The Cure for Stereotyping
I made the mistake of trying to pigeonhole Christians into boxes. If you were a “Green Beret” Christian, I reasoned, then, you’d be passionate, excited, and emotional for Jesus. You’d love praise and worship songs. You’d shout and sing at the top of your lungs. You’d clap and lift your hands like there is no tomorrow. But if you failed to be demonstrative in your worship, then you probably weren’t really dedicated to Jesus. There was something wrong with you.
Looking back at my stereotypes, I can now see how unfair and myopic they really were. John’s Gospel helps us to drop the stereotypes. John helps us appreciate believers who are demonstrably passionate about Jesus. But he also elevates Jesus’ followers who express their dedication to Jesus in quieter ways. Both types of followers are validated. Both are genuine disciples of Jesus. Both types of women are advocated by John and loved by Jesus.
Martha and Mary are Similar
Mary and Martha are two female disciples of Jesus who shared many similarities. They were sisters who lived together in the same house with their brother, Lazarus, in the village of Bethany. They lived in the midst of the same male dominated religious culture. They both suffered the untimely death of their brother, whom they loved. They were both loved by Jesus, and they both requested Jesus’ assistance when their brother Lazarus took sick.
They both initially viewed Jesus as some sort of a miracle worker, but not as the one who was life itself. When their brother died, they both placed partial responsibility on Jesus for his death. But their response to Jesus after the death of their brother reveals stark differences.
Martha Talked Theology, Mary Wept
When Martha heard of Jesus’ late arrival to Bethany after Lazarus’ death, she immediately left the house and sought Him out. She needed to express her disappointment with Him. She discussed the resurrection with Him. Jesus, sensing Martha’s untapped and discerning faith, pushed her to the next level. Martha came away from that discussion a theologian. Mary her sister was still at home weeping.
Mary the Silent but Passionate Disciple
When Mary finally approached Jesus, she fell at his feet. She expressed her disappointment with Jesus’ late arrival, but she never verbally expressed her faith in Jesus. She was silent about Jesus’ identity or about what she believed about Him. Her dedication to Jesus was not expressed in words or statements of faith. Mary was no theologian. What kind of a disciple was she?
John portrays Mary as a disciple whose dedication to Jesus is expressed in costly, extravagant devotion. She anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive ointment. The aroma of the ointment fills the house.
Mary is passionate in her devotion to Jesus, but it is expressed in activity and emotion. Mary’s discipleship with Jesus is strikingly different from her sister.
Martha and Mary share similarities. But their hearts express devotion to Jesus differently.
The Sisters are Equal in Dedication
Which example, Martha or Mary, does John depict as the model to emulate? Both. Both sisters are portrayed as genuine disciples of Jesus. Both sisters are dedicated to Him. Both believe in Him. And both sisters are affirmed by John.
Both sisters are presented as ideal female disciples of Jesus, providing examples to their fellow sisters in Christ. The sisters are equal in dedication to Jesus but different in the expression of that dedication. Equal, just different. No stereotyping in John’s Gospel.
Who Do You Identify with: Martha or Mary?
Do you identify with Mary or with Martha? Are you a woman of discerning faith in Jesus or a woman of passionate devotion? Both matter to Jesus and to John. John does not stereotype believers into one solitary mold. Whether you identify with Martha or Mary, Jesus’ church needs you the way you are. Jesus’ church needs both Marys and Marthas.
21st Century Marthas and Marys
A 21st century Mary will look forward to the upcoming conference on “passion.” But a 21st century Martha will prefer to stay home and examine Scripture with other Bible students or even by herself. Mary will spend big money on a praise concert. Martha will attend a conference on exposition of Scripture.
Mary may be ecstatic about a new worship song she heard on the radio. Martha is not easily impressed. Martha will examine the best of the old hymns and the best of the new songs for the optimal choice.
Mary will choose the song-set that strikes an emotional chord. Martha will choose songs that challenge her thinking. Mary will kneel and weep when a song is sung. Martha will stand and rejoice that the song is sewn together with the thread of Scripture.
Mary will say, “Wasn’t that an awesome song?” Martha will be impressed if the song unpacks the encouraging truths about God’s redemptive program in Jesus.
Both Martha and Mary reflect dedication to Jesus. Both kinds of women express genuine commitment to Jesus. John honors both. Both are loved by the same Jesus and matter to Him. They just express their dedication to Him in different ways. Are you a Mary or a Martha? Then, be yourself.
Drop the Cookie-Cutter Stereotypes
So, for us who enjoy the company of Marys and Marthas, let’s affirm both types of sisters in our faith communities. Let’s drop the stereotypes of followers of Jesus. Refrain from unfavorable comparisons or put-downs. “Why isn’t she like so-and-so?”
Refuse to pigeonhole women into boxes that Jesus didn’t design for them. Instead, let’s appreciate and affirm the passionate Marys among us and also affirm the discerning Marthas among us. We need both sisters. We want both sisters in our faith communities. Their diversified dedication to Jesus is the dual example we all need to see.
And to the Mary’s and Martha’s among us, could I suggest that you accept the gifting Jesus gave you. Be yourself. Accept yourself. Be comfortable in your own skin. Stop trying to pigeonhole yourself into your sister’s contours. You’ll only feel pinched.
John is comfortable with the way you are. Jesus advocated for both the dedication of Martha and Mary. He advocates for you as well. If you are a Mary, then be the best passionate Mary for Jesus’ sake. If you are a Martha, then grow into the discerning theologian that is depicted in John 11. Marys and Marthas: be yourselves. Accept yourselves. And accept your sister the way she is.
We Love Mary and Martha
We need both you and your sister. We love you and your sister just the way you are. Forgive us for the stereotyping we are guilty of in the past. We’ve dropped our stereotypes. Have you? Be the Mary you are. Be the Martha you are. Accept yourself. We do. More importantly, so does Jesus. Together you two sisters make a formidable team.
I dropped my stereotypes and rest my case. Why not be yourself and rest your case as well.
Thank you for reading.