Jesus liked women. He certainly liked Martha (whose feast we celebrate this week) and her sister Mary. They and their brother, Lazarus, lived in Bethany, a small village a few miles from Jerusalem. They provided a refuge for him, a sort of bolt-hole where he could retreat to for relaxation. It was probably the nearest thing to a proper family home he ever knew.
Women played a prominent role in his life. Martha, for example, appears on three important occasions in the Gospel narrative – when she receives Jesus into her house and waits on him; at the Resurrection of her brother, Lazarus, when she proclaims her faith in Jesus as the “Son of the living God”; and at the meal given to Jesus six days before the Passover. Then there was his association with prostitutes and public sinners which earned him the rebuke of the Pharisees and the leaders of society. And it was a Samaritan woman, a foreigner in the eyes of the Jews, with whom he conducted the longest and most layered conversation recorded in the Gospel. It was women, too, who remained at the foot of the cross when other disciples like Peter and James fled in fear, and who later prepared his body for burial. Most importantly of all, it was a woman, Mary Magdalene, who was the first witness to the most tremendous event in human history, the Resurrection, the single event on which our faith is based.
It’s strange that the Church down the centuries has downplayed the role and importance of women and discriminated against them, given how important they were in the ministry of Jesus and in the life of the early Church. With Jesus it was so different. He paid attention to women and their needs even to the extent of getting involved in what we might call a little “family domestic”. On that occasion, Martha complained to him about her sister Mary not helping out in the kitchen and tried to get him to tell her sister off.
Jesus got involved alright, commenting that there was more to life than work and always being busy, giving both sisters something to think about. He never entered people’s lives from on high, but always in the midst of where people were. And he always sought the good in people, taking them as he found them and then showing them how they could live better and more fulfilling lives. In short, he treated people as his friends and the Gospel narrative shows just how much hope and comfort they derived from their friendship with him.
We too lead busy lives, just like Martha. But during this lockdown we are being brought closer to life in all its variety and difficulty. In particular, we are being forced to confront ourselves and find answers to searching questions. Questions like what are we doing with our lives, what about the views and values we hold, the sort of people we have become, etc. We are living through a very difficult time but then maybe it takes a difficult time to force such questions to the surface. All the Lord wants is for us to place our trust in him.
Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the better part which would not be taken from her.
It is up to each of us to find out for ourselves what that better part might be.