Martha and Mary - a conversation

Gender and Sexuality
Deepening Spirituality
World of Diversity
Image of two women side by side
Emma Percy

This dialogue was originally presented at a CRC event in 2015: Re-imagining Church - No Longer Male and Female but One in Christ which was facilitated by Kathy Galloway, Jenny Morgans and Emma Percy.



Expectations shape my life. I keep the home for Lazarus my brother with my sister Mary. Since Lazarus met Jesus of Nazareth our home has become a place for him to come and stay when he is in Jerusalem. I show my devotion through my practical caring, food and rest offered in love. His movements are not predictable and nor are the numbers I am meant to cater for which means I must develop a readiness. I have learnt the skill of making food stretch. This practical caring is an art, it takes thought and planning. When all is done well people hardly notice. There is an invisibility about my work that makes me frustrated. At times I feel presumed on, taken for granted and under-valued. Busy Martha.


Expectations shape my life. I am meant to help Martha, to learn the role of a woman and inhabit it. Yet, when I hear Jesus speaking I want to forget all the everyday responsibilities. I want to listen, I want to learn, I want to understand more of what he is saying about God, about life. I sense his urgency alongside the patient teaching. Frustrated Mary.


Where is Mary? Not with me in the kitchen but sitting bold as brass at the feet of Jesus with all the young men. That is not a woman’s place. She has shamed herself and me. What will people say? What do the men think?

She has left me and I feel angry but am I also jealous, jealous of her boldness, jealous of her willingness to lay aside the conventions, jealous of her closeness to Jesus.


Part of me feels defiant, why shouldn’t I be here. Another part of me feels guilty for transgressing. I can feel the uncomfortable looks of the men. I know Martha will be fretting and I hate to hurt her. Yet, when I look into the eyes of Jesus I find reassurance. Then Martha interrupts, asking Jesus to send me back to help her and his words though seemingly unkind to her fill my heart with joy. ‘Mary has chosen the better part.’ I feel affirmed, honoured and welcomed. Despite being a woman I can sit and listen and learn. I have found my place.

So I became a learner, a disciple.


Of course I nursed my sense of hurt that my worries, my practical caring seemed to be dismissed. He was kindly but I could not drop everything and join Mary. What was he expecting of me?

And then the first disaster fell. Our beloved brother grew ill. We sent for Jesus but he did not come.

Lazarus died and we watched as he was laid in the tomb. What of our future?

They brought news to the house that Jesus was drawing near. I expected Mary to rise up and go but she sat stubbornly weeping. So I went and we talked. I offered my pain and he offered me hope. And then I saw. I recognised the urgency that had made Mary step outside the conventions.

‘Yes Lord’ I said, ‘you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one coming into the world.’

I became a woman of faith, proclaiming Jesus Messiah. Yet so often this is forgotten and my busy caring is either belittled or idealised. Such is a woman’s lot.


He shared our pain and loss. He restored our hope and life with the return of our brother. I continued as a disciple and in turn I became a prophet. I took the oil and anointed the Lord. I had no words but my act spoke my understanding of his holiness. I no longer cared how others judged me. I looked only for his understanding and affirmation.

Yet, my acts are so often muddled and misremembered. Too many women called Mary! Though it seems they can distinguish between the Jameses!  We can remember all the men even if they did little of note but the women; let’s just roll them into one. So I become a composite with my fellow disciple Mary of Magdala and both somehow muddled up with the prostitute, the adulterer and any other female transgressor.


Pray for us. The women who do. The women who keep the homes, who feed the people, who labour in the background. Who dutifully occupy the ‘woman’s place’ -  where the Church has told them to stay and yet get little affirmation or respect for doing so. May we become honoured disciples who can listen learn and proclaim Jesus as our Saviour from all that restricts and oppresses us.


Pray for us. The women who take our place in the seat of learning, who refuse to be relegated to the back row. The women who prophesy. May we be kept strong by the affirmation of Jesus. May we be allowed to be ourselves not some composite woman, not the token woman, just a legitimate disciple, priest, prophet.

Mary and Martha

Pray for us. That false divisions may not bring enmity between us. That women may be able to be and to do. To care and to proclaim. To listen and to speak. Remember that both of us recognised who Jesus was and proclaimed him in word and action. Remember it was the women who stood together at the cross and witnessed the empty tomb.

Resource Type