“There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).
In the gospel of Luke we find a story about two contrasting women. Martha was doing what was expected of women in antiquity. She was in the kitchen, working behind the scenes. Martha was cleaning the house and preparing the food. Her sister had a different calling, and it troubled Martha.
Mary wasn’t helping in the kitchen, she wasn’t making sure the house was clean. She was sitting at Jesus’ feet as if she was one of Christ’s disciples, as if she were a man.
That wasn’t a woman’s place, right? Learning to teach and preach was only for men, right? Martha was sure if she pointed this out to Jesus, He would correct her sister and tell Mary to get back in the kitchen where she belonged.
Mary wasn’t stopped by tradition. Her calling was informed by an encounter with Jesus. Mary felt called to learn, so she could teach and preach what she had learned from Christ. Working behind the scenes in the kitchen is important work, but it wasn’t her calling. She was ordained for a different purpose, and Jesus was about to affirm her.
Replying to Martha’s critique, Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).
Mary was brave and courageously challenged cultural norms. She loved Jesus and He legitimized her calling. Jesus affirmed Mary while offering encouragement to Martha. Jesus’ words emphasize that women who are called to discipleship are following God’s call. The one thing that is necessary is being faithful to that call.
Some may try to extinguish that call. They may try to make it very difficult. But they cannot take away the calling that comes from God alone. Christ’s interactions with Mary make this perfectly clear. He legitimized her. First, by letting everyone know that her call to discipleship would not be taken away. Second, by allowing her to anoint Him and wash His feet.
Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, but it was only Mary who was recorded as washing His feet. She did this by anointing Him with an expensive perfume. This made people uncomfortable. The expensive perfume likely wasn’t the most troubling part, it was the fact that Mary, as a woman, was anointing Jesus.
Jesus was seen as the Messiah, the promised King. But Mary recognized His real mission and anointed Him in preparation for that. Judas said the money would have been better spent on the poor. But Jesus defended her, saying, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (Luke 12:7).
The Jews were expecting a conquering king, but Jesus came as the Prince of Peace. They thought only men were called by God to preach and teach, but Jesus legitimized women like Mary among His disciples. Jesus stood up for Mary, as He does for all women who have been questioned about their Godly calling.
To those who confronted Mary on the basis of gender, Christ’s message is one that should still resonate today. “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed — but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
A woman’s place is exactly where she is called to serve. If that place is the kitchen, the pulpit, or both, “It will not be taken away from her.”