I wonder if Isabel Myers and Katharine Briggs ever considered adding a Mary and Martha continuum to their MBTI: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. What type of person are you? Are you an introvert or an extravert? Are you sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, judging or perceiving? Those are the various “dichotomies” in the Myers-Briggs test, which measures how far you lean to one side or the other or if you hit the sweet spot right in the middle.
Are you a contemplative Mary type or an active Martha type? Or somewhere in between? I’m an INTJ, by the way. And I belong to a community that is probably at or near the sweet spot on the Mary-Martha scale. Then there’s the Enneagram, another measure of personality types. I’m not sure where Mary and Martha fit in to the Enneagram scheme. Andrew Sinnes told me recently he thinks I may be a number 5 with a 6 wing. I’m not sure what that means, but he could be right. I do know that I’m a Virgo with Moon in Aries and Pisces rising.
These systems of personality types are not equally scientific, of course. And we could debate whether and when it’s helpful to label ourselves and each other as one sort or another. But one thing these quite different tools have in common is that any given type is neither better or worse than another. It’s not inherently better to be an INTJ than an ESFP on the Myers-Briggs. It’s not inherently better to be a 5 than a 9 on the Enneagram. For that matter, it’s not inherently better to be a Virgo than a Leo or a Capricorn. And I don’t think it’s inherently better to be contemplative than active, or vice versa.
To be Mary is not inherently better than to be Martha. Jesus does defend Mary, but only when Martha complains. I’m guessing that if Mary had complained, he would have defended Martha. “Lord, do you not care that my sister is making all that noise in the kitchen so that I can hardly hear you? Please tell her to stop.” “Mary, Mary, when we’re done talking we’ll be glad that dinner is ready.” I suspect Jesus enjoyed a good home cooked meal as much as anyone else. Notice that he does not say, “Martha, Martha! Never mind all that work. Come join us in the living room—we can send out for pizza—it doesn’t really matter.” No, he was probably already seduced by the aroma of onions cooking in hot olive oil and was looking forward to what Martha was so busy doing. It may have been a big disappointment had he arrived in Bethany and both sisters decided to sit and listen.
If Mary represents the contemplative type and Martha the active type, we’re all somewhere on a continuum. And wherever we’re inclined to be by temperament is just fine. It’s a matter of being self-aware. If you’re an INTJ, there’s a way to make the most of being INTJ. If you’re a 5 on the Enneagram with a 6 wing—whatever that means—there’s a way to make the most of it. If you’re a Virgo with Moon in Aries, there’s a way to make the most of that. (I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek here with these astrological references.) Whether you’re a contemplative or an active type, there’s a way to be that with complete integrity and authenticity.
But for everyone, at least for every type of Christian, there is “need of only one thing” as the gospel puts it. There is one thing necessary. Whoever you are and whatever typological category you think you might fit in, there is still one thing necessary. Mary represents this one thing necessary in an iconic way: the intimate, one on one relationship with Jesus.
We have no transcript of that intimate conversation in Bethany. What did he talk about? We know the kinds of things Jesus talked about with crowds and small groups, but the gospels don’t give us much in the way of extended conversations with individuals (Jesus with Nicodemus in John 3 comes to mind). What did he talk about with his followers, one on one?
We can only imagine. So, let’s do that. We can do a kind of Ignatian meditation with this scene from the Gospel. This is a way of praying with scripture developed by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. We enter into a gospel story in an intentionally imaginative way. And, keeping in mind that we are using our imaginations, this becomes the basis for our prayer.
We might imagine ourselves in that room in Bethany, sitting with Jesus. But since we’re all together, let’s imagine Mary listening to Jesus. Let her represent all of us; let her represent the beloved disciple we all are. We might imagine the furnishing of the room, the breeze coming in the window, the garden just outside, the sounds of people on the roadway or children playing. The fragrance of those onions in hot olive oil, the clatter of pots and pans in the kitchen. Then, what is it that Jesus says to Mary? Let’s imagine we’re listening in on this intimate conversation. Maybe it went something like this:
“You know who I am, don’t you?” Mary answers, “I believe I do. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” And so he speaks.
“You thank me every day for the beauty and wonder of this world; I thank you for your part in it, I thank you for being who you are, because no one else could be you as well as you can be you.
You praise me for what I have done for you and for who I am; I praise you for all the ways you have enriched the lives of others by the things you do and for just being you. I praise you for all the ways you have enriched my life simply by being you.
You have told me that you love me; one day you will comprehend the depth of my love for you.
You ask me for help in meeting the challenges of this life; know that I am always with you in these challenges. And I ask you for your help in making this world. I ask you for your help in making my dream come true in this world.
You confess to me the burden of your mistakes and wrongdoing; I confess to you that I have created you in your vulnerability, in your strengths and in your weaknesses. But, when you weep; I weep with you. And never forget, never forget, never, never, never forget: I have already taken away the weight of all sin and guilt from your shoulders. Nothing you have done or could do can separate you from my love and from my dreams for you.
You worship me; in a sense, in a different way, I worship you. To worship is of the essence of your humanity. To worship is of the essence of my divinity. When you worship me you are caught up in my love and esteem for the whole human race, whom I have made in my own image. It is of your essence and of my essence to worship. And I have no one to worship other than you.
You have glorified me in your words and song. Your very life is my glory. Irenaeus was right when he said that the glory of God is the human being fully alive.
You give me your very self; I give myself to you. I have given myself to you; I shall ever give myself to you. And in this very moment I give myself to you. This is the mystery of the ages: you are in me; I am in you. As Paul put it, this is ‘the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed…’: you are in me; I am in you [Col.1:26, 27]. That’s the main thing you need to know. It’s the one thing necessary.
Come, now, let’s see what Martha has cooked up. It smells like she’s done something really wonderful with lamb and rosemary. Later we can help with the dishes. You wash, I’ll dry.”
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