both knew their place, but not everyone agreed where that place was.
the place for a woman was certainly not at the feet of a rabbi. martha understood this, and confined her service to the traditional and scripturally authorized domestic realm, preparing the house for the arrival of her lord and his men. and martha served her lord well.
but mary, mary did not get the memo. you see, mary knew her place too, but it was not a place people expected, and martha thought mary should have known better. there was a god-ordained order to things, and women were not supposed to step out of their roles as domestic servants. but mary chose to break with tradition, and sit at the feet of her lord… with the men.
and in luke 10, we have one of the earliest debates about the role and place of women. so the question is asked: what does it mean to be a servant? must a servant be a servant in the kitchen only? or can she be a true servant – the kind of servant jesus himself endorsed – one that sits at the foot of the teacher along with the twelve, along with the apostles, the disciples – those who would become church leaders – that is, along with the men?
and mary, who longs only to be a true servant, breaks tradition, and joins the men. and as we shall see, jesus says that mary has chosen what is better: because the true disciple serves at the feet of the lord.
martha, who knew her place, is not mentioned again in luke’s gospel. but her sister, mary, she is mentioned again. in fact, she is mentioned in two places that luke considered moments of utmost significance.
it is no coincidence, that as jesus hanged on the cross, and gasped for his last few breaths of life, that the very student, the very disciple for whom jesus stood up and defended at martha’s home – mary – she was there, again, still, near the feet of jesus when he died.
luke emphasizes this in luke 23:49 when he says, “all those who knew him – including the women who had followed him from galilee – remained at a distance watching these things.” mary – the better disciple – remained at the feet of jesus, even while other disciples had fled in fear.
and perhaps it was this same mary that was among those mentioned by name in luke 24 as being one of the few women that was faithful enough, and devoted enough, and brave enough to visit the tomb on the morning of the resurrection.
and it was these women – these faithful servants – and this faithful student – who relayed the message of the resurrection to the eleven men – who were hiding, and unbelieving, off in the distance.
perhaps it is a literary irony, but it is certainly no coincidence, that the very woman who sat at the feet of jesus while he was teaching, also stood near the foot of the cross when he breathed his last.
because the true student not only hears the teaching, but embodies the lessons taught.
the true student not only does the easy assignments, but completes the difficult assignments as well.
and the true disciple sits at the feet of the teacher, whether the lesson is being taught in a room, or while hanging on a cross.