Love, Justice, and Housework
In the Gospel Reading, Martha is trying to feed Jesus and his disciples. Even if Jesus came with only his twelve apostles, that still makes lunch for 13. With a modern kitchen, lunch for so many is not easy to prepare. I have no idea how Martha could manage it with whatever kitchen she had. And it’s worse for her because she is stuck doing it by herself. Her sister Mary is sitting on the floor by Jesus, listening to him. How unjust to Martha is that?
So, no wonder Martha nudges Jesus and insists that he tell Mary to get a move on—into the kitchen, helping with housework. Fair is fair! Jesus is supposed to be the greatest upholder of justice. Fairness to women should be part of his concern, too, shouldn’t it? Where is the fairness to Martha in Jesus’ being an enabler of Mary’s failure to help in the kitchen?
But fairness to Mary is precisely what Jesus is protecting by refusing to send her into the kitchen, isn’t it? The best thing in the world is to be by Jesus, to love him, to learn from him, to give yourself to him. And Jesus will not let lunch take that best thing away from Mary. What justice would there be if he did? Does the need for housework trump a person’s desire to be by the Lord and learn from him?
But, you might say, what about Martha? Where is the fairness for Martha here? And what if Martha had wanted to sit by the Lord, too. Then what would have happened to lunch?
But think about it. Is there really no other way that lunch could have gotten on the table, without forcing Mary (or Mary and Martha) away from the Lord? Couldn’t some of those male disciples have made lunch, for example? For that matter, couldn’t the Lord who fed the five thousand miraculously have managed to feed a mere dozen or so in the same way? As far as that goes, what’s wrong with their all fasting on this occasion?
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University