All I had ever wanted to do was learn. I wanted with all my heart to understand God and his ways. Wasn’t studying the Law of God a fitting occupation for His people? Not if you’re a woman. I learned that very early, from my family, from my village. My older sister, Martha, only ever wanted to learn the things that women were supposed to want to learn – how to cook and clean and spin and weave and all the other responsibilities that belong to running a home properly. And it’s not as if I could disagree. Of course those things mattered; without them we would have no food or clothing, and our homes would soon be unfit to live in. Without those skills we could not live! Patiently, and possibly patronisingly as well, she would explain it to my frustrated tears, and I would seethe with my confused desires. How could I deny that we needed food and clothing? But ... but ... how could she not see that there was something even more important? All I wanted to do was Know God, to understand the mystery of who He was and why we alone, out of all the peoples on earth, were entrusted with His truth. Apparently that was very wrong of me.
Years passed. Yes, in spite of myself I learned to cook and sweep and do all the things every woman had to learn, and because I was my mother’s daughter, I learned to do them properly. But my heart remained insatiable.
And then we met the Master, and it was as if He was, in Himself, the very Word of God I had been longing to learn. He spoke wisdom, but it was more than that, He spoke life; and I felt something long desiccated inside me start reaching out tendrils of hope. He did not have a contempt for women, like so many rabbis do; I felt included in His words and His regard from the very start. Was it any wonder if, whenever He was near, I hung around within hearing of His words whenever I possibly could?
And so He came, with His disciples, and stayed as a guest in our home. And, when I hung around on the fringes of the group, straining to hear, to learn, to fill my soul with wonder and freedom, He looked over at me, straight into my yearning eyes, and beckoned to a place right at his feet. I could hardly believe it, but I wasn’t going to disobey. Eagerly I took my place, noticing the reactions of some of his disciples as I did so. They were shocked that a woman should join them in the posture of a disciple, but how could they say anything when it was the Master Himself who had decided?
It was my sister who was scandalised and said so. When she came looking for me to help in the Kitchen, and saw me sitting amongst the men, her immediate response was to send me back to the kitchen – a woman’s proper place with the pots and pans and no unwomanly ideas. It was then that the Master spoke, and His words healed a dark wound inside me and opened a door I had thought was eternally shut. “Martha,” He said, in that way which managed to be so understanding and yet so firmly directive, “you’re worrying about so many things, but only one thing really matters, and that’s the one which your sister Mary has chosen. It is the better thing, and it will not be taken away from her.”