Hospitality was (and, still is) highly valued in the Middle East. This cultural norm combined with
the fact that a woman's reputation and social honor was directly connected to her ability to serve
as a good hostess, who could entertain guests and manage her household responsibilities, made
the social expectations on Martha a source of emotional and physical pressure. And, playing hostess to a local celebrity such as Jesus from Nazareth made the situation so much more intense. It required flawless hospitality! Mary's sudden loss of interest in social responsibility, cultural norms and her general disregard for the people visiting her house would surely leave a social stigma that would affect everyone in her household which included her sister, Martha, and brother, Lazarus. Martha feared people would be talking about this social gaffe for years!
Ultimately, the blunder was not made by Mary, but by Martha who became distracted with preparations of dishes of food, seating, arrangements, etc. Things only got worse for Martha who in her criticism of her sister Mary also included Jesus in her rebuke. Jesus’ was apparently negligent in allowing Mary to sit and listen to him speak, while Martha was left to burden the load of hostess alone. Martha demands the Lord, “Tell her to help me!”
Jesus tells Martha:
- She was “worried” or “anxious” – Gr. merimnas – refers to an agitated state of mind created from being overly concerned with too much care invested in a situation.
- She was “upset” - Gr. thorubadze – means to be troubled or distracted
- She was concerned over many details when far less preparation was needed. Just a few of societies expectations were worthy of fulfilling. When societies demands are compared with God’s demands the choice was simple. Only one thing is absolutely required in the end and Mary had chosen that portion
- She had chosen the lesser potion - at that moment in time Martha had chosen the portion that was less valuable.
Indeed, social expectations and standards are important at some level, but when compared with the Lord’s Word and his company, then social standards are far inferior. Martha was preparing portions/dishes of food, but Mary had chosen “ten agathen merida” (Gr), or “the good portion” or “the most important dish.” Jesus will not deprive Mary of her choice only to inflict on her the burden of being distracted by the unnecessary busy-ness and worry of socials demands.
In this case, Jesus approved a woman breaking the social expectation of serving as a hostess, the typical role of a woman, and allowed the woman to choose the role of being a disciple of a rabbi, which was socially only available to men.