loved and engaging conversation and how he always led with intelligent questions rather than provide easy answers. Maybe Mary’s sharp questions and unusual views contributed to Jesus= reluctance to release her when Martha cried. ATell her to help me@. 4. Maids and Madams I am not satisfied only with the straight forward, and politically correct interpretations of this story. I suggest that this is a) an unfinished, b) a story of sisterhood, c) a story about maids and madams and c) a story about social class - a story about humanity. That the story is unfinished is obvious because it is much abbreviated. ATough@, cannot be the last words Jesus said to Martha. There must have been another conversation between Martha and Jesus beyond the recorded reprimand - a conversation which is silent in the story but just as loud to the ears of the observant reader. Maybe Jesus followed Martha to the kitchen where she cried. It would have been completely out of character for him to ignore a person in distress - even for the sake of political pedagogy. The two of them - Jesus and Martha - must have discussed the contentious issue of maid and madam roles. Is the madam really more important than the maid? Is the work of the maid really worthless and the work of the madam only worthy? Are the Marthas of this world, who make it possible for the Marys and the Jesuses of our time to be able to relaxand have lofty discussions really that worthless? Is it not time for the work of Martha to be given its real and proper value even as we seek to appreciate the ingenuity of boardroom-busting Mary? Would a truly liberated Mary not have invited Jesus to the kitchen so that all three of them - yes, Jesus included - joined in preparing a meal even as they chatted? Would such an act not constitute true and just sisterhood between Mary and Martha and would it not demonstrate true community between men and women? The story of Mary and Martha remains unfinished in the lives of millions of women in the world. It is unfinished between black and white women. It is unfinished between middle and working class women. Yes it is an unfinished story between men and women - as men gang up, again and again, in various ways, if not with the Marys over against the Marthas; men will gang up together against both the Marys and the Marthas - demanding to be served. The challenge for us, is to go on and finish= the unfinished story in our own lives and in our communities. For many women today are both Mary and Martha at the same time; Mary in the workplace perhaps, but Martha in the church and at home. Questions: 1. In terms of your observations and experiences today, write up an imaginary conversation between Jesus and Martha. 2. Who are the Marthas and Marys in your context? 3. Write a letter to Jesus in defense of Martha.